Dressed in a green PATC uniform, Augie, 45, treks 10-plus miles each day and greets each hiker he encounters: “How you folks doing?” He provides lessons on backwoods bear-proofing: “Hang your food on that metal pole, if you want it to be there in the morning.” He consults with Scout leaders: “Probably too far for you to make it to the falls and back before nightfall.” He teases those who watch too many survival shows and pack for every emergency. Including snowstorms. In July. But mostly, Augie is charged with tending to the Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers,” those roughly 1,700 hardy souls who set out to hike the 2,180-mile length of the AT from Georgia to Maine each year. “They’re definitely the rock star celebrities of the AT,” lavished with praise by other hikers, he says.
He knows. He, too, has walked the entire length of the AT, and more. Five thousand miles-plus in the past five years. This gives him trail cred.
Still, he’s humble. He doesn’t mind explaining the ins and outs of trail life to naive newcomers like, say, some hypothetical person who might have the audacity to think she can walk in his trail runners. Were such an urbanite to tackle such a 30-mile backcountry hike, Augie would have to be firm. He might, for example, begin by plowing through the novice’s backpack. “You won’t need this, you won’t need this,” he might say, shoving aside a down sleeping bag, the extra freeze-dried meal. He might hand her his own, lighter-weight sleeping bag (he’ll use an even thinner sleeping bag liner himself). He might then chide her for the large size of her now nearly empty pack, he might quickly repack it “properly” with straps cinched perfectly, and tent stakes and water bottle on the outside. He might take off up a hill that leaves her panting for breath and wondering, 10 minutes into the hike, how she will survive 74 hours in his lithe shadow. He might; she might.
* * *
Augie moves down the dirt path, a narrow, green, canopied chute marked by the stuttering series of 2-by-6-inch white blazes on the trees that assure hikers they’re still on the trail. He’s a solitary worker. No supervisor, no time clock. A gentle steward, he is simply trusted to do what’s right to maintain the environment — such as picking up detritus that includes, at this moment, a single abandoned black Croc — and, above all, keeping the hikers safe.
Most times, the conversations he has with them are prosaic —“Is there a privy at Bear Fence Hut?” —but many times they turn philosophical.