Old-time Southern accents boomed from a TV low in a corner of Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, Maine, as the washer and dryer tossed around dirt-caked clothes. A handful of tents were pitched in the back yard where a puppy with a nub of a tail rummaged through food left out by hikers.
Though the hostel owners had a new baby in tow and the gear shop had been moved to the barn in the back to make space for more bunks, the place felt otherwise unchanged by the two years since I'd stayed there last. It's a strange haven full of smelly hikers running in circles with pups, giggling and crying children, untouched by the nasty world just out of sight.
Though the movie we decided on for the night before we entered the 100-mile wilderness, “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” is set in a bygone era, one scene in particular sent a chill down my spine that shook me back to reality.
The image of klansmen marching in unison in front of a fiery cross can pull anyone out of a dreamy-eyed, hike-induced stupor, even as George Clooney and Co. comically stumble along as infiltrators.
Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, make the sight harder than usual to stomach. The scene makes your hair stand on end. It's a strange feeling to be isolated in the woods eating cold oats and dry ramen, talking about mileage and pack weight for so long amid the rumblings of domestic discontent.
For almost six months now, I've been relatively disconnected from the 24-hour news cycle. I catch the highlights a day or so behind the curve from podcasts when I have enough connection and charge to download anything. For many, politics, like sex and religion, are off the table for conversation on trail. For better or worse, I don't abide by that rule. I have a hard time separating the personal from the political. The two are inextricable in my mind.
This walk has given me a lot of time to consider how best to use my time once I'm finished.
I've been applying and interviewing for jobs while passing through towns over the last six months. Most of my phone interviews fell on days when the rain was coming down in buckets so I’d hustle along the trail and frantically hitch into a town to sit in a McDonald's, dripping wet.
Finally, I found a position that satiated my interest in women's rights and psychology in a location that was breathtakingly beautiful — Alaska. Though I'm still ironing out the details, I hope to be in Juneau working with a women's shelter by the end of the month.
It's been several months since we've run across the twang you hear regularly in the South. Finally in Maine, the last state of this long, lovely and strange walk, we’re in a land of Northern New England accents and nearing the end.