Visting Small Towns Makes Me Think…

…but before we get to that, let me start with something else. Because this is not a regular Wednesday.

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Today, March 30th, is Will’s 30th birthday! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy gooooolden birthday, happy birthday to you! It is a special day, and many of you helped us make it more special by showering Will with birthday gifts for the “Trail Fund” I set up. We raised $440 which is far beyond what I thought possible. Will was floored when I showed him. We’ll keep the fund open until Saturday in case there is anyone else who wants to join in (I couldn’t share on here earlier since the whole situation was very hush-hush).

Thank you – thank you so much – for your kind gifts and words. Will is so excited. We’ll keep you posted with how he puts the Trail Fund to use!

—-

Now, for our trail town escapades. Erwin, TN was a delight last weekend, just a real delight. I mean, look at how perfectly this goose posed for my photo.

Weekends are for rest and resupply. We stayed in the Super 8 motel, ate lunch at Pal’s, went grocery shopping and laundry washing, and lounged and laughed a lot. We walked along the Erwin Linear Trail which was quiet and beautiful and a stone’s throw from all the fast food joints which meant you’d come across a styrofoam cup or paper bag every now and then. That part reminded me of Pawnee, Indiana which made me want to pull a Leslie Knope and lead a riverside trash pick-up to dispose of the litter from the local Paunch Burger.

But really I adored Erwin- the nice Super 8 owners who offer a discount for thru-hikers and let us check out late because we didn’t have anywhere else to go, the Mexican restaurant beside the Wal-Mart where everybody clearly knew each other, the laundromat with its huge, bright windows and beat-up chairs. I love exploring big cities, but when you visit Nashville or San Francisco or New York City it’s a lot of striving – to get the full experience, to avoid chain restaurants at all costs, to fit everything in and check everything off. You hunt down the places that Yelp or your friends or your cousin who lives there tell you to find, and then you breathe it all in and let it fill you up (while emptying your wallet). Ahh, the beauty of new experiences.

When you visit Franklin or Robbinsville, NC, or Erwin, TN, it’s different. The people you come across in big cities are often recent transplants, or maybe even visiting for the weekend like you are. The people you encounter in Erwin, TN live there. They were born there. You’re not just experiencing a new place, you’re experiencing people’s real lives . I felt that strongly in Erwin – almost like we were spying on them, like aliens beamed in to quietly observe (and as the say on the AT, “leave no trace”). When there are no museums or Broadway shows or street performers or fine culinary experiences to distract you, you don’t think of traveling as a way to experience things but as a way to experience people.

You notice and contemplate different details; like the couple sitting side by side at the lake (do they do that every weekend?), the little girl shrieking as her bike starts heading downhill on the trail (stick with it, the hill will seem smaller next year when you’re bigger!), or the high school baseball team dining at the Mexican restaurant (are they all best friends? will they still be when they move away to college next year?).

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A heartfelt “thank you” to the people of Franklin, Robbinsville, and Erwin for letting us drop in and experience life on your doorstep for a weekend. And thanks to the AT for leading us there.

Also: Will is flying. Today he hiked 21.8 miles. This weekend I’ll meet him in Hampton, TN near the 400 mile mark. Wha-wha-whaaat? How is he almost 20% finished with the entire trail?

A lot happens between my weekly posts here, so check out Instagram, too. Thanks to everyone who is reading this, near and far. I’d love to hear from you!

-Meridith

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