A rare campfire on Madelyn Given's thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Campfire Stories, Part 2: Appalachian Trail

There is nothing like a campfire to bring comfort to the body and soul when you are far from home.

A few years ago, I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt Katahdin, Maine. It was a grand, never-to-be-forgotten adventure, all 2,175 miles. There were highs and lows every day: it was a strenuous feat but a grand experience. Every day, I hiked from dawn to dusk, rarely stopping except to purify water or to take a breather. Before dusk, I would be hurrying to find a place to set up my tent or reach the nearest lean-to shelter. I would set up my tent pronto to get out of the wind, rain, or cold. Then I would unpack my pack, find something to eat, and get off my weary feet. I had no added energy to build a campfire.

What an adventure it is to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail! Photo by Madelyn Given.

What an adventure it is to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail!

During my four months on the trail, there were very few campfires built by thru-hikers. My son offered to hike with me early on, and one night we were hiking along the AT on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. On this clear, pleasant night, we set up camp and enjoyed a campfire. No one else was around and it was a peaceful moment in time.

Another campfire was quite different. After beginning with my son, I had continued hiking solo, and I had now reached Pennsylvania, known as the rocky state by the hikers. Every four to six days, hikers are able to get off the trail near a town or other place to get food and supplies. For some reason, I must have been thinking of a campfire, because when I bought my food I bought a package of marshmallows.

By this time it had been over two months of walking every day, and I had had only one campfire. I had made some trail friends along the way and I thought this would be a pleasant surprise. The young fellows were always so hungry. I reached the campsite with a lean-to already full and I looked for a place to set up my tent.

It was the least likely place to set up a tent I had ever encountered. The place was full of brush, on the side of a very steep hill, and muddy. It was dusk and I was exhausted, with no hope of moving on down the trail. Nevertheless, I set up my tent, and then three more of my friends arrived and pitched their tents almost touching each other.

During this time, the mosquitoes decided to invade the place! Only one other night in four months had I been attacked by mosquitoes, and this was one of them.

The hikers decided to have a campfire to rid the place of the mosquitoes, but the pesky creatures had a way of finding me. Bringing my package of marshmallows, I walked from my tent over to the lean-to area in front of the fire, planning to stay by the campfire and chat with my friends for a while, but the mosquitoes got the best of me.

I left the marshmallows (to the delight of the happy campers), hurried to my tent, zipped it up, and called it a night. To my dismay, the mosquitoes had won the battle that night.

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(posted June 21, 2016)