[at-l] I love/hate when this happens

hopeful_2003 at comcast.net hopeful_2003 at comcast.net
Sat Nov 20 19:14:19 CST 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark Hudson" <mvhudson at gmail.com> 
Subject: [at-l]  I love/hate when this happens 

If it makes you feel any better, there's a long history behind this... 
I had the pleasure of seeing Earl Shaffer at the '96 Gathering in Carlisle. 
But I actually got to meet him at several of the PA Rucks. Earl was reserved, if not outright shy. It was a joy to watch the walls come down and the "real" Earl come out when he realized that he was with kindred spirits. :-) 

Happy Trails, 4/24/98 Earl V. Shaffer 


There was the slightest rain coming down and the heavy slate skies threatened to cut loose at any moment. The line moved but the progress was imperceptible. The mob could hardly be labeled a line for everyone shifted side to side, first standing on tippytoes then crouching in their effort to gain a better view of the most unlikely hero we had ever seen. My wife suggested that we were all about to get soaked but I was crouching at the moment and missed her observation. Someone close by simply returned, "It’ll be alright." 

In front of Bluff Mountain Outfitters sat an aged and cheerful man. He was signing books and conversing with each and every person who appear before him. There was plenty noise across the street and down the block yet as the admirers neared the table all talking stopped. Ears strained to overhear what was being said at the table. 

In 1991 I began section hiking the AT. Year by year I learned more about the Trail and especially about the Trail Community, not the towns and hamlets but the hikers. Shortly before Thanksgiving in ‘97 I bought a copy of Walking With Spring . With each new fact, tidbit or nuance I learned about the AT, the more I wanted to be a part of this sect. When the announcement was made that Earl Shaffer would be a special speaker at the 1998 Trail Fest I determined that I would be in attendance. 

The mythical Crazy One was just a few feet away from me. With a few strokes of his pen and some kind comments to the hikers ahead of me, they received the honor of meeting this soft spoken champion. For months I had been anticipating the hour when I could meet Earl Shaffer. "How would you like for me to sign this?" he ask me as I laid my book on the table before him. My mind wouldn’t work and no words seems to fit his questions so I clumsily reply, "I don’t know." His smile broadened, not a mocking smile but a kind smile and he looked down at the book and began to write. 

As Mrs Hopeful and I walked away, I confessed how totally foolish I felt. "I didn’t realize how much I respected this man," I told her. "He is a great man," she agreed. We crossed the street and turned back towards Smokey Mountain Diner. "I didn’t think men my age were supposed to have heros." Mrs Hopeful just glanced at me and smiled the way she does when she is reading all the thoughts I’m having. She repeated the fact, "He is a great man." 

We sat at our table and gave our order to the waitress. "What did he write?" my wif e asked. I felt more foolish than ever for I had not yet read his words. Opening to the fly page I look down to the bottom and placed my finger below the signature. I became aware that our hiker friends at the table and several at tables nearby had all crowded around to see the autograph. I wasn’t the only one who was so impressed by that legion. I read loudly so all who wanted to could hear, "Happy trails, 4/24/98, Earl V. Shaffer."
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