It's been 15 years since my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine where I spent 5 months (152 days) on the trail. Reflecting back I now realize that I treasure the people and friends that I met along the way more than anything. Other than a few selected spots along the trail, I can't recall that sunset, that long-range view, or a scenic lake but I do remember the people that I met along the way. The people are what makes a good hike a superb hike.
"Annie & the Salesman" (Larry & Ann McDuff) were two of those special people that I met during my hike and we continued to keep in touch from time to time for several years after our thru-hike. I first met them at a shelter in New Jersey where I finally caught up to them after a chase that lasted for a month. For weeks I had enjoyed reading their meaningful entries at the various trail shelters and I was determined to catch up to them. Perhaps more than anything Larry & Ann were from my own home state of Alabama so they felt like family to me even before I had met them and I just knew that I had to catch them.
So it was, that very late one evening I arrived at that shelter in New Jersey and introduced myself and revealed that I'd been chasing them for a very long time. It was late and the shelter was full so we didn't get to have a long first conversation but I knew now that we'd be bumping into each other for the rest of the way to Maine.
Larry was a retired salesman for IBM in the Mobile area and this was their first thru-hike attempt. They talked proudly of their son whose trail name was "Fairhope" and he had just completed his own thru-hike of the AT in a recent year and now they were here following in his footsteps. Larry & Ann were very down to earth people from the Fairhope, Alabama area on Mobile Bay where they lived a very self-sustaining lifestyle of gardening, bicycling, and soon to be very well known hikers on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Both of them talked in a manner and tone that was not in the least intrusive but instead their inquisitive non-threatening conversation made everyone who met them instant friends.
One of the most memorable moments of my thru-hike that I will treasure forever occurred on my birthday, July 2nd at Morgan Stewart Shelter in New York. Once again I had caught up to Larry and Ann at a small store where I walked in and found Ann teared up in a conversation with her children back in Fairhope. Even though Larry wasn't on the phone it was strongly evident that he was very emotionally involved in the conversation as he paced closely to Ann.
After we had re-supplied Larry & Ann caught a ride back to the trail ahead of me and I followed about 45 minutes behind them as I had a need to gobble up a couple pints of ice cream. That evening when I arrived at the shelter I was greeted to a standing chorus of "Happy Birthday" from everyone at the shelter of which Larry & Ann had already befriended. Apparently they had overheard my own conversation on the phone at the store when I had mentioned my birthday.
They secretly sneaked in a big honey bun then planted a big campsite candle right in the middle of it for a birthday cake. Another hiker insisted that I allow him to fill my water bottles at the distant spring since, "You shouldn't have to work this hard on your birthday". In the picture above that is me (second from the right) and Ann is in the center enjoying the show as I blow out that huge candle. Unfortunately Larry wasn't in the picture since he took it.
We continued to share many mutual campsites and trail town hostels all the way into Maine sharing trail stories, future plans, and tales from our Alabama homes. The last time that we crossed paths was in Monsoon, Maine then I took off ahead of them through the 100 Mile Wilderness in an anxious end-of-the-trail hiking fury to reach Mt. Kathadin. We did correspond by mail for quite some time after the hike and the letter to the right is the first one that I received from them in October, 1994. They always wanted me to visit with them at their home but somehow it just never happened.
In the years that followed Larry & Ann became quite a prolific couple in the long-distance hiking community and went on to thru-hike the Colorado Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail and they managed to get half of the Continental Divide Trail completed when during the winter between this hike an unfortunate tragedy occurred back at their Alabama home.
While riding her bicycle Ann was struck and killed by a car on her way to work in their organic garden. Ironically, just two years later in 2004 Larry was also hit and killed by a hit and run driver while out on his bicycle. The world has definitely lost two good people who touched thousands of lives during their years of hiking. The last time that I saw them was at a Trail Days celebration in Damascus, Virginia in 2000. I attended their slide show presentation of their thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (Mexico to Canada) in 1999. I was then planning my own thru-hike of that trail for the next year so it was great to talk with them again.
I will miss their tender and caring spirit, their genuine friendship, and most certainly their refreshing deep southern accent that cured my homesickness during that first long-distance thru-hike when I first met them along the trail in 1994. Annie & the Salesman are together again but there's still a whole lot of people here who dearly miss them and will never-ever forget them. They really made a difference.
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