Hiking Guides Unite! The AT Connection Continues

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It was a cold and snowy Sunday in March of 2015 when I first met Jeff Vincent, a Catskill native and lead guide of Catskill Mountain Wild. My husband and I had just finished hiking the last of our four winter peak hikes which are required for inclusion in the Catskill 3500 Club. After a long weekend of tried and failed attempts at snowshoeing, then otherwise micro-spiking and post-holing our way to the tops of Slide, Balsam, Blackhead and Panther Mountains, we were more than ready to be done with hiking for a while. We were in the trailhead parking lot, deciding where to go for our celebratory post-hike beers, when I spotted a couple, donning full backpacks, about to head out for what looked like an overnight trip in all that snow.

I was curious. "Go talk to them!" my husband encouraged. As soon as I stepped closer, my thru-hiker suspicions were confirmed when I saw the Appalachian Trail 2000-miler finisher patches on their backpacks! I quickly introduced myself as Click, hiker class 2011, and soon enough Jeff (Lost Boy) and Jessica (Messy), hiker class 2014, and I started comparing notes about our thru-hikes and trying to see if we had any hiker family in common, which of course we did, because it is a small, small world out there. Jess was on a mission to write a gear review for The Trek, the AT blog founded by my good friend and fellow 2011 thru-hiker alum, Zack "Badger" Davis.

Any tiredness I was feeling from those three days of winter hiking evaporated when I started talking trail with them. It is always an awesome feeling to meet other thru-hikers -- there's an instant connection, a shared sense of pride for our individual journeys and mutual admiration for knowing that the other has made it through some pretty tough trials out there and came through on the other side.

Fast-forward three years and I still have a connection with Jeff and Jessica. Jeff's dedication to conservation and education in the Catskill region has proved infectious and Jess' writings about her experience on the Appalachian Trail mirror many of my own feelings about my time out there. Last year, when my own desire to introduce others to the power of nature grew, I turned to Jeff for advice on how to become a guide, which he willing doled out.

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Two weeks ago I had the privilege of tagging along on a guided hike Jeff was leading for a few clients up to Kaaterskill Falls in Hunter, NY. His knowledge of the region is deep and his appreciation for the landscape in which he grew up is evident in the way he speaks with his clients. As a newbie guide, I am beyond grateful for his openness in sharing some of his favorite places to take clients as well as advice on getting a guide business going.

If our AT connection has anything to do with it, all the better, but I think more likely, it's the AT experience itself that helped us both realize it's not a competition out there. Nobody is going to carry you up a mountain -- you still have to do the hard work yourself. But having support of a community of fellow hikers and guides behind you is sometimes all the push you need to make it to the top.

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Melissa GoodwinComment