I did not actually meet Howard Bassette but I’d like to tell you about him all the same. Howard was from Connecticut and born in 1904, five years before my grandfather was born. In 1968, Howard decided to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. You might recall that being 64 years old was “old” back then.
You might also remember the cultural and political climate of the 1960s. The decade was filled with political assassinations, civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, the peace movement, Woodstock. It’s hard to know what inspired “old Howard” to hike the trail that year. Maybe his wife died? Maybe he lost a son or grandchild in Vietnam? Maybe this world of the 1960s was such a far stretch from the years of The Great War, the Depression, WWII that it was time to step out for a while.
I can’t speak to his motivation, but nonetheless, Howard headed out to hike the Trail as an “old man” when it was not the fashionable thing to do. My grandfather would have called him, “Crazy in the head, altogether.” One of the locals said to me, “We would see these guys walk out of the woods (back in the 1950s and 1960s) and wonder where they’d come from!”
Well, Howard headed out on the Trail and succeeded in his thru hike! I know this because just the other day I came upon a lovely marble marker, engraved with Howard’s name, that he was from Connecticut, that he died in late 1987 at the age of 83, and that he had thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1968. It also indicated that this is where his ashes were buried. The final engraving indicated that the marker had been placed in April 1988, and I imagined that this was all done based on the instructions in Howard’s will.
Howard is one of the people we’ve been aquainted with by markers on the trail. In April, we came upon a momument on the trail that let us know that a firefighter had lost his life in 1968 fighting a forest fire “so that we could continue to enjoy the Trail.” I wonder when Howard had walked through that part of the Trail?
The other day, just shy of mile 304, we came upon “the final resting place of William and David Shelton, who lived in Madison County, NC, but enlisted in the Union army during the Civil War. While returning to a family gathering during the war, the uncle and nephew were ambushed near that spot and killed by Confederate troops.” (AT: Thru-Hikers’ Companion 2013, p. 46)
All these are sightings we can only see by hiking the trail. Glimpses into the lives of ordinary people whose lives mattered and have made a difference in the lives of others. People who may never be reported on in history books but, nonetheless, have touched my life as I walk. And now, by my telling you, perhaps they have touched you too.
Blessings on the journey, Dragonfly