Harry Potter and bears Slug Club hikers enjoy reading at Appalachian Trail stops

A group of through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia rest at Mashipacong Shelter in New Jersey en route to Maine: 1326 miles down, 859 to go.

Park police called on a recent Sunday evening to tell me about a family that was hiking down from Sunfish Pond but turned around because they had seen a bear.

They were too scared to continue on that trail.

The officer told them to go back up the Appalachian Trail to the Backpacker Campsite and the ridgerunner would point the way down the alternative Douglas Trail.

The mom was very worried about the bear. What do we do?

I advised and reassured her as best I could but could not hike down with her and the others as she asked.

On another day, a 65-year-old hiker had settled in for the night at a wilderness shelter after a 20-plus mile day and thought he might have the place to himself. Then the Slug Club pulled in.

It was already past 9 p.m. — Hiker Midnight — and he was ready to get some sleep. The trail chatter from the two men and four women died away as they made themselves at home. Then one of the girls popped the question.

“We’ve been reading a chapter from ‘Harry Potter’ every night. Would that be all right with you?” He said OK, laughing at the memory and the lost sleep as he shared the story. “I got lucky,” he said. “Another fella told me they read four chapters the night he camped with them.”

The Slug Club hikers were the first through-hikers I met this season. The six college kids from Stanford (two are sisters) were playing cards at the Sunrise Mountain pavilion; their chatter and giggles echoed through the forest when they left.

The Appalachian Trail attracts a congenial community.

Hikers of all ages and backgrounds get along and respect each other because we have struggled up the same mountains and faced the same hardships.

Through-hikers embrace anonymity and go by trail names (I am Grasshopper.)

All have their reasons for being on the trail and all literally and figuratively carry their own baggage. All cope with the personal change that comes with such a demanding adventure.

It’s not for everybody. More than 2,500 hikers left Georgia for Maine last year. About one in four completed the 2,185-mile hike.