Leaving the Guide Dog Café I nearly spilled my iced coffee when a passerby bumped into me. Before I could call after her I saw the Robo Hiker standing outside an antiques store. A small group had gathered around him taking pictures and asking questions. “Are you really going to hike the entire AT in less than 2 months?” “Yes, I’ll summit Katahdin Mountain in a month from now and then fly to San Diego to begin hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.” I maneuvered around the small gathering and headed up the short hill to the ATC.
“What brings you to Harper’s Ferry?” the Robo Hiker asked when he came up beside me. He carried a package from the Post Office and was drinking a Monster energy drink. “I’m just here for the press conference.” As we approached the ATC headquarters there was a lull in conversations as the assembled group saw us approaching. A couple of his handlers from MIT escorted him into a nearby RV to get him ready for the press conference.
Inside, the ATC gift store and lobby were packed. I made my way to the “Hikers Only” area to finish my coffee and gather my thoughts. A young hiker finished rinsing out her coffee cup and turned towards me and said, “I wish they would get that damn thing off the trail. He almost knocked me over when he passed me near the Blackburn Trail Center. It was like I wasn’t even there.” She walked away when another hiker came in.
Upstairs the Director welcomed me into his office and offered me another cup of coffee before we sat down. “This press conference will be seen around the world and finally put ATC and Harper’s Ferry on the map. So, how do you think our synthetic friend will do?”
“He’ll surpass everyone’s expectations, They’ll be surprised by how articulate he is and laugh at his anecdotes and self-deprecating humor. He’ll provide insightful answers to their questions and thank his sponsors and hosts. He’ll almost convince them he’s human and all this fuss is over nothing. It will be hard, but the reporters will have to remind themselves and their audiences that he’s just a well-programmed machine. And then they’ll move on to the next big story, and ……” Terri came in as I was finishing up and told the Director he had to take an important phone call. Terri apologized about interrupting our meeting and pointed me toward a desk near the window.
I took some great photos of the press conference from the second-floor office. The press conference went longer than expected. The reporters submitted their stories and interviews back to their newsrooms before they pulled out of the parking lot. The Robo Hiker stayed out front posing for selfies and mingling with the small crowd. It wasn’t long before he was ushered back into the RV by the same two handlers.