Expectations and reality along the Appalachian Trail – Meridian Star

Posted: November 14, 2021 at 1:47 am

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It wasnt the hike that we thought it would be, it was the hike we got.

I kept coming back to those words from Class of 2021 Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker Suzanne Holland during our recent interview. Holland and fellow hiker Cindy Aurin completed their successful thru-hike of the A.T. on Oct. 7, and the sentiment behind those words struck me as something special.

I have never been on a hiking trip where everything went exactly as planned, and my trips have only been over the course of several days or a week. A thru-hike along the 2,193.1 miles of the A.T. multiplies the number of possible entries on the what could go wrong list and makes adaptability a must.

Most sources rank the White Mountains, southern Maine and northern Pennsylvania as the most difficult three sections of any A.T. thru-hike, and when I asked the Dames their opinion, they concurred. According to Holland, They say that when you reach the Whites, 80% of the trail is behind you, but 80% of the work is ahead of you.

Explained Aurin, The wind is constant in the Whites. Its pretty rare when its still.

In fact, Holland reported that the force of the wind actually blew her off the trail while trekking through the Presidential range.

You have a backpack on, so you are a high-profile vehicle. You had to use your trekking poles to stay upright, Holland said.

True to the ranking, southern Maine and the infamous Mahoosuc Notch also proved tough for this hiking duo. This deep gap between mountains is labeled by many thru-hiking experts as the A.T.s longest mile. According to Holland, the section is like a puzzle that involves crawling under and over boulders.

With a positive attitude (and rest), its like a jungle gym recess, it can be fun, she explained.

After hearing Holland and Aurins description of this leg of the trail, I added PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) to the aforementioned adaptability as another key to any successful thru-hike. It took the hikers three hours to negotiate the Mahoosuc Mile, and based on their descriptions, they did it with smiles on their faces.

I last spoke with the Dames at the halfway point of their hike just before they entered Pennsylvania. While in Rocksylvania, as it has come to be known by thru-hikers, both took hard falls that required medical attention on separate occasions about a week apart. Needless to say, the hikers were glad to have the rocks of the Keystone State behind them, but they now began to feel a time crunch to finish their hike.

In order to finish with the traditional summit of Mount Katahdin, the hikers would need to arrive at Baxter State Park prior to Oct. 15, as access to the mountain is typically closed at that point due to winter weather conditions. Prior to the White Mountain range, they were averaging more than 100 miles every eight days. However, the Whites reduced their daily average from around 15 miles per day to around 6.

Facing this dilemma, the Dames made the decision to flip-up or shuttle up to Monson, Maine, hike the Hundred-Mile Wilderness and summit Mount Katahdin prior to its closure and then pick back up in Monson and hike back down to finish the remaining section of the trail. Again, their ability to adapt proved tantamount to their success.

It took the Dames almost seven months to complete their peregrination from Georgia to Maine. Thats a lot of time to unplug from the daily connectivity of the real world. In fact, both mentioned this reentry as one of the hardest things theyve had to do since coming off the trail. Holland told me they are having to control their media diet and ease back into the realities of daily life.

Were trying to figure out where our place is, Aurin explained.

Added Holland, The one thing we do know is we are looking forward to going to spring training baseball games in Florida.

The semi-retired couple splits their time between Florida and their cabin in the mountains near Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Of note, Maine won out as their favorite state. According to Aurin, The remoteness, vastness and purity of the state made it feel like a western state in the East. Its pristine, perfect, amazing.

Their favorite moment turned out to be one of their last on the trail. In the words of Holland: Our last night on the trail was our most memorable. We both said it was a spiritual moment. It was an absolutely beautiful evening in a pine forest in the Bigelows. The colors of the forest were stunning, the sun was setting, you could see the silk of spider webs blowing in the wind in the rays of the sun. We felt like we were at peace with everything, and everyone that had supported us was with us. It was the best ending we could write for the hike that we got.

Sometimes we get what we expect, and sometimes at the intersection of expectations and reality something magical happens. Heres to that magic, to the Wandering Dames and to finding your peace out there in our great outdoors.

Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at braddye@comcast.net.

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Expectations and reality along the Appalachian Trail - Meridian Star

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November 14th, 2021 at 1:47 am

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