Charmed by the Hike: The Appalachian Trail – by Charlotte Canelli

Read Charlotte Canelli’s column in the April 20 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

In the 1998 bestseller, “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail”, Bill Bryson recounts his experiences, with and without his friend, Stephen, along the 2,184 mile challenge of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson hiked the trail from Georgia to parts of Maine. It doesn’t matter much that Bryson, never completed the hike. Only one-quarter of those who attempt the hike as a “thru-hike” in one season actually complete all of it. His obsession with the trail, his humorous exploits and his discoveries, among them how hard it is to team up with a friend under extenuating circumstances, made for a bestselling memoir.

Somewhere in the 1990s (before Bryson’s book was published, I might add) I had the very silly and romantic thought of hiking the trail myself. I had hiked the notorious Mount Washington in my 20s and had done my share of backpacking and camping over forty odd years. However, I had lost my enthusiasm for hiking around the time my young daughters and their father began leaving me in the dust on all trails, hiking and otherwise. Out-of-shape, overweight and much more interested in the feat of cooking gourmet camping meals, my interest in hiking the Appalachian Trail lasted about a week. I do remember receiving a guidebook for my birthday that year when a friend took me much too seriously. I was reminded of my humiliating quest when I read “It’s Always Up: Memories of the Appalachian Trail” by the Mountain Marching Mamas.

Six Mountain Marching Mamas began hiking one fall in the late 1970s when their children were small. A weekend together with women, no matter what the reason or weather, was an inviting thought. Several were close friends, two others were sisters and most of them lived in Florida, near enough to the Georgia mountains where the southern trailhead of the AT begins.

Six, and then five, of the women began spending time backpacking together each year. With grime in their knees, wind in their hair and families left far behind, they soon began hiking parts of the Trail until all “five million steps” or over 2,000 miles were complete. All of them took the quest seriously and Charme Burns, one of the Mamas, wrote that once they started talking about hiking the entire trail, the mission took on a life of its own. From mothers of young children who were left in the care of their supportive husbands, the Mamas have hiked together for over forty years becoming grandmothers, senior citizens and very experienced hikers.

We had the pleasure at the Morrill Memorial Library of presenting one of the Mamas (and authors of the book, “It’s Always Up”) on Tuesday, March 6. Mother-in-law of one of our trustees, Charme Burns shared her experiences with photographs, anecdotes and readings from the book she co-authored with the other four of her lifelong friends. All of us lucky enough to be in the audience were amazed at the dedication of this group of adventurous women. It is a story full of friendship and fellowship, humor and humility. It is complete with tales of the strangers they meet along the way, the antics they share and the challenges they endure. Near the end are accounts of the celebration after their 27th hike, the end of their trail, in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. That didn’t end their hiking days, however, as the women still meet annually somewhere in the world.

Many others have written memoirs about hiking the entire length of the AT. “The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog” by Kevin Runolfson was published in 2010. Another hiker, Jeff Alt hiked 2,160 miles along the Appalachian Train for charity. In his inspirational account, “A Walk for Sunshine” (2009), Jeff trekked for his brother who has cerebral palsy and he has raised over $150,000 with his annual Walk-With Sunshine for the Sunshine Home where his brother lives.

In “Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail” (2010), Jennifer Pharr Davis shares her solo experience of completing the trail in fifty-seven days, when she was 21 years old. In 2000 Leslie Noyes Mass decided to walk the Trail during a ‘thru-hike’ at the age of 59 and recounts the story in her book, “In Beauty May She Walk” (2005). A college professor, Leslie is not only challenged by the hike but is also confronted with the needs of those she left behind, her family.

For those who think they might like to take on the challenge, there are recent books such as “The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner” (2009) by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, “The Appalachian Trail Food Planner: Recipes and Menus for the 2,000 Mile Hike” (2009) by Lou Adsmon and at least twenty other publications focused on specific portions of the Trail.

For the less adventurous (and more practical) there are guidebooks for taking the trail one day, or one night, at a time. Victoria and Frank Logue have written “The Best of the Appalachian Trail: Day Hikes” (2004) and “The Best of the Appalachian Trail: Overnight Hikes” (2004).

We in New England have the wonderful luck of being within hours of many of the trailheads and overnight huts of the Appalachian Trail. Some of it, in Western Massachusetts, is easier hiking. Much more of it is daunting, such as the Mt. Katahdin section at the conclusion of the trail in Maine. Many of the books I’ve included above, such as the one by Mountain Marching Mamas, will inspire you to try at least a day’s hike or put a smile on your face thinking about it. As the Mamas like to sing, “Some trails are happy ones, others are blue. It’s the way you ride the trail that counts, here’s a happy one for you.”

If you would like to reserve any of these titles in DVD or CD version please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-799-0200 or reserve them in the Minuteman Library catalog.

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