Relationships are important. Isolation is bad for our physical health and emotional wellbeing. Melony Groff understands this more than most. She works at establishing and maintaining friendships and uses all available means to reach out and connect with others. My first interaction with Melony Groff was via the Girls Who Hike, MD Facebook Group. A little while later Melony reached out to me through Messenger. Then we talked on the phone. Next, we chatted back and forth by text. Finally on Thursday, April 15, I met Melony, my hiking companion for the 15th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” in the flesh at the AT trailhead off Route 77. Isn’t technology amazing?
It’s so much fun to picture someone in your mind’s eye and then finally get to meet them in person. A quick introduction: Melony is tough, determined, resilient and positive. She’s a retired business owner, wife, mother, grandma, hiker, faithful member of her church, lover of travel and as of this past weekend, a newly initiated backpacker! I learned so much about this amazing woman on our 3 ½ hour hike. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First things first. As we pulled into the trailhead parking space, we saw another woman getting out of her car, loading up a big ass backpack! Melony and I didn’t even speak to each other because we were so busy gawking at the size of that tremendous pack! After we found our voices, we introduced ourselves to each other and then to Charlotte Baber and Dinah, her service dog. Charlotte is doing some serious trail training but said she would love to be part of A Year of Hikes…I’m already looking forward to it!
We knew it was going to be a lovely hike weatherwise because I remembered to bring all my rain gear, which, if you’re new to hiking, is the very best way to ward off storm clouds! As we set off, Melony showed me the cool AT hiking socks she purchased in honor of our hike. I think I am going to buy myself a pair of those socks!
I asked Melony what inspired her to participate in a “Year of Hikes.” She explained that as a lifelong hiker, she knows the fun, joy and healing power of spending time in nature. Last year, Melony suffered a severe case of COVID and for months dealt with extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. When she feared dying, her hope of being able to hike once again became her both her motivation and reward for continuing to challenge herself to literally put one foot in front of the other as she began her journey to renewed health. Melony, who will turn 52 in July, said “I just liked the idea of being one of the 52 women to participate in ‘A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.’” On top of that, in anticipation of her birthday, Melony has set a personal challenge of hiking 365 miles over 52 hikes before she turns 52. I’m betting Melony who says, “I may be aging but I’ll never grow old” will achieve and probably surpass her goal. Go Melony!
We spent a great deal of time taking photos of each other and the wildflowers that seemed to be blooming everywhere…by the stream, under logs, overhead on the trees and all along the forest floor. It’s astonishing to see how much the woods have changed in one week. Sometimes I feel a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I reflect on how quickly life goes by. Just two weeks ago, my fourth grandchild was born. I frequently wonder to myself and sometimes even aloud, “How is that possible…it seems only yesterday my children were born!” Ahh, a great reminder to make the most of life and treasure special memories.
Besides the variety of wildflowers in bloom, the biggest difference from previous weeks was the number of hikers we encountered. In addition to Charlotte, we chatted with “Thanksgiving” and “Baby Steps,” two flip flop thru hikers who started in Harpers Ferry and were heading North. We also talked with Barry who was doing a section hike and spied a guy who blew passed us at an incredible speed. He didn’t stop to talk but yelled back over his shoulder that he started in Georgia and was going straight through to Maine! I felt exhausted just watching him move up the trail and I’m a fairly fast hiker. Based on his speed, I’m guessing he’ll arrive in Maine in time for dinner…only kidding!!
As Melony and I walked we talked about growing up, work and our families. By any standard, Melony has faced many hardships over the course of her life. She has a mantra she that helps her remain positive: “A tough experience can serve an excuse to quit or a motivation to move forward.” After spending the day with Melony, I have a new mantra: “Tough experiences make inspiring women.” Thanks, Melony for hiking with me today and inspiring me forever!