It can be a surreal experience to agree to hike the Appalachian Trail with a complete stranger but that is exactly what Mary Trapane and I decided to do. The only thing we knew was the make and model of the car the other would be driving when we met on Wednesday, May 12 at 1:00 p.m. at Smithsburg Elementary. When a Honda CRV entered the parking lot, right on time, and pulled alongside my red Subaru Outback, Mary and I made the first of many connections on an absolutely gorgeous afternoon.
As usual, the 19th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” started at the AT trailhead just outside of Smithsburg on Route 77. Even before we entered the woods, we were blown away by the beauty of Yellow Rockets that were in full bloom in the field right near the road. Honestly, they weren’t there last week! It’s possible that these flowers appeared more breathtaking than usual because the weather was absolutely PERFECT…super sunny, around 68 degrees with a delightfully soft breeze. We saw lots of other wildflowers that seemed to be crowding ever closer to the trail. They reminded me of my grandchildren calling out, “Look at me! Look at me! Over here!” We saw wild geraniums, Common Cinquefoil, Twinleaf, Bear Corn and May Apple and a few others too that I couldn’t identify.
Most of my hikes have been in the morning so the afternoon sun, almost directly overhead, seemed to be smiling on us. The light coming through the trees made the new leaves look neon green against the brilliant blue sky. We thought the pictures would look great on Facebook or Instagram, which started an entire conversation about social media. Mary sticks to some pretty strict standards about Facebook. If it isn’t photos of babies, puppies, pets or travel, she doesn’t want to see them! We agreed that social media should be about establishing positive connections with others and should never be used to bully, discriminate or humiliate.
Talking about discrimination led to a heartfelt conversation about those who are treated unfairly due to the color of their skin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. As white women, we have both experienced sexism but recognize that so many others have it harder. As mothers of gay children, we have seen the ugliness of hate and it is important to us to affirm our children’s choices to love who they love. We also want to do this for others, so I was grateful when Mary told me about an organization called Free Mom Hugs. I’m definitely going to check it out!
I took some great photos of Mary: striking the strong woman pose, standing on the planks across the stream at Warner Hollow and my favorite, Mary by the lichen covered rock wall. The way the light was shining on her she looks like the patron saint of trail hiking. As Mary and I are both lapsed Catholics (something else we share in common), I did a little research when I got home to see if there is actually a patron saint of hiking…and there is! Who knew? According to my google search, Saint Bernard is the protector of skiers, mountain climbers, snowboarders, and backpackers as a result of the 40 years he spent as a missionary in the Alps. Since Mary and I are all about ending discrimination, I’m thinking I should nominate her as the female saint of hikers and see what happens!
Though deep in conversation, we still enjoyed observing the natural world… the chipmunk that scurried through the woods and along a rotten log and the brilliant red Scarlet Tanager that landed on a branch directly over the trail. Mary didn’t know what it was, but I got to tell her a funny story of why I could identify it. If you want to know, you’ll just have to go hiking with me sometime!
As we approached the end of our hike, I asked Mary about her job. She’s an HR Analyst for the State of Maryland who is looking forward to retiring in 5 years. I asked, “What do you hope to do in retirement?” Mary replied, “I’m not exactly sure what I will do but I dream of finding my passion and having a strong sense of purpose.” She highly recommended a book by Rachel Hollis that she has found to be inspiring and helpful entitled, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.
My reading list just got longer! As Mary spoke, she reminded me of another book, “Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman.” This travel memoir written by Alice Steinbach, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Baltimore Sun, details her travels to Europe and her inner journey to discover who she was apart from her role as a reporter. She pursued her dream, found her spark…and herself. I quite sure Mary, a strong, independent woman, will as well!