A Walk in the Woods
Each of us had a reason to bail: family, work, bad knees, bad news. To boot, seven of the 20 miles we’d planned to trek during a three-day FitMawrter backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail were engulfed by a 40-acre wildfire. The re-routed hike was steeper and higher but more beautiful, our Blue Ridge Hiking Company guide assured us as we stuffed 30-pound packs at Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs, North Carolina. And we’re Mawrters after all, so we set off on May Day weekend to hike this section that Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) skipped in favor of Virginia’s flatter terrain.
Our guide Caet Cash, a good-humored women’s college graduate who’d thru-hiked the AT and Pacific Crest Trail—solo, in a tennis dress—advised, “You carry your fears on the trail.” Hers was hunger (thus, our food supply included cookies, chips and guacamole, dehydrated mushroom risotto, and pad Thai). We unpacked our fears—bears, bugs, lightning, keeping up—across 21 miles, from just north of Davenport Gap (near the northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains) to Roaring Fork Shelter, over Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch Summit, following Caet and Irene Segal Ayers ’82, our spiritual guide.