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Week 21: Christina Doucette

I have a confession! Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything terrible. Due to a vacation to the Pacific Northwest, which wasn’t in the cards when I started “A Year Of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail”, the 21st hike actually took place during the 20th week. That’s right, I doubled up and hiked the same section of the AT twice in one week. But I’m not worried about it… I will still get to do 52 hikes with 52 amazing, inspiring women! 

Speaking of inspiring women, I had the privilege to walk and talk with Christina Doucette, my companion for the 21st hike. I first met Christina in 1991 when her kids, Kyle and Allison, and my son, Tim, were in an outdoor summer production of the Wizard of Oz. If I remember correctly, they played multiple roles: flying monkeys, munchkin and poppies which turned into snowflakes…what a treasured memory. Having recently moved to Hagerstown, I was feeling homesick and a bit of an outsider until Christina with characteristic warmth and welcoming ways introduced me to the other parents. I was and still am grateful. For almost 30 years, Christina and I have routinely connected at Renew, a gathering of 5-6 women who have shared life’s joys, struggles, adventures and sorrows. Despite not seeing each other due to Covid, it wasn’t surprising that our hike quickly took on the feel of a traveling mini Renew meeting.

The weather was absolutely glorious! Blue skies and the warmth of the sun made for perfect hiking…and there were lots of others out on the trail taking advantage of the beautiful weather. We came upon a group of five guys all trying to guess the original purpose of the large, rusted piece of metal that lies beside the trail. I shared some of the thoughts of my previous hiking companions including an old farm tractor, an antique piece of logging equipment and machinery discarded by the Washington County Roads Department. A guy named Nate King, who was quite certain he knew exactly what it was said, “It’s obviously a medieval catapult!” As my husband says when at times I maybe a tad overconfident, “Maybe wrong but never in doubt.”

Christina is quite the gardener and very knowledgeable about wildflowers. We had lots of fun photographing and naming the ones along the trail that we recognized and hazarding guesses for those we didn’t. Christina told me about Garden Answers, an app that identifies flowers. Thanks for the tip, Christina…I can’t wait to download it!

As we walked, Christina and I talked about her 40-year teaching career, her life during retirement and everything in between. As a teacher, Christina enjoyed working with children that other teachers had labeled as “difficult.” She found both joy and meaning in rewriting the script these kids had been handed. Her life during retirement is full of good friends, meaningful volunteer activities and lots of love for Allison’s family and her two adorable children. 

We made it to the stream at Warner Hollow, where I took photos of Christina resting on a rock in the middle of the stream and pointing out a plant with leaves the size of serving platters! After a quick break we turned around and headed up the steep incline, back the way we had come. On the way up the hill, Christina told me of her busy week: lunch with friends, a birthday celebration for a group of friends all turning 70 and her work at the hospital’s thrift store. As a consummate consignment store shopper, I was thrilled to learn of this last tidbit of information! Shopping anyone?

Of course, we talked about our children. Christina taught most of my kids at some point and I watched her kids in plays and in the high school marching band. Then she said, “I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since Kyle died.” We reminisced about Kyle’s love of hiking and smiled thinking Kyle would be proud of his mother hiking the AT at 70! As we shared memories, we grieved again his sudden death in a car accident. I asked Christina how she had found the strength to move forward. According to Christina, it wasn’t and still isn’t easy. But talking about Kyle helps and so does listening to and supporting others who have lost a child. Asked if she had any words of wisdom for those who have lost a loved one, Christina said, “Grief is always in the car just don’t let it drive.” So wise. So powerful. So strong.

When you look at the picture of Christina striking the “strong woman” pose remember her words and consider sharing them with others who might find comfort in them. Inspired by Christina’s strength, I too struck the strong woman pose…on Orcas Island in Washington state.

 

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