On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
Week 22 of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” started early. By 7:15 a.m. my hiking companion, Linda Brooks, was in my driveway, ready and raring to go. You see, Linda, who is a Community Health Worker at Meritus Health, wanted to get in a hike before reporting for a whole day of work…she’s no slacker! I grabbed my coffee, jumped in the car and off we went to the AT trailhead just off route 77.
It was drizzling and super foggy, so it was a little difficult to see as we drove up the mountain. Despite the speeding ticket I got during Week 21 (in the darn school zone), I am a safe driver and hit the brakes in time to avoid the deer that trotted across the road just in front of my vehicle. Obviously, Linda is a safe driver too as she didn’t rear end me! A few seconds later, my heart still pounding, I parked my car and Linda pulled in behind me. It felt like an auspicious beginning to our hike as we both marveled at the beauty of the deer that appeared out of nowhere.
Talk about other worldly! The fog was so thick that it seemed like we were entering the Twilight Zone as we approached woods, which we knew were there but couldn’t see. Initially, we could hear water dripping from the trees but within the first 15 minutes, the sun showed some muscle and began burning off the fog and breaking up the cloud cover. It seemed like the chipmunks, as they scurried everywhere, were even happier than we were about the change in weather. Even though those cute little critters startled Linda a couple of time, I have to say, I love them! In fact, when I got engaged, my college roommate dressed up the two stuffed chipmunks that adorned my dorm room in wedding clothes…I know, super corny but very cute!
As Linda and I hiked the trail we talked about the multiple roles she plays in the Hagerstown community. As a lifelong resident, in addition to her work at the hospital, Linda is a lay leader in her church and the founder and president of Activities for Life Health and Fitness. She is passionate about encouraging daily exercise. Linda, who says she doesn’t focus specifically on weight loss, stresses the importance of healthful eating, stress reduction and regular physical activity. We had a long conversation about regular hiking as a form of exercise, which led to a discussion about the benefits of hiking poles. “To use or not to use hiking poles” …that is the question! For me it’s a no brainer. They improve posture and balance, better engage core muscles, and because the upper body is engaged burn more calories. Of course, there are lots of other benefits of hiking with poles but I can’t list them all here!
As everyone knows we are in peak Cicada season! We saw thousands of holes along the trail where the nymphs had emerged. As we approached the open field by the powerlines, the noise was close to deafening! Those cicadas were staring at us with their big red eyes and the little exoskeletons that they had shed were everywhere. In solidarity with one of my granddaughters who absolutely loves ALL bugs/insects, I hung a cicada shell on my shirt. Linda was NOT a fan! She said, and I quote, “I love hiking. I’m good with camping as long as I sleep in a cabin but… uh uh, no way, I don’t do bugs!” I don’t think Linda will mind if I tell you, she had a “little freak” more than once as bugs flew at her and an unidentified critter scurried underfoot. I didn’t see them…I only heard Linda’s scream!
I got lots of great photos of Linda, which isn’t surprising because she also does professional modeling. She even gave me a few tips on how to pose. My favorites pictures of Linda are the one by the lichen covered wall, Linda holding the tulip poplar flower and the two us by the rock wall, taken by a group of guys who were through hiking. We chatted for a few minutes with them before wishing Ketchup, Australia and Sling safe travels on the rest of their journey north to Maine. I have to admit, I’m tempted to attempt a through hike just so I can have a cool trail name! We also ran into a husband-and-wife duo out of Minnesota, who went by the trail names Pop N Lop. They actually gave me a business card with their trail names and contact info printed on it. They explained that they were “MYTHERS”, which stands for Multi-Year-Through-Hikers…they made that up, which I think is pretty clever. They hope to complete the entire Appalachian Trail over the course of five summers. Good luck Pop and Lop!
The stream at Warner Hollow, though the water level was low, looked quite pretty and very serene. We took photos of each other…Linda, the part-time professional model looking great in her cobalt blue track suit against the beautiful green foliage and me looking like a raw rookie as I tried a few poses suggested by Linda. Oh well, we all have our strengths! We headed back up the hill and as Linda struck the “strong woman” pose I asked her about the best advise her mother had given her. Here’s what she said, “Don’t let people define you. The sky’s the limit. Be a leader not a follower.” Her mother would be proud of her…she lives out that advice every day!
Linda expressed interest in doing a large group hike now that so many have been vaccinated. I told her that Prime Time for Women would be hosting the 2nd Annual Grandma Gatewood Hike in October and I would be sure to make sure she knows about it. In case you are wondering, Grandma Gatewood, known as the “Mother of Ultra Lite Backpacking”, was the first woman to solo hike the entire Appalachian Trail, that’s 2,190 miles! And get this…she was 67 years of age! Not only that, but Grandma Gatewood also went on to hike the entire length of the trail three more times, the last time at age 75. It sounds to me like she had given the same advice as Linda.
Almost back to the car, we talked about the hardships and surprising blessings of COVIC-19. As horrific as George Floyd’s murder was, we agreed that if it had not been for the pandemic, like so many others, it might not have registered on the collective conscience. Everyone was stuck at home. We were all watching TV…there was no escaping the tragedy. Linda and I share a hope that as a community, as a nation, we will continue to address the sometime invisible but very real systemic racism that hurts everyone but some a lot more than others. May it be so.