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Week 23: Vicki Sterling

Vicki Sterling, my hiking companion for the 23rd week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” and I really lucked out! All week the forecast had been calling for rain and I just knew it would be pouring on the morning of our hike. Actually, although a little humid, the weather was quite lovely.  Sometimes, but not often, I enjoy being wrong!

Meeting someone on the internet and agreeing to spend a few hours with them on the trail is quite exciting.  It’s sort of like going on a blind date or maybe I should say blind hike! You have no idea what, if anything, you will have in common, what you will talk about or if this will be the one and only time you will ever see this person. All I can say, after spending just a little over two hours with Vicki, is that I hope to hike with her again and look forward to joining her and her friends on some of their exciting Saturday excursions! 

As we started down the trail, Vicki and I began talking about our families. We compared notes. She has a daughter and a son, one granddaughter that she calls Nugget (Isn’t that the cutest name, ever?) and is expecting another grandbaby in October.  I have three sons, two daughters, four grandkids and am also expecting another grandbaby in October…instant connection!  Another thing we share in common but wish we didn’t is that both of us have a son who faced a serious, life threatening illness.  A medical crisis of that magnitude is the kind of experience that resets a parent’s entire perspective and creates a bond with others that have faced similar situations. As we shared our stories and the trauma of those difficult days and months, we realized that we both have a near bottomless depth of gratitude for the medical experts that treated our sons and an incredible sense of appreciation for having access to good medical care.  

Compared to the previous week, the foliage appeared much thicker. In fact, within minutes of entering the woods, both Vicki and I removed our sunglasses, which neither of us wore again for the rest of the day.  With the deep shade cover, there weren’t nearly as many wildflowers along the trail.  In fact, I only took one picture of a small white flower, which I think was Bristly Dewberry. There must have been one heck of a windstorm since the previous week’s hike as downed trees crossed the trail in two places. No biggie, we clambered over or went around the branches and went on our merry way. Noticing the changes from week to week, both minute and obvious, along the trail is one of the things I enjoy about hiking the same section of the AT each week.

Vicki and I may not have seen many wildflowers, but we saw a heck of a lot of cicadas…especially as we crossed the powerline field!  I don’t get it! These bugs have enormous, gigantic red eyes, so why in the world do they fly like they are blind, careening into whatever gets in their way…including hikers? I picked up and scolded the darn cicada that crashed into me before setting it free!

We saw lots of hikers and chatted with some of them including a thru hikers named Woody and four incredible women who were doing the Maryland section of the AT this year. Why do I say incredible?  Let me tell you!  Three of the women, with the greatest trail names ever, Slow, Poke and Turtle, are all sisters and they’ve been doing section hikes of the AT for the past 17 years. They hail from Colorado and Missouri and this year were joined by Poke’s daughter, Weenie.  You might think be thinking, what they haven’t finished yet? But let me ask you this…How many women ages 68, 70 and 72 do you know that carry their own backpack, tent, sleeping bag, food and clothes and sleep on the ground for two weeks every summer?  Check out their photos and I bet you will be just as impressed! I love highlighting women doing something that others don’t think is possible!  When you see it, you can believe it! Go girls…three cheers for Slow, Poke and Turtle, and of course, Weenie who is a baby in her 50’s.

I took some great photos of Vicki. I like the ones of her by the lichen covered wall and the look of determination as she struck the “strong woman” pose. My favorites photos of the day were of Vicki next to Woody, the thru hiker, the two of us in the powerline field where you can see the sun’s rays streaming down and the picture of Vicki walking out of the woods at the end of the hike into bright sunshine. It almost looks like she’s walking into the bright light of the world beyond!

We made it down to Warner Hollow in pretty good time. The light filtering through the trees and the sound of the water trickling under the bridge at a slow rate made for a peaceful, almost serene, setting…that is until I slipped on a rock in the middle of the stream and went down hard! OUCH!!! Luckily, I have some good natural padding and after I picked myself up, we headed back the way we had come.  

As we walked up the steep incline, I asked Vicki about her work.  As the Director of Behavioral Health for the Washington County Health Department, she plays an extremely important role in the health of our community.  She oversees the prevention, intervention and treatment of individuals in Washington County affected by behavioral health issues and works to make health care accessibly to everyone. Her office responds to those who have suffered an overdose and she works with families to get the help their loved ones need.  While she plays a big role in Washington County Goes Purple, which is a substance abuse awareness and education program, I found myself admiring Vicki for her humility, compassion and willingness to meet each person where they are.  As I listened to Vicki speak about drug abuse, I heard no shaming…only a desire to treat people suffering from addiction and improve the lives of every person in Washington County.  

Vicki was in front of me as we neared the end of our hike. From where I walked behind, she looked to be walking into a bright, almost pure white light. I’d like to think that the sun was lighting a path to recovery for all those Vicki had talked about. 


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