On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
A few days prior to my planned hike with Rebecca McGuffin my grandkids came for a visit. They are super high energy, incredibly creative, bright, funny and quite exhausting! So, I was grateful when Sunday morning rolled around and was looking forward to meeting Rebecca, my hiking companion for the 24th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trial.” Honestly, hiking several miles on a rocky section of the AT at 8:00 in the morning was way less demanding (and much quieter) than the raucous fun at Yaya’s house! Now I have a better understanding of Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to solo hike the AT at age 67, who said, “Hiking the entire length of Appalachian Trail was EASY compared to raising eleven children.”
I met Rebecca at Smithsburg Elementary, and she followed me to the trailhead on Route 77, just a little over two miles away. Though it was sunny at the school, it was foggy on top of the ridge where we parked our vehicles. Rebecca and I were pretty sure that the sun, which seemed to be struggling to burn off the moisture from the previous night’s rain, was going to be victorious and it would turn out to be a beautiful morning for a hike…and we were right!
Within minutes of starting down the trail, I was struck by Rebecca’s positive outlook, as sunny as the day turned out to be! As Rebecca told me about her work as a Physical Therapy Technician, I could easily imagine her encouraging, empowering and supporting the patients she works with. She spends her days teaching and demonstrating a vast array of exercises to a variety of patients as they learn proper body mechanics, strengthen muscles, improve balance and increase flexibility. Trust me, Rebecca’s in great shape…at the office, on an average workday, she walks 5 miles! When I asked her to share advice on aging healthfully, it was no surprise when she said, “Stay active, engage your core throughout the day and practice standing on one foot to improve your balance.” Thanks, Rebecca…I’m now standing on one foot while I brush my teeth! Anyone want to join me?
The woods were thick with vegetation. In some places it almost grew over the trail. As we hiked, Rebecca and I noticed lots of mushrooms, possibly because the ground was so damp. Neither of us is very knowledgeable about mushrooms but we do know we love to eat them! We shared stories of mushroom hunters and wished we knew where we could find morels. I told Rebecca about the morels that unexpectedly sprouted in my backyard one summer. It turns out the mulch delivered the previous fall had morel spores. I was very nervous about eating them, but my husband said they were delicious…and the good news is he’s still alive!
There were definitely cicadas still singing their song, but the chorus was not quite as loud. Who knows, I might even miss the little buggers when their gone. On our way down to Warner Hollow, we saw lots of chipmunks and heard what I think was a Piliated Woodpecker. The water level at Warner Hollow was the lowest yet, in fact, it was pretty easy to cross the stream stepping from rock to rock. As I was getting ready to take a picture of Rebecca by the bridge, she offered to show me how to use the timer on my iPhone camera. I took my first timed photo of the two of us on the bridge and did a little celebratory jig at learning a new skill!
Speaking of learning, as we climbed the hill, Rebecca shared some of the important lessons she has learned since her recent divorce. She didn’t paint an artificially rosy picture, but she said that the divorce had given her the chance to re-evaluate her priorities, rediscover who she is and grant herself permission to pursue her passions. Top on her priority list are her two children, Simon and Charlotte. Both as a way to earn extra money to support her family and in pursuit of her love and passion for animals, Rebecca started a pet/house sitting business. Though she’s never advertised, word of mouth recommendations, provide her with as many pet sitting gigs as she wants. While pet/house sitting, Rebecca enjoys working on jigsaw puzzles…it’s another passion! For Rebecca, who doesn’t watch TV, jigsaw puzzles are a great way to relax. She finds them challenging, sometimes frustrating, but always fun…especially when the last piece is laid, and she completes the picture. As a fellow puzzle enthusiast, I know and love that feeling!
Per usual, there were lots of hikers on the trail. We ran into a family, with a 7-year-old son, who was hiking the Maryland section of the AT…I know it’s not for everyone, but it seemed like a nice family activity. We also ran into “Joy”, a 63-year-old thru hiker who after only 55 days on the trail was already in Maryland! Now that’s speedy! I told her about Prime Time for Women and asked if I could take her picture. She declined the photo but delighted in me writing about the joy she has found hiking the AT.
I got some great pictures: Rebecca by the lichen covered wall and by the old, rusted piece of machinery that has sparked so many conversations. I took a picture of Rebecca striking the “strong woman” pose just a thru-hiker came by and offered to take a picture of two strong women! I said to Rebecca, “As one strong woman to another, what advice can you share?” She thought for a minute before replying, “Learn who you are. Stay true to yourself.” She also recommended meditation and showed me two of her most important mantras…a tattoo on her arm that said “Believe” and a bracelet on her wrist that said “COURAGE.”
Almost at the end of our hike, Rebecca told me about Puzzle Traders of Frederick County, a Private Facebook Group that she started, which now as 386 members. Members can swap puzzles, meet other puzzle enthusiasts and share photos of puzzles they have completed. It turns out, Rebecca not only enjoys putting pieces of puzzles together to make complete pictures, but she also enjoys bringing people together to build community! I can’t wait to sign up for Puzzle Traders of Frederick County.