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Week 34: Laura Wagner

Laura and Alex, my daughter and almost son-in-law, and their dog Jake were visiting from New York this past weekend.  They were supposed to return home early on Sunday but, due to the torrential rainfall in NYC on Saturday night from Hurricane Henri, they decided to stay.  It was a smart decision as Brooklyn, where they live, had the greatest amount of rainfall in one hour ever!  Subways stations flooded and some streets in Brooklyn were turned into rivers with flash floods causing some drivers to abandon their cars.  I was grateful for their caution because I didn’t have to worry about them navigating high winds and rising waters.  But I was super glad for another reason…my daughter agreed to be my hiking companion for the 34th week of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail!”

Laura hadn’t planned to hike, so naturally she hadn’t packed her hiking boots. But luckily, she and I wear the same size shoe and I was able to lend her a pair.  Discussing what boots Laura would wear, led to a conversation about the hiking boots I promised as a birthday present in April but never got around to ordering.  During the intervening months Laura learned about Yucatan Sandals made by Ecco, which apparently are the comfiest hiking sandals on the planet, and I DID order those for her. Belated Happy Birthday, Laura! Love, Mom.

As my hiking buddy, Laura got to pick the time for our hike.  I can tell you that she’s an adult…no doubt about it!  On Sunday night she said, “Let’s get up at 6:10 a.m. and be on the trail by 7:00 because I have to be back home and working by 9:30.” As a teenager and college student, she would have picked 11:00 a.m. at the earliest and still have been grumpy about it! Not so on Monday morning. She was bright eyed and bushy tailed (once she grabbed her coffee) and eager to get going. We jumped in the car, arriving at the trailhead right on time.

Laura set the pace striding at a fast clip in front of me. As I followed her across the field of wildflowers and into the woods, I was reminded of all the times as a little girl when she said, “I’ll go first.  I can do it.”  She wasn’t exactly breaking trail through the woods, but she was breaking lots of spider webs…with her face!  Earlier in the spring and summer spider webs crisscrossing the trail weren’t much of an issue. I guess then there were so many thru hikers on the A.T. Highway, that even the spiders didn’t want to play that close to traffic.  Even though Laura waved a stick in front of her to break the webs, after a short while she said, “Hey Mom, do you want to go first?”

Because we were on the trail just a half hour after sunrise, the woods seemed dark and felt damp. But as we hiked along, the sun rose high enough to send shafts of light through the tree canopy, creating dappled patterns on the downed, moss-covered logs and across the ferns in the powerline field.  Laura and I tried to capture the soft beauty of the light with our cameras but failed. We agreed that our photos never quite capture the majesty of the natural world as well as the eye. As we walked, we talked about recent research proving the health benefits of spending time in nature and marveled that doctors in 34 states are now “prescribing nature” to treat a range of conditions including high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. I told Laura about an Audible book called The 3-Day Effect: How Nature Calms Your Brain, which I enjoyed and thought she might as well.

Laura and her fiancé are planning to take a road trip before moving to Austin, Texas in October. As we headed down the incline toward Warner Hollow, I asked about the destinations they were planning to visit and how she thought Jake would do on the trip.  According to Laura, Jake is basically happy anywhere she and Alex are, so travelling to and exploring Asheville, Memphis and a few other destinations along the way will be a great adventure for all of them.  I admire her sense of adventure and am glad that she has a partner who shares her passion for learning and incurable curiosity.  It’s no wonder they are both successful journalists, Laura at Defector.com and Alex at Sports Illustrated.

I got to ask Laura how working at Defector differed from her last job at Deadspin. She loves that Defector is an employee-owned website that is committed to turning out great stories for their loyal readers rather than focused on making a profit for people sitting in a boardroom. When asked if she feels pressure as a “part owner”, she replied, “I feel a sense of responsibility which is matched by a sense of freedom to pursue stories that matter to me…and that’s worth a lot!” As Laura struck the “strong woman” pose, I felt proud of who she is…a strong, independent, courageous, opinionated woman who is poised to fight for who and what she believes in.

We made it down to the stream, which due to the recent rainfall, was running a little faster than a trickle.  I climbed on the rocks downstream to get a picture of my hiking buddy for the week, on the planks that cross the stream, for the 34th time this year. Only this time I slipped, and my foot went into the stream!  I’m seriously considering returning my new hiking boots because they just don’t grip like my old ones.  Laura may have to bring her own hiking boots next time! I trudged back up the hill with one soaking wet foot, but it didn’t really matter. I was so engaged listening to and learning from Laura that I hardly noticed the squeaky, squishy noise my boot made.

Not wanting Laura to be late for work, we booked it back the way we had come, stopping only once to chat with Survivor and MacGyver, two section hikers out for a 27-day hike.  I asked permission to take their photo and mention them in my blog and they said, “Yes, of course! And can we take your picture and mention you in our blog?”  Yay!  We are going to be in a blog…only problem, I don’t know where to find it!

Nearing the end of our hike, we talked a little bit about the horrific impact of the pandemic and how for the briefest of time, in early July, it looked like it was behind us. Unfortunately, it is not so. I asked Laura what, if any, lessons she had gleaned during the past two years. Here’s what she said, “For me it’s important to find ways to be in true solidarity with others because solidarity creates ways for people to succeed together. You can’t just fight for those you know; you also have to fight for those you don’t know.”  I agree with Laura. On a very small scale I hope this blog helps people find a tiny measure of solidarity. I hope the stories resonate with readers and they can glimpse the world through the eyes of another, if only for a minute. I know my life has been enriched by every woman with whom I’ve had the privilege to hike, those that I met for the first time on the trail, those whom I’ve known for 40 years, and yes, especially the one to whom I gave birth.


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