Adventure, friendship and online dispatches along the Appalachian Trail
Rebecca Sudduth was in New Hampshire, near the beginning of her 2,175-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail, when a Subaru pulled up. "Are you Boo-Boo? "...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Rebecca Sudduth's trail blog: www.trailjournals.com/Rebecca.
Rebecca Sudduth was in New Hampshire, near the beginning of her 2,175-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail, when a Subaru pulled up.
"Are you Boo-Boo?" the driver asked. "We've been looking for you."
Sudduth was startled; Boo-Boo was her trail name. The driver explained that each year the family adopted a hiker, and that year it was Sudduth. They had discovered her through her Internet trail journal and chased her down. Over the five months she spent on the trail, they would send care packages to local post offices that Sudduth would cross.
These post offices were a lifeline, she said, and wrote in her journal: "In one town a postal clerk welcomed Boo-Boo warmly and told her she had been expecting her. Small-town America is still alive and well."
It was just one example of the friendliness she discovered in her solo assault last year on one of America's most famous trails, which traverses 14 states from Maine to Georgia.
A hiking journal
She would send her dispatches home to her father on Vashon Island, and he would transcribe them onto her blog. Sudduth, 27, grew up on Vashon Island and was a high-school athlete. On June 24, days after graduating from the University of Washington in nursing, she left on her hike. She was a solo "thru-hiker," the name given to those who complete the long hike in a single year. She arrived in Georgia Nov. 29, five months and five days from the day she left.
While she suffered the usual assortment of blisters, sore feet and bug bites — hence the name Boo-Boo — and a couple of scary bear encounters, Sudduth said the hike went smoothly. But she's used to adversity. She was working in a hospital in New Orleans during Katrina and had to evacuate during the flooding.
She heard about the Appalachian Trail hike about nine years ago and decided she wanted to do it. "It sounded exciting, and I knew nothing about the East Coast," she said.
She wrote in her journal, "How cool would it be to spend six months playing in the woods, meeting random people from all over the U.S. and world and having random adventures on the AT with our trail families. Mix in trail magic and you have one great adventure on your hands. Life simplified."
The hike was both a personal and professional challenge for Sudduth. She decided to accept pledges to fund a nursing-school scholarship in Haiti, where she'd visited on a medical-volunteer trip last March. She raised about $900 for the scholarship, and her father donated matching funds.
Friends on the trail
The trail crosses six national parks and goes through towns, where Sudduth could restock her food supplies and sleep in a motel room. Otherwise she pitched a tent in shelters erected along the trail.
She had two hiking partners: Music Man, who carried a small backpacker guitar he played at night, and Hedgehog, whom they picked up three weeks along the trail. The three would talk, sing and play trivia games as they clicked off the long miles.
She said the Appalachian Trail is known as a social trail and is one of the oldest long-distance trails in the country, completed in 1937.
Eventually, she said, she'd like to hike the 2,600-mile Pacific Coast Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, hoping to do the Pacific Trail in 2009.
An adventurous path
The hike cost her about $4,000, plus her airline ticket.
That she hiked the trail alone was unusual but not unprecedented. Of 240 northbound thru-hikers last year — which didn't include Sudduth because she hiked southbound — 50 were women, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit group that collects data on hikers. Of those 50 women, about half hiked solo.
Once when Sudduth stopped at a trail post office, the clerk told her she'd been reading about her adventure online. "I'm hiking with a celebrity," joked Music Man.
Along the trail, she had several adventures. In September, the three took the "four-state challenge," a race to cross Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and into Virginia in 24 hours. They did the 43 miles in 19 hours.
In Pine Grove, Pa., there was the half-gallon ice-cream challenge, where hikers had to eat a half-gallon of ice cream. Sudduth still has her wooden spoon.
The end of the path
Sudduth didn't complete the hike with her two friends. Music Man tired and left at the halfway point, and Hedgehog raced ahead to be home for Thanksgiving.
The trail varied from sea level to the highest point, in Tennessee, at 6,643 feet. Sudduth said she went through four pairs of boots on her hike.
Thirty miles before the end of the hike, her father, Mike, mailed a bottle of champagne, which she drank on her final summit.
Today she's back in Seattle, working at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Sudduth figures her hiking pals will be lifelong friends. "You get to the know people really quickly when you spend 24/7 with them," she said.
As Sudduth wrote in her trail journal: "You have to see the world before you can change it."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.