Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Trail Magic

By Robin Mayes, Farm Educator 

Here in Delaware County, we have many wonderful trail options for a great short hike. We can immerse ourselves briefly in nature on paths maintained by a variety of entities. Not only do we have our many county parks, but there are state parks, township parks, city parks and even a metro park, all within our county. And don’t forget we have a section of the Ohio-to-Erie Trail here that runs between Cincinnati and Cleveland. 

I have walked, hiked and run many trails over the years. I have even explored many miles of underground trails in caves. But for whatever reason, I never had the opportunity to hike on the granddaddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail. Envisioned in the 1920’s and then roughly developed by 1937, the 2,189-mile AT is one of the iconic U.S. trails along with the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. 

Grandma Gatewood

I have read about the AT for years. The experiences of “Grandma” Gatewood were really inspiring. She set off on the trail with just a gunny sack of provisions and canvas ‘Keds’ on her feet at the age of 67. She was the first woman to follow the white blazes alone. As a 60-something granny myself, I am even more impressed with her accomplishment now. 

A number of years ago, when I read Bill Bryson’s humorous look at the trail in “A Walk in the Woods” I decided to put it on my bucket list. I began walking and hiking in earnest. I carried one of my kid’s old school backpacks to train. My young granddaughters even painted beautiful, inspirational rocks for me to carry in my pack to add to the weight! 

As often happens, though, my real life just didn’t allow me to take a 3-month hiatus to go walk from Georgia to Maine. This is exactly why Grandma Gatewood was so old when she finally did it. She had been busy raising 11 children! 

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the idea of walking as transportation. Growing up in the mid-20th-century, Americans were ALL ABOUT cars! But reading about the early settlers picking up and walking across the country really resonated with me.  

Growing up on a farm miles from the nearest town meant I hardly ever had the opportunity of a walking commute. I remember daydreaming about ice skating to town whenever we were skating on the frozen Scioto River. 

That may be why I am so gratified today, when I have the opportunity to literally RUN my errands! 

AT symbol on trail

Recently, I finally got to hike a tiny bit of the Appalachian Trail and it did not disappoint! Thanks to a couple of my kids, I was able to spend four days hiking in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and 2 nights dispersed camping or ‘boondocking’, as young people have nicknamed it. The hiker carries all they need in their backpack and then stops for the night in designated areas. There are no facilities provided and whatever you bring IN, you take OUT. (Be prepared. You also deal with your own poo! A tiny shovel is an important part of your gear.) 

This kind of sleeping in the wild is so different than what I used to call “camping”. 

When I was a kid, (Yes, there is THAT line that I so often repeat these days.) my family had a truck camper that we slept in on trips. When my kids were young, we camped often, in a large complicated canvas tent until we were able to purchase a small pull-behind tent camper. Then we were REALLY living! But, as the mom in a family of seven with many additional friends thrown in, a week of camping wasn’t always the relaxing vacation you might imagine. It took days to pack for the trip and then possibly WEEKS to get it all unpacked, washed and stored away again. 

The experience of carrying everything you need on your back and setting up camp in 5 minutes or less was thrilling. Hanging a hammock between two trees is simple and provides a comfortable spot even on rocky terrain. Food-wise, a pouch of rehydrated noodles doesn’t quite compare with the cheesy potato soup or eggs and pancakes that my kids used to love while camping, but it is ready in minutes and requires no clean-up! 

Robin Mayes
Author’s daughter and son-in-law, Amber and Jeramy

After doing most of my traveling by foot here in the flatlands of central Ohio, the Kittatinny Ridge of the AT was a bit of a challenge! Let just say this, the Pennsylvania portion of the AT has earned its nickname of ‘Rocksylvania’, you actually begin to think the trail blazers moved boulders ONTO the trail rather than off! But the strenuous hours we spent going up were rewarded with spectacular views of the valleys! 


View of the Delaware Water Gap from the AT

After a few hours of climbing a trail that had been converted to a continuous waterfall from the remains of Hurricane Ida, we came upon a man lounging on a large boulder overlooking the Delaware Water Gap. He had binoculars in his hands which were resting on his chest. He had been there since 8 that morning, counting the eagles passing over on their flights south. He had counted more than 1,300 and was hoping to hit 1,500. A golden eagle soared overhead as we spoke with this dedicated, sun-burnt birder. 

We met a geology teacher who was passing-on his love for the trail, and the rocky boulders filling it, to two of his students. One of them was thoroughly enjoying the experience while the other young man did not seem to be embracing the rigorous hiking so much. 

Most hikers do the AT in segments over several months or even several years. A handful of runners have sought the FKT (fastest known time) of the AT. (Currently held by Karel Sabbe with a time of 41-days, 7-hours & 39 minutes) For an interesting commentary on one record-holder’s experience, look for “North” by Scott Jurek. 

About 3,000 intrepid souls attempt a “through hike” of the AT each year but only a quarter of those finish. These are the ones who really benefit from ‘trail angels’ and ‘trail magic’. Even though we spent only a few days on the trail, we did experience a bit of that magic. At one point we came upon a cooler stocked with ice, bottled water and juice- left by a group of local ‘trail angels.’ 

One late afternoon when we came off the trail and were miles from cell service, a wonderful woman stopped and asked where we were headed. When we told her where our car was parked (a 40-minute drive away!) she would not hear of leaving us behind and we scrambled, muddy packs and all into her warm vehicle. Now, that is some ‘trail magic’ for you! 

The “Rockets”

My kids and I weren’t on the AT long enough to earn trail names, but we met “the Rockets,” a couple who have been hiking the trail two weeks at a time for several years. He became known as “Pocket-Rocket” after a firecracker he was carrying in his pocket went off unexpectedly. No one was hurt in the incident, thankfully. She earned her nickname, “Snot-Rocket” for obvious reasons! Dedicated hikers, they even boast matching “AT” tattoos. 

Like the trails within our local parks, paths all over the world were inundated with unprecedented foot traffic during the pandemic when people were craving the outdoors and needed a break from lockdown. What a happy side-effect that so many discovered they like nature!  

If you are going to be walking, hiking, or running this winter check out Preservation Parks’ Winter 100 Challenge, , going on now until March 31. Get out and get your nature, and trail fix at one of our local parks or trails today!  

Share This Post:
Share This Post