I can remember where I was the first time I heard the words, “Appalachian Trail”. I remember buying my first A.T. book and subsequently reading everything I could get my hands on.
I remember being moved to tears by the likes of Cindy Ross, and Bill Erwin and, I remember getting my first “AT Journeys” in the mail. More than anything, I wanted to be a part of the magic, beauty and community of the A.T.
In 2003, I finally had the opportunity to attempt a thru-hike. I knew that I was going to take my place among the 2,000 milers of the world, and that I, too, would have a journey for the ages. One that would inspire and move others and one that would make me part of the history of this amazing trail.
I took six months off from work, hiked seven hundred miles, broke my foot and met more amazing people than I ever could have dreamed. I had my Polaroid taken at Mountain Crossings, ate breakfast at Miss Tillie’s Hostel, and sat in the wood-fired hot tub under the stars at Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow. Oh, and I hiked.
Like my fellow dreamers, I hiked through rain and shine, green tunnels and sunny fields. I did not become a 2,000 miler. Injury, lack of fitness and a hard, hard pull towards every blue blaze in sight changed my hike plan.
However, as I hiked along, I found my dreams give way to different thoughts. Like an itch I couldn’t scratch, something was bothering me.
Two hundred miles into Virginia, I realized that there were no women like me out there.
“Where were all the curvy women?”
There were plenty of big guys out there, but where were the ladies? I came home from the A.T. and begun asking questions of women everywhere.
”Do you hike?”
“What are you afraid of?”
And my favorite…. “Do you know what it feels like to stand on top of a mountain? “
Slowly but surely, the answers came out.
“I am too slow”
“I don’t want my husband to see me struggle up the mountain”
“I can’t keep up”, and
“I am scared”
The questions and answers swirled around until the idea of a hiking club for women began to grow. In April of 2007, I printed up a few fliers and scheduled a meeting to see if anyone was interested in a hiking club for women.
A hiking club for curvy women, to be precise. A club where we could hike slowly, enjoying the beauty around us and the laughter of friends.
My goal was to have three women show up that day. We had nine. Nine of us talked about hiking, clothing, and whether or not to use poles.
Two weeks later our ranks had swelled to 20 and we were climbing Springer Mountain to celebrate the beginning of Trail Dames. If the women were confused as to why we were driving to the middle of nowhere, and traversing a long forest service road, only to climb .9 miles, they never said so.
I talked about Springer Mountain and its place in the heart of A.T. people everywhere. I told them that they were standing at the beginning of a 2,100 mile hike, and that a million dreamers had stood in their very steps. I told them that the only people that get to see the view off of Springer Mountain are the ones that did the work to get up there.
And then we did the “Dance of the Real Woman’ to celebrate the birth of Trail Dames.
Trail Dames began to grow faster than I had dreamed and as time went by, I noticed something. While I had created the group with curvy women in mind, women of all kinds were joining.
Curvy and thin, old and young, novice and experienced. It turns out that we all shared the same fears, and that we all experienced the same sense of joy when climbing a mountain.
Now, we have marathon runners hiking alongside complete beginners, and 2,000 milers sharing backpacking trips with first-timers. Trail Dames will always be a ‘hiking club for women of a curvy nature’, but it has become a place where all women are welcome. All they need is a sense of fun and the desire to put one foot in front of the other.
Seven of our chapters are within a two hour drive of the AT, and one thing that permeates the entire Trail Dames family is the love of this path.
Many of our Head Dames, (Chapter presidents), share that love. You could say that we are all a bit in love with the trail.
As of now, Trail Dames now has over 2,000 members in twelve chapters across the US. We are growing quickly and we joke that we are going to take over the world one trail at a time.
But our true goal is to make a place on the trail for all women. And while we love all trails, you have to forgive us if we have a special love for the A.T. It was where my dreams began and when we climb Springer Mountain every April to celebrate Trail Dames birthday, I can see the love of the A.T. take root in more and more women.