Lynne Wummel celebrates completion of her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on July 27 at the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
By Susan Bromley
(Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment in a series about Lynne Wummel’s quest to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. For previous stories, search Wummel at thecitizenonline.com)
When Lynne Wummel awoke at 5 a.m., July 25 at a campground in northern Maine, her plan for the day was to hike 33 miles, bringing her to the brink of completing a nearly 5-month journey across the Appalachian Trail.
Her view that morning of Mt. Katahdin, the summit of which is considered the end of the 2,189.8 mile trail, fueled the fire within her and by noon, she’d put 20 more miles behind her, but physical burnout soon arrived.
“After lunch, my body caught up,” laughs Wummel. “Twenty miles is a good solid day. My body was like, ‘Why are you still going?’”
Still, when she met up with a group of hikers on the trail and learned they weren’t stopping that day until Abol Bridge, three miles further than she planned, she decided she could stretch her 33-miles for the day to 36 miles.
“They were going to where there was a restaurant and store and campground— they wanted beer and hot food,” said Wummel. “I thought, ‘Three more miles for beer and hot food’ and that was my motivation.”
One of the many lessons the 2016 Brandon High School graduate has learned and that has only been emphasized over and over again on this journey is that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Finding that little bit of extra has also been a common theme for Wummel since March 7 when she climbed Mt. Springer in Georgia to begin her quest to hike the longest marked trail in the United States.
Over and over again, she has risen to the challenge, pushing through the physical and mental challenges presented in thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, an endeavor that thousands attempt yearly, but which only about one in every four succeed in accomplishing.
The challenges have been many— from the aches and pains of hiking an average of 20-30 miles per day while lugging a 30-pound backpack with the equipment she needs to sustain herself on the trail to the relentless mosquitoes and the bites they leave to the weather ranging from freezing cold to sweltering heat to miserable rain that soaks through everything, leaving her to hike in wet socks and blistering her feet.
Hikers hunger is real, she now knows, and can’t be fixed by Ramen noodles, instant mashed potatoes, or Velveeta mac and cheese, some of the light-weight food staples she carried with her in between visits to towns to restock every four or five days.
But the rewards were real, too— the views like what she saw from Mt. Washington summit on July 4, shortly after she stopped for a 24-hour detour to New York City; the vistas from McAfee’s Knob earlier in the trip; the wildlife she encountered right on the trail— including deer, horses, a mother bear and her cubs, and finally, a moose, right before she entered Maine.
While the journey had been long, she wasn’t quite ready for it to end. Wummel and the hikers she had traveled with on and off for weeks had only 15 miles to go when they stopped for the night July 25 at Abol Bridge. Her friends announced they were going to summit Mt. Katahdin in the morning, ending their hike, but Wummel awakened on Wednesday needing one more day to process that her journey was about to be completed and spent the day relaxing in Baxter State Park.
After 142 days, it was the journey that had mattered, not the destination; nevertheless, that night, her excitement at the prospect of finishing her adventure was building. She woke anxiously at midnight, July 27, wondering if it was time, before she fell back into a restless slumber, awakening again at 4:30 a.m. to cram down two honeybuns. She had made coffee, but dumped it out, too full of nerves for caffeine.
On her 143rd day on the trail, Wummel stood at the base of Mt. Katahdin in Maine and gazed 5.2 miles up at her goal, the summit and trail’s end, before she began the climb. The first mile was a gradual ascent on stone steps that were wet from recent rain and she then encountered the super technical portion of the mountain, consisting of climbing rocks and boulders before it evened out for a bit and then resumed a steeper climb to the top.
On average, Wummel notes it takes four hours to reach the top of Mt. Katahdin. She accomplished the feat in about 2-and-a-half hours, the first hiker to summit Mt. Katahdin that day, followed by ‘Downhill,’ the trail name for another hiker she had met along the way who had been determined to keep up with her.As she stood at the top, the clouds cleared, a “gnarly” wind blew, and Wummel put every layer of clothing she owned on in an attempt to ward off the deep chill. One shoe had a big split, and the other had laces that had broken on the way up. Her water bag had broken, too, but none of this mattered.
Wummel struggles to put to words what she felt at that moment.
“It was a lot of different emotions,” she said. “It was pretty incredible— an amazing feeling to accomplish what I’d been walking toward for so long… Just being up there and knowing I had walked there from Georgia.”
Lioness, as she had come to be known by other hikers, put her head down on the sign declaring she was at Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and gave the beacon a hug.
Less than an hour later, she scrambled down off a cold mountain, but with a better and deeper understanding of herself and her place in the world.
“Things don’t always work out the way you want them to, but they work out the way they are supposed to and that’s OK,” said Wummel on Tuesday by phone, the day before she was to return to life in Michigan, by car, not foot. “You have to surrender control that you want everything to be a certain way and roll with the punches.”
Everything she has learned on the trail are lessons that can be applied to life off it, Wummel believes— most importantly, that with forward progress, no matter how slow, goals will be reached and the only thing preventing you from reaching those goals is yourself.
She is glad she took a gap year from college, and the road less traveled— breaking what she sees as a cycle of what one is supposed to do with life after high school graduation. She is starting adult life off with knowledge she calls essential to being a human being in the real world, lessons from an outdoor classroom in which she viewed miles upon miles of mountains and valleys; in which she put wet socks on four days in a row, leaving her with feet “as wrinkled as a grandma’s behind”; in which she fell down and then walked while her hands and knees bled.
She knows who she is now more than ever— she is Lynne and she is Lioness, a more self-confident, self-loving person. Before she embarked on her journey, part of her was looking for all the answers. Now she knows she won’t ever have all the answers, but she’s at peace with that fact, and in knowing that the quest for self is unending.
The transition to life off the trail will be strange and she will miss the simplicity of life she has enjoyed for the last several months, free of modern worries and drama. It was life the way she feels it was meant to be lived— dirty, smelly, messy. Thru-hikers are, she says, simply happy homeless people.
She will soon be in her Michigan home, happy to play with her dog and see her mom and other family and friends and eat a chicken pita at Ken’s Coney Island. This fall, she will attend Central Michigan University and is considering a pre-med course of study. She wants to help people, perhaps by one day joining Doctors Without Borders, or maybe she will pursue international studies, since she enjoyed her visit to the United Nations building in New York City during a trail detour.
She is also looking forward to taking a detour from school to go back to the outdoor classroom— hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is a new goal, and so is a cross country bike tour.
In the meantime, she is still savoring the Appalachian Trail— “an incredible, beautiful, muddy, glorious journey,” the memory of which she will carry whereever she goes.