Lynne Wummel, foreground, took a roughly 24-hour detour from hiking the Appalachian Trail to visit New York City.
By Susan Bromley
(Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a series covering Lynne Wummel’s journey hiking the Appalachian Trail. The two previous stories can be found at thecitizenonline.com by searching Wummel or Appalachian Trail).
After weeks of hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Lynne Wummel was more than a little out of her element when she took a detour to New York City.
“I’d been living in the woods for three months and then I’m in the middle of Times Square,” said the 2016 Brandon High School graduate. “It was quite the culture shock.”
Roughly five weeks ago, Wummel was sitting on the top of Prospect Rock, the highest point in New York state on the Appalachian Trail, from where she could see the outline of New York City. To get to this point, she had hiked 1,356.4 miles and crossed into the ninth of 14 states that the 2,189.8 mile trail covers. During her journey, which started March 7 in Mt. Springer, Ga., she often traveled alone, or sometimes accompanied by people she met along the way, but as she looked down at the city, she had sitting beside her a recurring companion who goes by the trail name of Lucky. The pair randomly decided to take a break from the trail and go off the beaten path to the big city, where neither the girl from Ortonville, nor the guy from Ireland, had ever been.
“We had six miles to go down the mountain to catch the bus and we spontaneously ran down there and made the bus,” said Wummel. “I wanted to go so bad, because when else can I go to New York City for $15? We had nowhere to stay, we had to get a plan, so we threw together an itinerary as we were heading in.”
Lucky and Lioness, as Wummel is known on the trail, sent out text and social media messages to family and friends, seeking possible connections in New York where they might be able to stay for free and struck gold. Through a mutual friend, Wummel was connected with Kara Lawson, who graduated from BHS the year before she did, is attending New York University, and welcomed the hikers to stay at her Manhattan digs that night.
With their accommodations secure, they arrived in New York City ready to explore. They made their first stop the Empire State Building, but had a minor security blip. The travelers were each carrying roughly 30-pound backpacks they had been hiking with since the start of their adventures, which contained all manners of camping gear, including knives and fuel. They explained their situation to guards and surrendered their backpacks for security to hold, but then when they learned how much tickets were for the observatory, decided to leave without seeing that particular view.
Wummel, who worked four jobs prior to leaving for her 6-month Appalachian Trail adventure, is on a limited budget and describes herself as a “broke hiker.” She and Lucky left the Empire State Building and next found themselves in Times Square, bewildered by the crowds and a woman she saw in a tank of water with a bunch of apples.
“I don’t even know what was going on,” said Wummel. “It was insane. On the trail, everyone you pass smiles, says ‘Hi,’ and stops to chat. In New York City, no one smiles or talks to you. At first, we just adapted. We weren’t trying to smile and talk, and then we thought, ‘Why can’t we just be friendly and smile and talk? Why should we change? So we did a social experiment— we would smile and say hi, but they just kept walking.”
She notes that a few people did engage in conversations with them, but also observes that maybe others were put off by “two dirty, smelly hikers walking around that obviously didn’t belong.”
They stayed the night on Lawson’s couch, for which they were grateful, and the next morning, visited the World Trade Center Memorial, and from afar, saw the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.
Their visit to New York also included seeing the United Nations building, eating pizza and soda for only $2.50, pancakes at a diner and lager at an Irish pub, even though Wummel is underage.
“I figure if I can walk from Georgia to Maine I can have a beer,” laughs Wummel.
They then caught the bus back to the trail, where she feels like she is more likely to find world peace, although the food options are definitely limited.
Wummel continues to enjoy a honeybun and coffee for breakfast, but has also added in a pop-tart. Lunch is still a tuna wrap, and dinner is usually a pasta side and ramen noodles or a recent favorite, Velveeta macaroni and cheese with mashed potatoes. When she hits a town, her go-to meal is a cheeseburger and milkshake. She is looking forward to a chicken strip pita at Ken’s Coney Island when she gets home, but despite the hardships of being on the trail, hiking an average of 20 miles per day, oftentimes alone, she is appreciating life.
“Lately whenever I stop, the outside of my hip gives me a lot of trouble, but I think it’s my shoes,” said Wummel, who was planning to make a stop and get another new pair. Her feet are holding up well, however, with no blisters. She gets up around 7 a.m., sometimes earlier as the sun rises earlier than when she started in the spring.
When Wummel checked in on June 26, she had just crossed into New Hampshire, and was sitting on the campus of Dartmouth University, drinking Starbucks coffee and reflecting on how life would look this fall, when she begins attending college after the gap year she took to hike the Appalachian Trail. At the 1,747.7 mile mark that morning, she was closing in on the finish line, and since she had last checked in with The Citizen in May when she was in Virginia at mile 932, had many remarkable experiences besides NYC, including another bear encounter, this time not a mother with cubs, but a lone adolescent male that was hanging around one of the trail shelters.
On a night hike, she and a trail friend also saw a pair of glowing eyes of an animal that they at first thought might be a bear, but then guessed to be a mountain lion.
“It wasn’t a bear, but some type of big cat,” said Wummel. “We booked it out of there, and the eyes were following. That was very frightening… Some people like night hiking, but I don’t. Every noise you hear scares you. It’s cool if you are out and the stars and moon are out, but I definitely prefer hiking during the day.”
She sometimes has trail companions, but is not lonely even when she hikes in solitude, and has had some visitors from home. Her Dad, Chris, met her on the trail in West Virginia, bringing along her dog Bruno, a 12-year-old shepherd mix who was very excited to see her. The trail only extended a few miles in West Virginia, where she stopped at Harper’s Ferry, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters is located, checking in as the 211th through hiker to check in going northbound this year. Her picture was taken and her trail name written in a book that goes back to the 1970s.
She then hiked 40 miles of the trail in Maryland before reaching Pennsylvania, where her mom, Kris, joined her for a bit. The southern half of Pennsylvania was nice and flat, said Wummel. She also enjoyed the half-gallon ice cream challenge in the state, a tradition in which through hikers stop to consume the treat in a mass quantity at a general store in the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, approximately the mid-way point on the trail. Wummel was up to the task, choosing cookies and cream and moose tracks as her flavors. Perhaps the sugar helped with an extra push through the northern half of Pennsylvania, which she describes as awful. She had to deal with rain on top of rocky terrain, including a portion known as the “Knife’s Edge,” in which she had to put her hiking poles away and crawl over on her hands and knees.
“One wrong move, and you’d drop off the edge,” she said. “It took me a half-hour to go a quarter mile. It’s the more challenging part of the trail, especially when it’s wet. If you were to fall, you’re dead, a goner.”
She had quicker jaunts through New Jersey, 72.2 miles; New York, 88.4 miles; Connecticut, 51.6 miles; and Massachusetts, just over 90 miles, before she reached Vermont, which she called a really sweet state.
“Massachusetts is beautiful, but Vermont had higher elevation, it’s been really awesome, so green and the mountains are beautiful,” said Wummel, who also accepted an offer to work at a music festival while there with a vendor who had picked her up hitchhiking.
Questioned about the wisdom of hitchhiking, she responds non-chalantly, “In the beginning, I didn’t really want to hitchhike, but people are used to seeing this around trail towns. They know we’re just trying to get to town, it’s not as dangerous as people make it out to be. There is a bad stigma around hitchhiking, but there are a lot of good people out there. You gotta do what you gotta do, I always have a knife at the ready.”
At the music festival, which featured genres including reggae, rap and jam bands, in return for helping scoop ice cream and grills cheeseburgers for festival guests, Wummel got free food, made a little money through tips, and listened to good music.
“It rained, was really crappy weatherwise and there weren’t a lot of people there, but it was better than hiking in the rain,” she said.
The weather has not been her biggest nemesis, however. That distinction belongs to the bugs. Mosquitoes have made a mess of her, leaving Wummel’s body covered in bites and scars from her incessant scratching.
“The mosquitoes are awful and the bug spray is not working— it’s a scam, none of it works,” she said.
The challenge up ahead though, will be not the bugs as much as the terrain. She notes it is getting more rugged. She faces 150 miles in New Hampshire before she reaches the hardest part of the trail in Maine, where there will be 281 miles to cover before the finish. Still, she also expects it to be the most beautiful part of her hike and she is ready.
She recalls some hard days about a week prior, when it was raining and she was missing her friends and family and looking forward to the end, but she talked herself through the bad time, knowing that soon enough, she will miss the trail, a time in her life when there are no essays to write, nor any boss. Right now, she is her own boss and she will “miss the hell out of that” when she gets home.
“Life is an infinite amount of moments and each pass,” said Wummel. “I know that if I am having a bad moment, it will pass. The mountain will flatten out and if it is raining, the sun will come out. When I’m having a good moment, I relish that moment and appreciate everything I get to do and the simplicity of life on the trail.”