Lynne Wummel began hiking the Appalachian Trail on Mt. Springer in Georgia just over a week ago. The Brandon Township native plans to complete her journey in August in Maine. Photo provided.
By Susan Bromley
Lynne Wummel is living her dream.
On March 7, she climbed Mt. Springer in Georgia to start a journey of 2,189.8 miles as she hikes the Appalachian Trail through 14 states to its end point in Maine in August.
“This is the time of my life to do something like this— when I have no debt, no bills, no kids,” said Wummel, 18. “This is the time in my life that I am free to do what I want.”
The 2016 Brandon High School graduate’s dream started on a spring break trip to Tennessee a couple years ago with her parents. White water rafting was part of her itinerary then, and their guide spoke about the nearby Appalachian Trail, its popularity, and how, on average, it takes thru-hikers— those who traverse the entire distance— 6 months to complete their adventure. Fascinated, Wummel began researching the trail on the car ride home and that year, asked for a backpack for Christmas, which she received. This past Christmas, her mom gave her a sleeping bag as a gift and birthday presents were also supplies for her journey.
Preparation is essential for hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, the longest marked trail in the United States. About 2,000 hikers make the attempt each year, with only about every one in four succeeding in completing the trek through the Appalachian Mountain range. Wummel plans to be part of the elite group, but didn’t have a strict physical regimen. She had a gym membership and a month prior to her departure did a lot of yoga, but mostly, she worked. She was on her feet all day, working up until December as the manager at the Pine Knob banquet facility, as a waitress on the midnight shift at the Royal Diner in Clarkston, at the Mt. Holly ski shop, and at Andiamo’s, saving money for a journey that costs the average thru-hiker anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000. She is hoping to be on the lower end of that scale, spending conservatively.
“Nothing you do can prepare you physically for hiking the Appalachian Trail,” said Wummel. “The trail trains you. For the most part, your body will adapt. I’m already growing stronger from a week out here…You have to make sure you have the right gear and the right mindset and make sure you want to finish, you’ve got to want it,” she said. “I read about what people did wrong, what they wish they would have done, I wanted to learn everything. You want to get the lightest equipment you need, but you’re carrying everything you need to live on your back for six months. You want gear that gets the job done.”
The “big four” of gear are her backpack, not huge or she would be inclined to carry more than she needs; her sleeping bag, which converts to a quilt and is good for 20-degree temperatures; her shoes, a cross between trail runners and hiking boots; and a one-person tent which she can set up in just a few minutes, staking out three edges and using one of her two tracking poles for a center post.
The tracking poles are used for walking. Other gear she put in her backpack includes a 1/4 inch inflatable sleeping pad, a head lamp, a journal, a phone charger, a knife, a multi-tool, a miniature stove that boils water in two minutes, a 2-liter water bag with hose, a rain cover, a first aid kit and 18-in-one shampoo/soap. Her clothes include three pairs of socks (one pair for sleeping in, two pairs for hiking), two pairs of base layer pants (one for hiking, one for sleeping), one pair of hiking pants, one pair of shorts, rain pants, two base layer long sleeve shirts, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a rain coat, a puffy down jacket and glove liners.
She had a GoPro camera, but sent it home to Brandon Township because she wasn’t using it and didn’t want the extra weight. She also ditched a book she brought to read, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” because although she said the book was good, she has been too tired to read it at night and again, is trying to travel as lightly as possible. All told, her backpack weighs about 30 pounds, including the water and food she is carrying.
Every three to five days, Wummel crosses a main road and can find the next resupply point so she only totes a few days’ worth of food at a time, including honeybuns or oatmeal for breakfast, tuna with tortilla shells for lunch, and macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, pasta sides or mashed potatoes for dinner.
While she started her hike alone after flying down to Atlanta, where a friend picked her up and dropped her off at the trailhead, Wummel has joined many other people on the trail. The most popular route for thru-hikers is to start in Georgia in March or April and finish in Maine close to fall. The people she has met come from all different walks of life, and some of her trail companions so far include recent college graduates; a mother who is hiking with her 8- and 10-year-old sons; a man who was a special assistant to one of former President Barack Obama’s cabinet members; and a French woman who speaks five languages and goes by the trail name of “Peace Walker.”
Trail names are assigned by other hikers and Wummel’s new friends have dubbed her “Lioness,” a nod to her hair, which is styled in dreadlocks, as well as to the Detroit Lions of her native Michigan, although she is not a football fan. On the trail, she and her fellow hikers walk and chat about their lives.
“When you’re on the trail, you’re no one but yourself,” said Wummel. “There is nothing influencing you, you are truly who you are. Most of these people have a common goal, so everyone you meet is a reflection of yourself.”
Only a week into her journey, Wummel said she is averaging 10-12 miles per day. She doesn’t set an alarm, but she hasn’t camped by herself yet and when the sun comes up and she hears everyone else get up, she does, too. She breaks down camp, eats breakfast, and starts walking, stopping for lunch and then walking again until 2 or 3 in the afternoon before reaching a good place to camp— somewhere with a good water source. She isn’t worried about getting lost, with the trail clearly marked. There are also lots of shelters on the Appalachian Trail, said Wummel, with privies.
After reaching her camp site and setting up her tent, she eats dinner with the other hikers. Bedtime is 7 p.m. and she said no one stays up after the sun goes down.
She hasn’t seen many animals yet, mostly squirrels, but hopes to see a black bear eventually— from afar. Wummel has already experienced a variety of weather—thunderstorms the first day, then a day of sunshine, followed by an inch of snow. On Tuesday, a “zero” or rest day for Wummel, about 70 miles into her hike and 8 miles from entering North Carolina, she was preparing for what would be her coldest temps so far— with a Wednesday weather forecast showing a low of 16 degrees and a wind chill factor of -4.
Despite the occasional discomfort of weather and physical exertion, the adventure has to this point been what she dreamed of.
“It’s beautiful out there– the mountains, the 360-degree view,” said Wummel, who has forsaken technology, other than to call her family and friends on occasion to check in. “If you’re walking uphill it sucks. Well, not that it sucks, but it’s hard. I’m mostly just enjoying what I am doing, living in the moment that I am in. I don’t care what is going on with the outside world when I am out there. I enjoy the simplicity life has to offer. The views are amazing, the people are wonderful, you see the way life could be. You don’t need all that extra stuff, you don’t need that much to be happy. You don’t need the fancy house or car, you just need to be happy with who you are. I’m just experiencing life first hand and all that God has created. Experiencing it will be hard, but it’s amazing and will be worth it.”
Editor’s note: The Citizen will continue to chronicle Lynne Wummel’s progress along the Appalachian Trail in upcoming editions. Look for updates.