In the Lord of the Ring series, author J.R.R. Tolkien offers a quote that has become popular with the hiking community: “Not all who wander are lost.” This notion builds on Henry David Thoreau’s observation that “Every walk is a sort of crusade.” Both authors capture a thought expressed by Susan Edwards that hiking is therapeutic for both body and soul.
Susan is a native of Alleghany County, having grown up in the Glade Valley community. She attended Glade Creek School and later Alleghany High. She has been a nurse for 22 years and is currently a nurse practitioner with United Healthcare, primarily working with older patients. Working alongside the patients’ primary care physicians, Susan’s goal is to provide the home health care needed by these individuals that will allow them to remain in their homes as long as possible. Healing is a recurring theme in conversation with Susan. Her provision of care for her patients is obvious. Less obvious is how she has determined to heal herself.
Camping and hiking are activities Susan has enjoyed for many years. She has been aware of the Appalachian Trail (AT) since she was a teenager. In December of 2019, Susan was in a transitional period of life. She did some research and decided a way to test the AT was by utilizing Boots Off Hostel and Campground near Hampton, Tennessee.
For the hiking community, hostels offer amenities that we often take for granted while at home. It is a place for a hot shower and facilities to wash sweaty clothes. It is a chance to eat “real” food and resupply for the next leg of their trip. And most hostels have a building with a warm, soft bed. Susan reached out to Boots Off and scheduled her first trip.
From Boots Off, Susan was shuttled up the trail and then hiked back to the hostel where she slept in a bunkhouse. After that trip, Susan realized how unprepared she was for that level of hike. She lost two toenails and her knees “killed her” for days afterwards. Despite those negative aspects, Susan was hooked.
Beginning at Springer Mountain, Georgia and ending at Mount Katahdin, Maine, the Appalachian Trail stretches out over 2190 miles as it crosses 14 states. As the trail traverses mountain peaks and descends into valleys, hikers experience almost 500,000 feet in elevation change over the course of the trail. Most “thru hikers,” (those hiking the trail from end to end) begin in Georgia and wind their way north. A smaller number, begin in Maine and work their way south. The trip usually takes 5-7 months. Others choose to hike the trail in sections. These “section hikers” hike as their schedule allows with some taking years to complete the entire trail. Susan is a section hiker.
In April 2021, Susan got serious about hiking the AT. After a few other short trips, she fine-tuned her equipment. She discovered that the use of trekking poles took the pressure off her knees. During one of her first full pack trips, her pack weighed 34 pounds. She has since learned what equipment is essential and has trimmed that weight by 12 pounds for a much more manageable pack. Her goal is to schedule three-day trips, utilize shuttles and hostels, and cover 45 miles per trip. She has now hiked 800 miles of trail and hopes to finish the southern section (all the AT south of Harpers Ferry, Maryland) this year. Her long-term goal is to finish the entire trail over the next three years.
Susan is often asked why she hikes and why the AT. She shared that since her daughters are at an age when they are much more independent, it allows her time to do something for herself. She envisions a day when she will gather her grandkids around and share stories of the people, places and adventures gleaned from her time on the trail.
But mostly Susan hikes because of the impact it has had on her life. “When I first begin,” she said recently, “I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the past. Nowadays, I think more about the future. Each one of these sections I’ve hiked has changed me in subtle ways. I’m a different person than I was when I started this journey.”
In her wanderings Susan Edwards is far from being lost. She is striding purposefully into the future, blazing her own trail. Perhaps she is on a crusade.