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About Town

Following her dream from Georgia to Maine

Orange woman hikes Appalachian Trail

  • Submitted Photo<br/>Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.

    Submitted Photo
    Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.

  • Submitted Photo<br/>Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.

    Submitted Photo
    Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.

  • Submitted Photo<br/>Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.
  • Submitted Photo<br/>Orange native Jocelyn Songer stops for a picture in front of Mount Katahdin during the months-long trek that took her from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other this year.

ORANGE — “The weather turned bad, a storm front came in and then the sky turned this yellow-green color that I associate with tornadoes, the color of the sky the only time I had ever seen a tornado before, and as soon as that happened the winds picked up and small branches started coming off of trees,” Jocelyn Songer recounted. “What do you do in the back country in a tornado?”

A couple of miles from the next town along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, Songer opted to run, starting out at a jog.

“I got to a road, and about a mile down the road toward town and the tornado sirens started going off, which then of course justified my fear that there might be a tornado coming so then I started sprinting down the hill, looking behind my shoulder to see if I could see if and where the tornado was and the thunder and lightning was getting closer and closer.”

Which is when lightening struck a tree 20 to 30 feet ahead.

“It just knocked me backwards, with just the sheer overwhelming pause, because you can’t do anything. It’s crazy to see lightning that close when you’re that exposed and already in a sort of heightened sense of alertness because the tornado sirens are going off.”

She kept running, sure if she found a house someone would share their basement with her, but by the time she reached the first houses the storm had already blown over.

That story accounts for a few miles out of the roughly 2,180 Songer traveled on foot this year, from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.

Early this month, Songer reached the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine to join the select group of hikers who have walked, climbed and sometimes run the trail from end to end in a single attempt.

To accomplish her dream, the 35-year-old Orange native and Ralph C. Mahar Regional School graduate quit her job as a Harvard Medical School instructor, sold her house and set off into the wilderness to brave bear, ticks (including those carrying Lyme disease), rattlesnakes, a trail-long epidemic of the norovirus, and weather. Songer said everyone expects the bugs, snakes and bears — she encountered 12 of the latter with no unfortunate incidents — but the weather can come as a surprise, particularly with this year’s wet spring and early summer.

In spite of the dangers, expected and otherwise, Songer has wanted to hike the trail for years.

“I’ve been hiking and backpacking ever since I was a kid, so I’d always sort of had it as a dream to do the whole Appalachian Trail,” Songer said. “I got to the point in my life and my job where I needed to take a break and focus on my health, and it seemed like there wasn’t any better way to do that then to get out and take a long walk.”

When Songer began the hike in May, she was prone to severe asthma attacks. That condition improved markedly as she walked, and she also lost 50 pounds and walked through a prior hip injury.

Songer has hiked stretches of the trail off and on over the past two decades or so, she said, but never the whole trail, one of the longest in the world. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, thousands attempt to “thru-hike” the trail each year and about a quarter succeed.

The experience was not entirely new to Songer, who in addition to stretches of the trail has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, backpacked in Europe and Asia and undertaken many similar adventures.

Nevertheless, she said there were many things she was unprepared for, big and small.

“I think I wasn’t prepared for how amazing the people were. I’ve been living in the city for a while and you’re inundated by the nightly news, how horrible the world is more or less, and getting out on the trail is a good way to affirm your faith in humanity and people,” Songer said. “People really go out of their way to look out for you and do good things for you, and the number of people I didn’t know that just stopped everything to help me out was amazing.”

These included the anonymous “trail angels” who leave coolers of food and soda by the trail for passing hikers, and the father of a new friend who literally gave her the shoes off his feet after she damaged a hiking boot.

Songer finished the last hundred-plus miles of the trail in those hiking boots, half a size too large and entirely unexpected. This is one of many stories Songer recounts in her blog at resonantliving.wordpress.com, with which she periodically updated friends and family during her trips into town to resupply with food and fuel.

Songer’s advice to anyone is to get outside and walk, and she hasn’t stopped moving yet.

On Sunday, she joined her two brothers in Washington, D.C., for the Marine Corps. Marathon, finishing her first marathon in 5 hours and 33 minutes.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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