By Hastings resident Rosamond Palmer 

How it Started

2020 has turned into the year of cancelled holidays, not seeing loved ones, improved gardens and no adventures. How lucky I was to choose 2019 to walk the Appalachian Trail. I had thought, “If  I don’t go now, I’ll be too old.” Little did any of us realise that something much more restricting than longevity awaited.

I’d been mulling over for some time trekking the 2000 miles plus trail which winds its mountainous way through fourteen states. “I’m going to walk the Appalachian Trail,” I found myself telling my partner, John.  Thinking green, I booked a return passage on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and thought, “I’ll have to go now.” 

PICTURE: Rosamond Palmer

I had a year to prepare. Four wild camping trips taught me that if I drank alcohol and walked twenty miles with a two-stone backpack, I got sick. The alcohol wasn’t a problem as there isn’t any on the A.T., but I had to reduce the weight I was carrying. Experienced hikers advise a 15lb base weight and achieving this is difficult. The trips John and I did were relatively easy and never far away from amenities. The Appalachian Trail is more challenging, carrying six days food, enough water and everything that is needed to survive with some degree of comfort. My lightweight equipment had to be replaced with ultralight. It was a lot more expensive: a lightweight tent £60, an ultralight £360. I became obsessed with how much things weighed and finally reached the magic 15 lbs.

I’d decided to wear silk as it’s very light and comfortable, lets the air in and keeps the insects out. I combed the charity shops for pure silk items of clothing and then converted them into suitable attire. On the trail, other female hikers often commented, “I love your pants.” Most A.T. hikers end up with a trail name, mine was ‘Silky’.

I did a final equipment test by wild camping the Cotswold Way. It was April and a blizzard came in

I did a final equipment test by wild camping the Cotswold Way. It was April and a blizzard came in. Sub-zero temperatures had me scraping the ice off the inside of my tent. This was my first solo, wild camping experience and I’m glad I did it before I hit the trail.

My daughter and grandson waved me goodbye at Hastings Station. John came with me to Southampton where I boarded the QM2. Seven days later I arrived in New York. I felt proud of my organisation until I discovered on New York’s Penn Station I’d left my debit card in my cabin. It was my only source of money. I telephoned John from the overnight train to Gainesville, Georgia. Cunard had already ‘phoned him to ask where they could send the card. With no suitable address, Cunard said they would destroy the card. In the meantime, my son organised a cash transfer via Western Union. It took a month to be reunited with the debit card.

Rosamond on the Trail

The train pulled into Gainesville at 7am. On disembarking, I discovered that a local couple, who had also crossed the Atlantic on the QM2, had been in the same carriage. I hitched a lift with them to a Western Union Office. Getting the money proved difficult, the cashier wouldn’t release it without an address and the Appalachian Trail didn’t count. I was befriended by another local couple who spent the entire day looking after me. He gave Western Union their address, the cashier gave me the money.  

Many A.T. hikers use what is called a bounce box that contains essentials they don’t want to carry, like non-hiking clothes, and is bounced forward by mail to the next resupply point. The couple drove me to the post office where I dispatched my bounce box, then they drove me to the shops I needed, all of which seemed about two miles apart. I asked if I could buy them breakfast, which they accepted. They then drove me the thirty miles out to Springer Mountain and the eight-mile approach trail to the 2190-mile-long Appalachian Trail. It doesn’t cost a lot to give someone a lift when already going their way, but this couple changed their entire day to look after a total stranger. I was often to be touched by people’s kindness.

The Trail has a rhythm which sparked the idea of a video poem. The advantage of using poetry to describe an epic journey is that the experiences can be intensified. The film editor, Tony Harris, has managed to cover over a thousand miles in twelve minutes. Here’s the link – https://youtu.be/-jvwBiKGP0Rosamond’s Amazing Appalachian Adventure. I hope you enjoy watching what we came up with. I live in hope that the freedom I experienced will be restored to all of us.

To be continued – Read more about Rosamond’s adventures
on the Appalachian Trail in the next issue.

• Read part two here


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