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Gabby Scrofano wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) to disconnect from the world for a while. She planned it to be a solo trip, a chance to get to know herself better. But her mom, LuAnn Scrofano, was nervous about the idea of Gabby hiking the more than 2,000 miles alone.

So just a month before Gabby’s start date, LuAnn decided to join her. Nearing her 60th birthday, LuAnn had never hiked before she stepped foot on the southern terminus of the AT.

The pair divided the journey into two parts. They started in April of 2016 and hiked until the end of July that same year. They returned for the second leg of their trek in May of 2017 after Gabby finished her master’s degree.

In this month’s UpThink, Gabby shares the lessons she learned while on the trail and how it has impacted her relationship with her mom.

Our First Day

After driving over eight hours, we had reached our destination – Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. After months of planning, calculating miles and packing boxes, my excitement peaked as we spoke to an Appalachian Trail conservation staff member, signed our names onto the register of hikers, and walked through the archway toward Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT.

But excitement quickly turned into fatigue, which turned into burning legs, heavy breathing, and breaks on every platform on the 600-stair climb up Amicalola Falls. On our first day, we had planned to get within a couple miles of Springer Mountain, but after about four miles we’d had enough. When we got to camp, I stood around unsure of what to do. Thankfully, some guys we hiked with were camping at the same site. They helped us set up our tent, put water on to boil and relieved our unease at being alone in the woods for the first time.

Nothing quite prepares you for the first night on the hard forest floor with lots of strange new sounds, but like all new endeavors, the first steps are never easy.

Our Best Days

I was stunned at the generosity of people we met during our trek. It felt like trail magic. People would come to the trail head regularly to shower love (and food) on us hikers. They spent their hard earned money on goodies to feed us and their free time to make a stranger’s day.

Sometimes, we learned, trail magic comes looking for you. One day we were slowly getting the courage to put on sopping wet clothes from a torrential downpour we’d survived the day before, when a lady walked through camp with her two golden retrievers. It was unusual to see a day hiker waltzing through camp especially given the state of things (the trail was a RIVER at that point).

She approached us to see if we might need a place to dry out since the earlier storm had been so destructive. We happily packed up camp and followed her to her beautiful farm house. She made us breakfast, we took warm showers and we turned her back porch into a giant clothesline.

This wasn’t the only time we found generous strangers like her. When we needed it most, the trail had a way of making help appear, restoring our faith in humanity a little more each time as we made our journey north.

Our Worst Days

Before we embarked on our two, three-month-long adventures and traversed 2200+ miles, we knew this journey would be no easy feat. But nothing prepares you for the mental, emotional, and physical struggles you encounter on the trail, like when my mom got her first black eye shortly before her 60th birthday.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to hike 17 miles in a day, but on this day, disaster struck about a mile out of camp.
We were descending into a gorge, hiking next to Laurel Falls. I was about a turn ahead of my mom and with the water rushing past us, I’m still shocked I heard her. The scream she let out still haunts me.

She caught her toe on one of the rock steps. It threw her forward and her pack on top of her, slamming her face into the rocky steps. I’ve never run so fast, even with the 40-pound pack on my back. I found her pinned beneath her pack and bleeding from what seemed to be multiple wounds.

We had to hike out three miles to hitch a ride to the closest hospital. After being processed, cleaned, glued, and released, we made it to the hostel (pictured above) around 1 a.m.  This was the scariest point in the trail for me – I thought I was going to lose my partner in crime and have to face the rest of the trail alone. Fortunately, I was raised by a rockstar who could not be deterred so easily.

The memory of this fall would rear its ugly head on steep rock faces, slippery descents, and even river fords. However, we persevered through hardships we encountered on the trail together. It taught us both that you can’t sweat the small stuff, you can only move forward.

Our Last Day

Climbing straight up a mountain for five miles in 50-mph winds made for the best birthday ever. Balloons tied to my pack, noise makers in hand, and friends by my side – we climbed the 5, 269 feet to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine to ring in my 25th birthday.

I have never felt more loved than I did cresting the peak of Mt. Katahdin as a hoard of hikers already at the summit began a chorus of “Happy Birthday” (as if the tears weren’t already welling up inside as we stepped closer and closer to our finish line). As the summit sign came into view and the hikers wrapped up their lovely serenade, the flood gates opened. Mom and I embraced as we finally completed our journey up the east coast from Georgia to Maine together.

I was overwhelmed with love for my body, supportive friends and family, and, most importantly, my best friend/hiking partner/mother – without her, my hike would not have been filled with as much laughter, beauty, and memories.

There is nothing more satisfying than proving to yourself that your strength is immeasurable when you put your mind to something. We can try to measure and gauge strength through our dramatic accomplishments, like hiking the AT from start to finish. But it’s the small accomplishments – like climbing 600 steps up Amicalola Falls or waking up, putting on your boots still damp from the day before and strapping your pack to your back even when your body feels broken – that I think matter just as much.

Through the bumps, bruises and bug bites, I have become much closer with my mom, LuAnn. The trail gave us two, three-month stints of problem solving, of finding the right words of encouragement, and of spending time to really see the other in ways we had never seen before. I definitely know where my tenacity and motivation comes from now.

After we completed the trail, this quote from “Wild” has found a new resonance in my life: “… and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”

Gabby Scrofano, a West Virginia transplant, is the Logistics and Program Coordinator at the WV Food and Farm Coalition. When she is not on adventures through the wilderness, she enjoys working on the farm, crocheting, and playing roller derby for the Chemical Valley Roller Girls. Gabby holds a B.S. in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Public Health with a focus on Global and Community Health from Marshall University.

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