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The Lookout | May 13, 2021

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LCC student hikes Appalachian Trail

LCC student hikes Appalachian Trail
  • On November 25, 2020

By Maddy Warren
Editor In Chief

For most teenage college students, hiking one of the longest trails in the country seems like an unattainable feat. But for LCC student Lucy James, it was a reality earlier this year.

James, 19, started hiking the Appalachian Trail – which spans 2,190 miles and typically takes five to seven months to complete – about one month before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I started out at Springer Mountain in Georgia and my plan was to go through 14 states all the way up to Maine,” James said. “It’s about 2,200 miles all the way up, so (that is) averaging out to be about six months of walking.”

James said she started training and looking up YouTube videos to prepare for the trip about one year in advance, but she dreamed of hiking the trail for years before that.

“I worked hard at a day job and trained at night, lots of walking in the snow with a big backpack and on the side of that, dehydrating and prepackaging meals so I could send myself little care packages,” James said.

“I also researched and asked for gear for my birthday and Christmas presents. When it got below 15 degrees I set my tent up in my front yard in the snow, to see how my sleeping bag held up.”

James started hiking with a close friend, but the pair separated when the pandemic hit.

Lucy James (left) and her hiker friend “Chipmunk” gather for a photo during their trail journey. Courtesy photo

“We also met so many people around the world,” James said. “Usually, when you hike a long-distance trail you start forming a trail family or, for short, a ‘tramily.’ I would hike independently during the day, sometimes seeing one or two people, and then meet them at the campsite because I was a bit slower than most.

“It’s hard to describe the connection you make with those people, different ages, different stages of life, all in the same place, at the same time.”

James said she met her “tramily” in a $12 hostel during her journey.

Along the way, James ran into a few setbacks, the main one being the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after she began she had to return home for a while but resumed hiking a few months later.

Her mom, Kira James, aided in preparation for the hike.

“The main way I helped Lucy was helping with her food preparation,” Kira said. “We’ve backpacked as a family since Lucy was 4 years old, but we had to completely reconsider every meal for weight. Fortunately, she’s happy eating a lot of couscous and tuna.”

Kira and the rest of the James family dropped Lucy off in Tennessee after she recovered from a kidney stone she suffered while on the trail. While in Tennessee, they hiked to Rocky Top together.

“The trail gained a mile of elevation in five miles,” Kira said. “Mostly what I noticed in other areas was how green it is, they call it the Green Tunnel. When I was there the rhododendrons were in full bloom – beautiful! Very little seems to be in the open. It’s also a really rocky and rooty trail; like what I’ve experienced in the Porcupine Mountains and Isle Royale.

Kira said she was excited for Lucy to face the challenge, and disappointed for her when she was forced off the trail because of the pandemic.

“I definitely had some rough times worrying about her,” Kira said. “The worst was when she developed a kidney stone and had to rely on some amazing trail angels and her hiking buddy ‘Chipmunk’ to help her hike out the eight miles to a trailhead and find an emergency room.”

Lucy James said her time on the Appalachian Trail was the best 300 miles she has ever hiked. She said she plans to hit the trail again for a second attempt on April 9.

“I learned so much about backpacking, the process of budgeting, and even myself,” James said. “When you walk for 12 hours a day you have a whole lot of time to reflect and think about everything. It would be an understatement saying I was the happiest and most free I’ve ever been on trail.”

James is undecided about her college major, but she said she wants to be either a special education teacher for young kids, or write and produce music for a living.