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Ellen's  Story

"White Blazes and Trail Magic:
Impacting Lives"
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Ellen Wolfe Image

Story Intro

The Appalachian Trail has impacted my life with Trail Magic for over half a century. Just as a tree falling in the forest affects all life surrounding its space, a story created by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail impacts all lives the journey touches. The month I turned 64, I received this opportunity to share how fulfilling a childhood dream, finishing as the first woman thru-hiker for 1997, and writing a book impacted the 35 years before thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and the 20 years since.

Growing up in New Hampshire, vacations often took us to the White Mountains. At age 10, while hiking with my family in Pinkham Notch, white rectangles on the trees caught my attention. When my mother explained that the white blazes marked the over 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail, north to Maine and south to Georgia, I declared someday I would hike the whole way. Her belief I could do it grounded my decision. Later in middle school when kids tried to entice me to smoke cigarettes I declined, vowing to stay healthy so I could someday hike the Trail. The fact I was an obese child compounded their ridicule but did not squelch my dream.

At age 19, a boyfriend invited me to visit his friends in Ellijay, GA. I left New England and traveled south. Discovering Ellijay was only 20 miles from the southernmost terminus of the Appalachian Trail brought hope in being a thru-hiker.  The next year I established roots in Southern soil when the boyfriend became a husband.

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By age 24, I was hiking with two small children to shelters around Amicalola Falls. For the next 20 years while raising children and earning college degrees, the dream to hike the Trail lay as dormant as fall leaves nurturing the narrow path while I read Appalachian Trail books and ordered maps. At age 35 I divorced, took a job as an elementary school teacher and moved to Knoxville, TN, only an hour from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Appalachian Trail.  During the next eight years as a scout director, school teacher and parent, I lost count of the times I gazed longingly from the rim of Clingman’s Dome to the day I could experience what stretched beyond the highest point of the whole Appalachian Trail. Every backpacking trip and hike with friends, scouts or students became private training sessions...

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