The following essay—adapted here for length and style—appears in an anthology being published by members of Lois’s all-girls high school in Philadelphia.
I love to walk. It is what I do. It is who I am: a walker, a hiker. According to my parents, I was older than the average child when I finally stood and put one chubby leg in front of the other while maintaining my balance. I suppose I have been trying to make up for that late start ever since.
When I was frustrated at work, I slipped out of the office to take a walk and sort out my thoughts. Raising teenage daughters as a single mom often sent me to the streets of Mount Airy to calm me down. And weekend hikes along the trails in the Wissahickon Valley chatting with close friends were an important way I was able to bring balance to my life.
In 1992, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and required surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy over the course of a year. I had always wanted to hike in the United Kingdom, and my sister motivated me to rebuild my strength so that we could plan a long-distance walk in 1994. The next year was full of hikes and chats with my sister, and then we boarded a flight to London for our adventure. We tackled the Coast to Coast Trail across northern England, walking together from the North Sea to the Irish Sea.
I was hooked on hiking adventures and have rarely had a vacation since that wasn’t on trails. The next year I returned to the U.K. with a co-worker, and we met a British couple with whom we became fast friends. We heard about their Ramblers Association of local walkers and searched out similar groups in the States.
I found the Appalachian Mountain Club and proceeded to make more friends than you can imagine. No one asked what you did for a living, where you reside, what car you drive, or any other status questions. Those things were often learned after a while, but the initial conversations were all about the beauty you were experiencing, your gear, what you had packed for lunch, books you had read, and places you had hiked. We were all truly equal.
When one of my high school classmates posted that her father had died, I realized that he had been an AMC friend of mine with whom I had hiked many times. He always enjoyed stopping at a diner for coffee and pie after a hike. Emily and I were able to celebrate his life with a hike together in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Park.
I met another one of my classmates through work, and we discovered that both of us are breast cancer survivors. Naturally, Margit and I teamed together to walk 60 miles in three days to raise money for cancer research. And yet another of our sisters became a regular participant in our Wednesday group hikes along the Delaware River. It was such a joy to get reacquainted with Shirley and become friends with her husband, too.
On a March day hike along the Appalachian Trail in 1999, I met a lovely man. He admired my jacket, and I loved his boots. We were off and running! Or walking. He became my wonderful husband, Alan. We camped and hiked and fished. We bought a cabin on a river in the wooded mountains of north-central Pennsylvania and led many hiking weekends for AMC.
We explored walking paths in the U.K., Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the Canary Islands, among other locations. We “bagged” the highest peaks in Scotland, England, and Wales. We circumnavigated Mont Blanc, walking through three countries and clambering over many mountain passes. We loved traveling to the West and discovering the hidden treasures in the Rocky Mountains. It was endless adventures, endless fun— with so many friends and many more added every year. Magical. And, it all came from a love of walking.
And then, on Christmas Day in 2018, Alan wasn’t feeling well, so I took him to the emergency room. He died only three days later from a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. Just two weeks before he was as physically active as always, so losing him was a shock. Of course, my family was wonderful and supportive, but I cannot over-praise my AMC “family” and how those continued walks with friends buoyed me.
However, I found that no matter how much I love walking and how many supportive friends there were, I was not able to “move on.” Grief totally filled me, and I was no longer a walker, but a widow, a griever, a woman in pain. I did eventually manage to put one foot in front of the other and “move forward” with that pain and grief. And, as I have moved forward, my life has grown, even though the grief has not diminished. Instead, continuing to be on the trail has made my life bigger so that the grief now has a cushion around it, and it is not the only thing I have.
Are you inspired by this reader-submitted article? AMC wants to hear your story! Submit your idea here.