Meet Shelly Estabrooks, manic thru-hiker and intensive care nurse
Shelly Estabrooks, an intensive care nurse and dedicated, perhaps manic, thru-hiker, has traversed mountain and dale on several continents. She’d just completed another round of hiking all of our 48 White Mountains over 4,ooo feet, often breaking trails through wet, thigh-high snows, when the Appalachian Trail beckoned — 2,200 arduous miles from Georgia to the peak of Maine’s Katahdin. Five months of putting one foot in front of another in grit-testing terrain and weather: a serious test of strength and mettle often consisting of 15-hour, 25-mile days. Only one in four endure, those falling away likely succumbing to increasing interludes of sanity. Shelly: one intense hiker gal.
- I‘ve had a lifelong obsession with mountains. I think I first fell in love with hiking from family jaunts up the mighty Uncanoonuc Mountains in Goffstown, where I grew up.
- My favorite peak in the Whites is Mount Guyot. It’s the absolute best place to stop to take in the Pemi Wilderness.
- I started the AT on my own, but found myself in a “tramily” (trail+family) with some fellow thru-hikers I met in the first few days. Beans, Pop-Tart, Plato and Calico were my original tramily. We hiked the first couple hundred miles of trail together.
- I met my most favorite person, Tiga, at mile 110 on a hiker shuttle in Franklin, North Carolina. Tiga and I quickly became inseparable, in the end hiking 2,084 miles of the AT together.
- I continued hiking and traveling post-AT. I’ve been told I don’t have an “off switch.”
- The hiker hunger was real. If you ever want to witness a feeding frenzy, just offer food to thru-hikers.
- I ate the biggest cinnamon roll I’ve ever seen in my life from Dermody Road Coffee House in Gorham. I think it was as big as my head. I ate every single satisfying, cinnamony bite of it, and it fueled me across the Maine border.
- Danger? I believe being around people within city limits is more dangerous than being out in nature and on the trail.
- Examples? Bears — proper food hang prevents dangerous encounters. Poisonous snakes — pay attention and provide space. Hitchhiking — hitchhike in groups; if the driver gives a bad vibe, don’t enter the vehicle. Crossing “dangerous rivers” — unclip waist/chest straps, use poles for balance, sidestep. Don’t attempt if it’s beyond your scope of experience.
- For the most part, feet were not really an issue on trail until I reached New Hampshire. I already had what I considered relatively mountain-tough feet. About 1,800 miles into the trail, I remember the climb up Mount Moosilauke and for the first time being aware of the achiness in my feet.
- Ask anyone who has hiked the trail, and I bet they will tell you the part they dreaded most was hitting New Hampshire. The straight up/straight down elevation, the relentless talus, rocks and scrambles, tree roots and slippery bog boards — on top of the mileage you’ve already put on your body — leaves you feeling pretty beat up.
- I still have pain in my feet every morning and they are almost a full size bigger than when I left for the trail.
- Some mornings I wake up and I lay there feeling like the trail was just a dream, but the aches are a reminder that the experience was undoubtedly real.
The Grandmother of the Appalachian Trail
“Hike intensity” knows no age limit. In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Rowena Gatewood, a mother of 11 and grandmother of 23, became the first woman to solo hike the entire 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail. She did it wearing Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, a shower curtain and a change of clothes in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. Before departing, Gatewood, a survivor of domestic violence, told her grown children she was “going for a hike in the woods,” but left out a few important details. She is now considered a pioneer of ultra-light hiking.