Traversing the Trail for a cure
by Town Reminder
Young South Hadley resident hikes entire Appalachian Trail for American Cancer Society
By Kristin Will
SOUTH HADLEY – Two thousand miles stand between Amy McMenamin and completing her goal – that and the remaining mountains on the Appalachian Trail.
McMenamin, a 24-year-old South Hadley resident, set out by herself March 16 on Springer Mountain in Georgia to begin her journey hiking the entire Appalachian Trail – the nation’s longest marked trail – as a thru-hiker to raise money for the American Cancer Society [ACS]. Her destination is Maine’s Mount Katahdin, approximately 2,178 miles away.
Fueled by a determination to help those who are battling cancer, including loved ones, and a desire to accomplish incredible feats such as hiking the Appalachian Trail while time is still on her side, McMenamin marches on, labeling the hike as a toast to health.
“Although I realize that this year’s fundraiser for the ACS probably won’t benefit my friends with cancer immediately or directly, being proactive on the cancer question helps me regain a sense of control,” said McMenamin. “Also, watching my loved ones battle cancer makes me think about how it won’t always feel this good in here, in my body. Eventually, I’m going to get old and start falling apart, so I wanted to take advantage of my health and capacity to do these things while I still can,” she said.
Initially, McMenamin capped her fundraising goal at $1,000. But with some nudging from her sister Sarah who suggested she be ambitious, McMenamin – clearly never one to turn down a challenge – lifted that goal to $5,000. “It was good advice, since I’m now creeping up on two thousand dollars,” she said.
Area Director of Communications for the ACS Jessica Saporetti was unable to confirm if McMenamin is the first person in the state, or entire United States, to hike the Appalachian Trail in support of the ACS.
“Amy’s strength and courage to take on such an adventure, while supporting the American Cancer Society’s mission to save lives and create a world with less cancer and more birthdays, demonstrates her tremendous commitment to making a difference in the fight against cancer,” said Saporetti.
Literally through rain or shine, McMenamin keeps going. She intends to reach Waynesboro, VA on Monday.
Initially, she began the journey on her own. However, she has since caught up with other hikers with whom she is continuing her journey.
On her back wrapped in blue waterproof material is everything McMenamin needs on a daily basis. Her pack, which originally weighed 51 pounds but has since been lightened, contains items such as a small tent, sleeping bag, self-inflating ground pad, small stove and utensils, a headlamp and portions of food which continually dwindle until she is able to stock up at the next town through which she passes.
So far on her journey, McMenamin has encountered moody weather, many blisters and “curious rodents,” but more importantly, “phenomenal sunrises, incredible vistas, great friends and plenty of crisp mountain air.”
The draw for McMenamin to begin this amazing hike was its uncertainty. Could she do it alone? Could she complete the entire hike across the Appalachian Trail?
“That was the point,” she said. “I wanted to test my physical and psychological limits.”
All along, she knew she would have many, many supporters cheering for her with each step she takes toward the trail’s end in Maine.
“I’m very proud, and will admit that I am a bit envious,” said her mother Dianna, who is also quite confident in her daughter’s ability to complete the grueling hike. “I wished I could go with her.”
Dianna will be able to complete her own wish, as McMenamin is expected to pass through the Massachusetts portion of the trail mid-July, and invited family and friends to hike that part with her. McMenamin also requested a detour to home for a home-cooked meal, complete with lots of pesto, which her mother has already honored by planting 18 basil plants in her garden.
Before she set out on the Appalachian Trail, McMenamin figured this experience would connect her with nature and teach her the joys of its solitude. However, a larger lesson was taught to her from the start – the power of community.
“I’ve been shown kindness not only from friends and hikers, but also strangers who seem to be rooting for me just because they can tell I’m having an adventure and they think that’s swell,” she said.
The kindness she speaks of is called “trail magic,” according to the Appalachian Trail’s website, which has an entire section dedicated to the magic created by volunteers and supporters and appreciated by hikers.
For McMenamin, this experience is life changing. “I’ve learned that every mountain has a top, that if you just keep going, you’ll eventually get there,” she said. “I’ve learned that if you just keep pushing the pedal, there’s almost always a little bit left in the tank. I’ve also learned acceptance. I’ve gotten to camp in the rain when everything I own is soaked. I realize that I have a choice – I can be wet and miserable, or I can just be wet. There are things you can’t change, you know?”
In the fall, McMenamin, a Mount Holyoke College graduate, will be attending Harvard University’s Extension School located in Cambridge where she will be a part of the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-med Program.
When McMenamin eventually completes her hike, she will be considered a “2,000-miler.” In 2009, just 562 hikers completed the entire thru-trail. Between two and three million hikers are estimated to hike portions of the trail and attempt the through hike each year.
Currently, McMenamin has raised $1,645 for ACS while hiking the trail. To directly donate to her Appalachian Trail Thru-hike for The Cure, visit http://main.acsevents.org/goto/appalachiantrail, or mail a donation to the American Cancer Society, Attn: Emily Locke, 30 Speen St., Framingham, MA marked with McMenamin’s identification number – Participant Cons ID: 13863204.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity,” said McMenamin. “Your support for my hike in the name of the American Cancer Society will continue to make my hike all the more meaningful to me.”