by ATC Staff

The Path to Love: Three Love Stories from the Appalachian Trail

February 14, 2018

“The Trail provides.” It’s a phrase you will often hear among Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers. From an uplifting instance of Trail Magic to inspiration for a new direction in life, the A.T. has been credited with providing thousands of Trail visitors with the things they need to keep going, both down the footpath itself and through life’s many twists and turns. For many, the A.T. also provides long-lasting friendships; for some, it leads to lifelong partners. The following are three true stories from Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) staff about the love they found on the A.T.

Kathryn Herndon-Powell, Education and Outreach Coordinator

I thru-hiked in 2006, trail name “Dinosaur.” The next year, I was living in West Philadelphia without a car and desperately missing the Trail. A college friend in Baltimore had a car and was up for a backpacking trip in late March, during Spring Break week at the after-school program I worked at. Four of us headed all the way down to Virginia’s Grayson Highlands for a four-day hike, which was my only access to the Trail that year. In Wise Shelter we met Kentucky Blue, a speedy early thru-hiker who strolled in as we were taking a lunch break. We chatted for a while and I subsequently followed her 2007 hike on as a way to keep in touch with the Trail.

Three years later, I was at Lake Morena, California for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Kick-Off and the start of my 2010 thru-hike. I found my friend Guthook — who was also starting a PCT thru-hike — and he introduced me to a friend who was there to see him off: none other than Kentucky Blue! Blue claimed to remember me but I didn’t believe her at the time. However, it turns out she’s one of those people who never forgets a face, and I later dug up one of her 2007 Trail Journal entry where she mentions meeting “four cute girls (including Dinosaur, a 2006 thru-hiker) at Wise Shelter.”

Our paths kept crossing for years, so we finally decided to go backpacking together on the Art Loeb Trail in January 2013. That’s when our romance officially started, and two years later we returned to the Grayson Highlands and Wise Shelter after Trail Days weekend. Kentucky Blue proposed to me on the summit of Mount Rogers in May 2015 and we were married in October 2016. Our rings are etched with the mountain skyline as viewed from the A.T. on the shoulders of Mount Rogers.

While neither of us is going on multi-month hikes anymore, the A.T. is a big part of our lives — me as an ATC staff member and Blue as an active volunteer and board member of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. In addition to volunteering on the Trail, we try to get out and enjoy it whenever we can, including taking our nieces on yearly backpacking trips. We also have a beautiful long-term relationship with the 7-mile section of trail we help maintain on Sinking Creek Mountain. Like my relationship with Blue, I never get tired of that mountain or that Trail — there is always something new to discover, and the seasons just bring new things to love.

Laurie Potteiger, Information Services Manager

I found true love at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Yes, right at the ATC Headquarters in Harpers Ferry. Before I set out to thru-hike in 1987, I talked to every thru-hiker I could find. The most emphatic advice I was given came from an authoritative-sounding hiker from my local trail club who had walked the A.T. a few years prior and seemed extremely knowledgeable. He said there were two things every prospective thru-hiker should do: 1) join the ATC, and 2) volunteer at the ATC.

So I sent in my dues and took a trip to Harpers Ferry. My volunteer boss (a thru-hiker and handsome bearded guy!) put me to work right away. Back then it was typing. Sensing my dedication to the A.T. and my willingness to work, he told me there would be a full-time position opening doing similar work when he could get funding. Would I be interested in applying when the time came?

Hello. Do bears live in the woods?

I sent him a postcard from every other town from Georgia to Maine letting him know where I was and that I was still interested in the job.

Lucky for me, the next year I got the job. Problem was that my boss and I got along just a little too well. At that time we were the only thru-hikers at headquarters, and that was a pretty intense bond for people who loved the outdoors, hiking and the A.T. Before long it was clear one of us would have to leave. He was ready for another job that would allow him more time outdoors, and that change gave us the freedom to spend more time together. We were married a few years later and started section-hiking together as “Mountain Laurel and Hardy.” A few years later we adopted a section of the A.T. to maintain and, before long, a couple of A.T. boundary sections. To this day, our time on the Trail, whether hiking or clearing the footpath, is when our bond feels the strongest. Sometimes my life feels too good to be true. And it all started with just a little bit of trail karma.

Anne Baker, Landscape Partnership Manager

Last year, I set out to attempt a flip-flop thru-hike of the A.T. with my father (we’re known on the Trail as “Shivers” and “Shivers’ Dad”). Although I was only able to hike about 1,300 miles before a medical emergency sent me back home, I wouldn’t change a thing about my hike because I received an amazing gift while I was out there: a proposal from Ben, my now-fiancé.

Ben and our good friend Jerret flew to Maine to hike to the top of Katahdin with my father and me on August 23, 2017. I already knew the day would be incredibly emotional because reaching Katahdin was the fulfillment of a long-time dream of mine. Just thinking about touching the summit sign — something that so many other hikers had placed their hands on at the end, middle or beginning of an epic journey — was enough to make me tear up. And getting to share that moment with my dad and Ben, who was incredibly supportive of my dream of hiking the A.T., was perfect. But I had no idea Ben was planning on making that moment even more perfect.

The hike to the top of Katahdin was tough, but we climbed steadily and finally reached the summit mid-morning. I will never forget seeing the famous “Katahdin” sign and how it felt to take in the incredible landscape around me. Despite strong winds, we stayed at the top for about half an hour, taking pictures and celebrating with other hikers. Everyone had a stunned look on their face — it was as if we were all at a place we never thought we’d actually reach.

And then, right before we turned around to leave, Ben asked for one more picture at the sign. I was confused as he told me exactly where to stand and then got down on one knee, right there on the rocky summit. My brain was so overwhelmed with joy that I couldn’t process anything. His heartfelt words left me speechless, and I caught my breath and said the most ridiculous thing ever: “Are you serious?” (I don’t believe he will ever let me live that down — that and the fact I wouldn’t even touch the beautiful ring he had picked out because I was shaking so badly. I was afraid I would drop it and we would never find it again.)

Of course I said yes, though, and we celebrated the first moments of our engagement on the highest mountain in the state of Maine.

I’ve always said the A.T. has one of the largest pieces of my heart. Ben does, too. I couldn’t imagine a more meaningful place to say yes to spending a lifetime with someone who understands me (and my constant need for adventure).