This a piece I wrote for The Sentinel-Record about a local woman hiking the Appalachian Trail. I did a three-part series and this was the second piece. It was published on Monday, August 15, 2016.

By Mara Kuhn

The Sentinel-Record

Lake Hamilton graduate Whitney Clement passed a significant milestone last week in her journey of a lifetime, completing a little more than half a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

In a cellphone interview from Gun Cannon, Pa., Clement said she has hiked nearly 1,150 miles so far. She began her hike in mid-May at the beginning of the trail in Springer Mountain in Georgia, headed to Mount Katahdin in Maine. At the end of her journey she will have hiked more Clement said her favorite part so far is the friendships she has made.

“The people out here make it 10 times better,” she said, because everyone on the trail is experiencing the same things and having the same hardships.

“It’s great having people out here that know what’s going on and know what you are going though,” she said.

Even the people she has encountered who are not hiking the trail have been wonderful, she said. The people she has met in the towns, those who have seen her walking and given her rides, the trail maintainers and the park rangers have made her experience better, she said.

“Everyone has been amazing,” she said.

Although Clement is hiking the AT solo, a friend joined her for a little more than a week in late July. She also hiked about three weeks with a man she met while on the trail, she said. The pair had about the same pace and worked well together.

She said vehicles were more likely to pull over and give them rides into town because she was a female and appeared more trusting. She also said that he was better at throwing the bear line over the tree to safeguard their

Clement said she also met a woman via Facebook from Bentonville who is hiking southbound. The two met in the middle on Friday. They gave each other advice on what to expect.

“It made me hopeful about what’s to come, talking to somebody that’s
already finished the section of the trail I have next,” she said.

The worst part of the trail so far — bugs.

“Not only are you dealing with the typical mosquitoes, but there are black flies, gnats, nosee-um’s, deer flies (and) horse flies,” she said.

While hiking with a friend, she said they encountered a wasp nest and were stung a couple of times.

“There’s like five different kinds of flying, stinging, biting insects,” she said, adding that they are also extremely persistent.

“If there’s anything that can bring me down in a heartbeat, it’s a bug” said the woman who has stared down a charging black bear. Clement said she spotted the bear in an open field, but couldn’t pass it without it seeing her.
“One thing you don’t want to do is scare a bear,” she said, adding that she knew had to let the bear know she was there.

“I yelled ‘Bear!’ to get its attention. It looked at me and started running toward me,” she said. “That was not the desired response.”

She said she knew she had to hold her ground and not run because bears consider someone who runs prey. The bear would charge, stand up on its hind legs, look at her and then charge again, she said. It got within 20 yards before the bear backed off, she said.

Clement said she has also spent a great many days hiking though the rain. In the Smoky Mountains, it rained so much the hikers jokingly called them the “soakies.” While hiking through Virginia, she said it rained about eight days out of 10.

“On one hand I was really blessed with the rain because then the springs and streams are full,” she said, making it easier to find water. “It cuts the humidity, cuts the bugs and cools things off.”

Clement began the trail sleeping in a hammock, but said she was getting too cold at night so she switched to a tent.

She said she wanted something that was a little more enclosed and would hold her body heat in. She also added a sleeping bag liner for extra warmth.

The farthest she’s hike in day is 30 miles, she said. She has hiked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and is about halfway through Pennsylvania, she said. Her target date to finish the trail is mid October.

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