Old Lady On the Trail

Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76, by Mary E. Davison ★★★

This book is the story of Mary, who, starting at age 65 and retirement, began hiking the triple crown, which consists of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. The story is that of a fairly remarkable person. As Mary frequently reminds the reader, there are geriatric hikers, although long-distance geriatric backpackers are just slightly more common than that of the Dodo bird. 

Mary hiked the three long-distance trails never as a thru-hiker, but always as a section hiker. Her choice of sections seem to be somewhat random to me, a portion of the Appalachian Trail, then a portion of the PCT, then back to the AT, then to a completely disjointed segment of the PCT, so on and so forth. She did the CDT as a single entity, but even then, somewhat disjointed, though tending from south to north. 

The delights of reading this book were that it is fairly incredible (and delightful) that someone her age would do more than past the days in a rocking chair. Even more incredible is that she has had multiple orthopedic procedures—her bones were just not holding up—and yet she still persisted in hiking. Mary and I both hail from Puyallup, WA, and her spirit reminds me of an old pediatrician in town, P.G., of whom the town even has a statue to him(!), who would spend weeks backpacking in the snow or forest, well into his 80’s, long after having had multiple joints replaced. 

I don’t think I would ever consider doing what Mary has done. True, I plan on thru-hiking the PCT next year as a geriatric wanderer. I have no interest in the random break-up of the trail that she has done. In the course of doing that, she required the support of multiple friends, family and others in order for her to maintain short segments, frequent re-supplies, massive segments slack hiked, and very frequent retreats from the trail to stay in hotels or other places of comfort. I’m sure the automobile, train and plane use were for at least 2-3x the actual length of the trail—not the best way to go when people are going ape about “global warming”. I’d rather leave my more elderly years hiking the Pacific NW, doing as I can without the necessity of going to the other side on the country. But, that’s me, and Mary has her own wonderful story.

I have just a few complaints about the book. Mary claims to have used people to help her edit the book. I’m not sure they were too careful or critical, as they should have been. There were many, many typos. It was often very difficult to follow exactly where Mary started and stopped the trail, if one really wished to see what she had done. While Mary left out much needed detail about the hike itself, but other details were exceedingly annoying. I really didn’t care to know 20 or more times over that Mary washed her underclothes, and which underclothes she washed; or, her precise meals at her multiple city stops; or, the many times she decided to sing the Holden Evening prayer—she could have just told us once, and then mentioned that she often tended to sing the prayer or wash her clothes, at various times. With editing, the book could have been half the length and far more delightful to read without missing out on critical details of her adventures.

I laud Mary for her adventuresome, and willingness to journey outside of her “comfort zone” on hobbit-like adventures, chasing the rainbow and following her dreams. Mary is an encouragement to many geriatric hikers like myself, and I wish her, as Roy Rogers would say, many happy trails.