I Believe on the AT

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'I Believe' at the gazebo in Andover.

(Note: Cherri Crockett writes this about her encounter in Andover with an Appalachian Trail hiker.)

On Jan. 19 of this year, 62-year old ‘I Believe’ (Sherry Spillman), born and raised in Tennessee, made this entry into her trail journal, answering the age-old question of why she wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.

“I guess you could say the AT dream began during the 1970s while on summer breaks from college. Working at Blue Ridge Assembly, the YMCA conference center, in Black Mountain, North Carolina, we would end our night shift after washing dishes and hike up to High Windy Mountain to cowboy camp for the night. On top of the mountain a hefty bag served as a ground cover under an old plaid flannel Coleman sleeping bag that probably weighed in at 10 pounds back then. Under the abundance of stars, the wind would whip and rattle those bags all night long. Before dawn we were up and headed back down the mountain to serve breakfast to the conference center guests.”

“Those summers we would also head to the AT vistas of Roan Mountain and the Skyline Drive, they were all part of our off-day adventures. During those excursions I discovered the feeling of standing on top of the mountain range and looking across “forever.” The love and dream of hiking in the woods, from mountain top to mountain top, and across the ranges had begun. Now, many years later, the dream is shaping into reality!”

On March 7 I Spillman set out on her attempted thru-hike from Georgia to Maine after roughly 45 days of practice and planning. The planning, done almost completely by her husband, Jimmy, is something I Believe feels extremely blessed by.

“Some days I feel like he wants me to make it Maine more than I do,” journaled Spillman. She was kidding, of course.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with I Believe as she was passing through Andover and chatted with her at the town common gazebo.

My first thought was how does this little peanut of a woman (she was all of five feet tall and 110 pounds) carry that pack that is about half her size all those miles and up all those mountains? But, after chatting with her, she has the gusto of a 20 year old and can handle herself just fine.

“As long as you’re a strong, independent woman,” she said, “the pack and being in the wilderness by yourself is not an issue. As long as you’re alert, you’re all set.”

Spillman recalled one night staying in a shelter by herself and another hiker strolled in. She was “a bit spooked,” but before she knew it day had broken and she was once again on her way.

The life of a thru-hiker keeps me wondering about several things. How many zero days (non-hiking days) do they take? How often do they go someplace to get a proper shower or to launder their clothing? How often do they seek a shelter versus setting up their tents?

I Believe was very helpful and reiterated a statement I’ve heard a lot of hikers make, “You have to remain true to hiking your own hike.”

She said she has gone as long as 12 days without a zero, only taken about four true zero days, meaning that she may have taken a nero here or there and she prefers being in her own space inside her tent vs inside a shelter.

“If I know there’s a bad storm rolling in I will choose to stay in a shelter, because I don’t want to pack out a wet tent the next day,” I Believe said.

While she has been on the trail her husband, Jimmy, has been her personal trail angel, but has also slack-packed roughly 150 hikers during his six-week off and two-week on rotation to assist with I Believe’s successful voyage.

“It’s just been an amazing opportunity to be out here,” she said. “I’ve met some truly wonderful people. I’m excited, because the three 20-somethings I’ve been hiking with have agreed that we’re all going to summit together.”

It’s not uncommon for hikers to find themselves a hiker family while on the trail that they share common interest or bond with. Often times they will find one another and hike the remainder of the trail, and in Spillman’s case, that is just what happened. She hikes with Owl Bear, Cozi and Bison.

While talking about memorable moments on the trail, she remembered Easter Eve this year.

“It was so amazing to be at that high elevation in a shelter on the trail and the next day to hike down and receive an egg with the letters ‘AT’ on it from a group performing trail magic. A spectacular memory,” she said

Now, in all my reading of the Appalachian Trail, it never fails that by the time hikers get to New Hampshire and Maine, they agree that they find the toughest terrain. I asked I Believe about this and she gave it a little thought and replied, “I love rock climbing. I absolutely loved going through the Mahoosuc Arm. I had my moments going through the mountains down south thinking my lungs were going to explode, so I only think that if they’re saying it’s the toughest up here, it’s because you’re the tiredest.”

When asked what motivates her to continue hiking day in and day out, through rain, bugs, heat and cold, she simply said, “I know I have my two Js with me, my Jesus and my Jimmy. They’ve been with me the whole way.”

Spillman is keeping in touch as she makes her way further north and is on target to summit with her trail friends, Cozi, Owl Bear and Bison on Sept. 25.

You can find I Believe’s trail journal by following this link http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=16172.

'I Believe' at the gazebo in Andover.
‘I Believe’ at the gazebo in Andover.

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