My Hero

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As I draw near the end of my hike, I find myself thinking more and more about why I’m out here. The primary reason is that after I completed my first AT thru-hike in 2005, I decided to give it another go and push my limits in an attempt at the women’s thru-hike record. But then back in December, when I read a newspaper article about Meredith Emerson, the young woman who was abducted and killed near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, that reason took on new meaning. As soon as I heard about Meredith’s death, I knew I wanted to complete my hike to memorialize her as a victim of trail violence.
I thought this hike would be a catharsis of sorts, would be a time of healing and coming to terms with the ways of the world. But it wasn’t, at least not through the first half of the trail, and I began to wonder if no amount of hiking would give me a sense of peace or help me to feel as though I’d mourned enough.
Then several weeks ago, while we were in Northern Virginia, I had a paradigm shift. It came when I read an article on the Internet that described how Meredith fought Gary Michael Hilton for three straight days- punched him, scraped him, kicked him, lied to him about her debit card password, did anything and everything to delay his killing her and to increase the chances that she’d be rescued. The police said her grit and determination to live helped them eventually to catch Gary Michael Hilton. If Meredith hadn’t been such a fighter, there would be no suspects in the murders of Irene and John Bryant and Cheryl Hodges. And if she hadn’t been such a fighter, I wouldn’t be able to hike without fear this summer.
The paradigm shift came when I realized that my hike isn’t about memorializing a victim as much as it is about celebrating a hero. Not Batman or Hancock or Iron Man or some other comic book character, but a real live hero who made the world- my world and the world of hikers throughout Southern Appalachia- a safer place. Meredith Hope Emerson, my hero. This hike is for you, Meredith. Thanks.

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