CHATHAM – Through-hiking the Appalachian Trail is not for the faint-hearted. It's an enormous challenge, approximately 2,190 from start to finish, covering rolling hills and harsh mountain terrain stretching from Georgia to Maine.
But you're looking to take a journey of self discovery, it's a good place to start.
Kasey Gillies, who grew up in Harwich, graduated from Nauset High School and works at Pate's Restaurant, this week began her journey in Spring Mountain, Ga., and plans on finishing at Maine's Mount Katahdin in four to six months.
Along the way, she hopes to, well, find herself.
At 29, Gillies said she's felt adrift since the death of her father in 2012. A graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas College with a degree in art therapy, she's held a number of jobs, including teaching at the Family School and Brewster Day Camp, working with autistic children, as an EMT, as a plover monitor on Nauset Beach, an embroider, and as a waitress at Pate's. Faced with the prospect of turning 30 in a few months, she was “ready to break free of everything and do something different,” she said in a recent interview.
After watching the movie “Wild,” about a woman's solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, the west coast equivalent of the Appalachian Trail. After doing some investigating, she found that the Appalachian Trail, while longer, is better marked, more heavily traveled and more physically challenging.
“I thought that was more my speed,” she said.
Especially since she's never backpacked before. But again, she's done her research (it helps that her mother is retiring Eldredge Public Library Director Irene Gillies) and identified the gear she'll need, and in recent months she's been getting into shape by walking with a loaded pack and walking polls.
“I get some really odd looks crossing the street,” she said.
The challenge has “given me a goal,” she said, and she's dedicating her hike to a friend and former Pate's colleague, George Snider, who recently passed away after battling cancer.
By starting last week in Georgia, Gillies will be following spring as she treks north, hoping to stay within the more temperate weather. Around town she's been able to do about 10 miles in four hours with a full pack, a pace she hopes to be able to continue on the trail.
Getting ready for such a massive undertaking is challenging in itself, not only buying and packing the gear, but making sure she has the right cell phone service and an emergency communication unit that will send a signal through a smartphone app, something her mother insisted upon.
Gillies anticipates having “a great and horrible time” along the trail.
“But I think it's going to be worth it. To get to the top of a mountain, look out, you get to be somewhere,” she said.
“It seems like it could be the beginning of the rest of my life,” she added.
Follow Kasey Gillies' progress at https://misadventuresofkasey.wordpress.com.