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Bliss and blisters

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 15th, 2011

Starved Rock activities director, Edna Daugherty plans a month long hike on the Appalachian Trail, starting March 25, to mark her 50th birthday. (Photo contributed)

Some people plan lavish parties to celebrate their 50th birthday. Others set sail on a relaxing cruise or vacation of pampering. Edna Daugherty, Starved Rock activities director, is taking a month off from work to backpack on the Appalachian Trail.

"Two years ago, I thought, I'm going to be 50. I need to plan something. I need to do something really cool," expresses Daugherty.

Edna Daugherty is an outdoors woman. She started backpacking six years ago on a trip to Isle Royale National Park, an island located in northwest Lake Superior. "It's my favorite place to go," she states.

However, when Daugherty was planning her month long endeavor, Isle Royales' short open season did not coincide with her time off available at Starved Rock.

Daugherty ultimately decided on the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is perhaps the most famous footpath in the world. It runs from Maine in the north of the United States to Georgia in the south. In the course of its journey, the trail follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness. Some people try to walk the entire 2,174-mile trail over several months. Others simply enjoy day-trips to parts of the AT.

Since making the decision to go, Daugherty has had high school classmates die. "What if when I'm 51... I never want to live with regret," she reflects.

"You have to do things now, never hold back, because you never know what might happen to you. So that's the reason I'm going," she continues.

Daugherty had to ask permission to leave work for a whole month, but after pitching her idea, her boss agreed. This has been her goal and plans for the last two years. The time is finally here. March 25 will mark the start of her journey.

Daugherty will not be hiking alone. Long-time friend and LaSalle-Peru High School classmate, Barb Holmbeck, offered to accompany her on the 260-mile journey. "We've hiked together in the past, but the trips were shorter. This is a real outdoor adventure!" said Daugherty.

To thru-hike the entire trail would take upwards of four months. Daugherty's goal is to start at Springer Mountain in Georgia, hike 8-12 miles a day, and end up at Fontana Dam at the base of the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina around April 14. Then, they will meet up with two other women and spend some time hiking through the Smoky Mountains before returning home.

The pair will each carry a 32-pound backpack filled only with bare necessities.

"I don't want to over plan," states Daugherty. Her loose plans allow for hiking distances dependent on weather, terrain and how they feel. She plans on starting with three days worth of food and hiking into nearby towns to replenish supplies.

Daugherty knows that her backpacking adventure is not merely about the destination, but the experiences along the way. She plans on using technology to send photos, journals and tracking information back to those following her journey. She and Holmbeck will also be sharing their stories at the Starved Rock Outdoor Woman Workshop in May.

Perhaps trekking through the AT, rehydrating your meals and sleeping outside on the ground is not your idea of a birthday celebration, but for Edna Daugherty, it signifies living.

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