When Lori Loew, 50, and Aaryn Clerk, 23, both of Chalfont, purchased their hiking gear, the man at the register exclaimed that they were a unicorn, a complete rarity.
The mother-daughter duo was preparing to hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known at the Appalachian Trail, a marked hiking trail that measures roughly 2,190 miles and stretches from Georgia to Maine.
“He said he’d seen a lot of father/son and boyfriend/girlfriend duos, but hardly ever mother and daughter teams,” said Lori.
Lori and Aaryn began the hike on April 20th; they completed the trail on August 10th.
“Most people do it in five to six months and we did it in three months and 20 days, and I wasn’t trying to set any records. I was just trying to keep up with my 23-year-old daughter,” laughed Lori. “She’s a school teacher (Aaryn teaches at Titusville Elementary) so we either had to do it fast or not at all.”
Lori is waiting to receive the official results on whether she completed the trail the fastest for women over 50, but for the duo it wasn’t about breaking records, it was about both spending time in the great outdoors and spending time with each other.
“As a family we love to be outside. I’ve hiked in the Rocky Mountains and we’ve hiked as a family in Yellowstone and we enjoy being outside together,” explained Lori.
Over the course of the trail, they built their mileage up slowly, starting with eight to 10 miles a day to peaking at about 25 to 30 miles a day.
“It didn’t take long for us to get into bigger miles and that’s where the speed came in. I don’t think we’re necessarily the fastest hikers but we hiked long. So we’d get up early and we’d hike late,” said Lori.
Another reason the two were able to travel faster than many of the other hikers (who became sparser the further north they went), was that they were able to travel a little lighter relying on each other’s gear.
“We needed each other. One of the reasons we could go a little faster is we shared a tent, we shared a cook system, we shared a water filtration system…we didn’t have to duplicate our gear,” said Lori.
Lori and Aaryn spent months preparing for the hike, but mentioned there were several challenges they felt underprepared for.
“I don’t think we trained nearly as hard as we should have. They say the most difficult parts of the trail are the beginning, the end, and Pennsylvania. They call it “Rockslyvania” or the place where shoes go to die so we thought we had a real advantage training in Pennsylvania, but the problem is what Pennsylvania gives you in rough terrain, it lacks in elevation changes and there’s so many elevation changes,” said Lori.
The two also hiked the trail during its rainiest season to date.
“I have pictures of the trail where it looks like a river. You’re hiking all day in these rivers so at night it’s important you keep your gear dry so when you get in your tent you can dry off and take care of your body because you’re asking your body to do a lot in all of this rain,” explained Lori.
Between flooding, tornado storms, bad cell service, and dangerous wild animal sightings (one night the two spent the night merely feet away from several hungry black bears), Aaryn and Lori exclaimed that they thought about quitting nearly every day.
“We had a saying out there that we would just ‘embrace the suck’ and so we would just do it. Every day you have to decide if you’re going to choose the trail or if you’re going to choose the comforts of life and every day we just chose the trail,” said Lori.
As Lori and Aaryn approached the last leg of their journey in Maine, they received a special pick-me-up.
“Our family all came to Katahdin [ME] and hiked the last five miles with us. It was really special,” said Lori.
Lori, who owns Art Dept. Studios in North Wales, Doylestown and Newtown, said it meant the world to her to have so much help back at home while she and Aaryn were away.
“I have 19 amazing employees that helped out over the summer. It makes it a lot easier when you have good support at home,” she said.
In fact, the two had such a positive experience on the trail that they’re already planning their next hike.
“We’re actually thinking about doing another hike in 2020. We’re starting to plan our Pacific Crest Trail hike. That’s our next challenge,” said Lori.
The Pacific Crest Trail begins in Mexico and ends in Canada and is nearly 400 miles longer than the AT.
Good luck, ladies!
PHOTO CAP: Lori Loew (right) and Aaryn Clerk at end of their Appalachian Trail trek.