I just had the greatest conversation with one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. And I want you to meet her too! Her name is Anna Huthmaker, cellist, bow maker, hiker, and one of the bravest women I’ve even encountered. Her favorite definition of bravery is attributed to Roy Rogers who said that being brave wasn’t about being un-afraid…it is about being scared and doing it anyway. Be sure to check out her blog and the organization she has created, dedicated to encouraging women hikers, especially “curvy hikers” at www.Traildames.org
She challenged her own sense of bravery by hiking 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail. She prepared for three years, and took 6 months away from her family’s violin shop business in Duluth, Georgia, to achieve her dream. Shortly into her long-planned hike, she broke her foot in two places and had to spend eight weeks in a wheel chair. That wasn’t enough to stop Anna. She shopped around until the third doctor told her she could get back on the trail. (Anna had taken the time off, rented out her place, and thought, if not now, when?) At 260 lbs and 5 ft tall, carrying a 30 pound pack, Anna wasn’t the fastest person on the trail. Her hiking/camping companion, a marathon runner, would often be ahead of her. But Anna loved hiking alone, especially on a beautiful day, and never felt afraid on the trail. She put in an average of 10 miles a day.
She’ll never forget the segment in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where she hiked for 8 hours to cover 2.5 miles. “That was hard.” After finally making it to the shelter, she knew she had a hard decision to make. She left the trail the next day, taking a side path down to a highway, where she caught a ride into town. She cried that night as she lay in the hotel. “Until then I had always believed that if I willed it, my body would follow. It was a hard lesson to learn that no matter how strong my will, there were some things my body just couldn’t do.” Since she had promised her mom not to do anything really dangerous, she knew that that particular part of the trail wasn’t a safe choice for her. Since she had always planned to be a “section” hiker, knowing that her speed and injuries would keep her from finishing the trail in one season as a ‘thru-hiker’, Anna found her sense of trail ethics was intact, and she skipped forward to another segment and just kept on hiking! “That is the great thing about hiking,” she said, “if one mountain chews you up and spits you out, you just find yourself another mountain. “ “There is too much beauty out there to let the hard stuff scare you away from it”.
Her Appalachian Trail experience sort of “cracked open” her life. She asked her dad about what he thought about her volunteering for a month with kids in Africa, and he said, “If you can do what you did on the Appalachian Trail, I’m not worried, you can do anything!” So she did. She made friends who took her hiking in places where they needed a guide with a gun (it looked like something from the Civil War.) They walked past giraffe and herds of water buffalo, losing her shoes in a swamp as they skirted a dangerous solo water buffalo. She laughed, saying that it was ‘sort of appropriate’. Her trail name is Mud Butt due to her innate talent for finding any muddy spot and falling in it. So the fact that she was floundering around in the mud in Africa was completely apropos.
From there she followed her dream to see the northern lights in the Arctic Circle, landing in a bush plane 1.5 hours from any road. Anna believes that there is so much goodness in the world, that when we can’t absorb anymore, it all comes out in the Northern Lights. “They were amazing. We also dog sledded, rode snowmobiles, and stayed up all night with our small group of adventure travelers watching for the northern lights. I literally saw the night sky turn into a cathedral. It was totally worth the nerve-wracking plane ride and the 30-below temperatures!”. Of course, it wasn’t all romantic perfection. “ I fell off the snowmobile….. three times. I’m not very coordinated!”
The Inca Trail of Peru was next for Anna. “It was the toughest hike of my life. Although the Appalachian Trail was hard, these were big mountains. Really big mountains. One day I hiked for 5 hours straight uphill with no stops. But it was gorgeous!” Thankfully, the government requires that all hikes be guided and camp each day was prepared by porters. Anna often hiked from 7:30 am until as late at 9:30 p.m. “It really threw the guides into a tizzy….technically all hikers have to be in camp by 5:00. But given my speed, there was no way that was going to happen! I would arrive at lunch two hours later than everyone else, eat something quickly and just keep moving. It was physically exhausting, but I am one of the few people that have been lucky enough to actually hike the Incan Trail under the light of a full moon. That kind of makes up for everything, don’t you think?”
So what has Anna done lately? Three years ago she began Trail Dames, a hiking club for women of a curvy nature. “There wasn’t an organization specifically for women. An organization to encourage them to get out, enjoy the outdoors and to hike.” She called a meeting and decided that if three strangers showed up it would be a success. She knew her friends and family would support her, but she wanted to know if there were more women out there, especially curvy women. Nine strangers came to that first meeting, and the organization was off and hiking. “I think I knew early on that there was a possibility that I was on to something big, but the growth of the organization has been so organic that it just has felt right. Everything has been word of mouth and before I knew it, we had two thousand members and seven chapters!”
Her courage extends from hiking, to starting an organization. “Google is my friend. I didn’t know how to set up a website, but in two hours, I had a website up and running – and I’m a complete non-techie. I spent the next four years asking for advice and flying by the seat of my pants. It has ended up being a much huger job than I anticipated, but the rewards have been much, much greater than I ever dreamed. And the true beauty of the group is that we have all done it together. The Dames support each other, help each other and celebrate together when we finish a hike. When I see a woman grinning and sweating and hugging their new friends on top of a mountain, I feel so proud of what we have all accomplished together.“
Each year on the “birthday” of Trail Dames, an intrepid group of both new and seasoned hikers arrive at the remote start of the Appalachian Trail to hike the one mile up Springer Mountain. This year over 25 women made the hike, and at the top, they did the group’s traditional “Dance of the Real Woman” to celebrate. “Sometimes they laugh and roll their eyes at me, but I know the power of celebrating your accomplishments! There are a lot of women out there who either feel like they can’t climb a mountain, or truly can’t. For that reason, we must never forget to celebrate what we have done. And hopefully, in our celebration, we will encourage those other women to come join us.” On this spring day on top of Springer Mountain, there is a lot of celebrating going on. And lots of celebration of the simple joy of being on the mountain top, with a supportive group of women. As Anna says, “we don’t often see wildlife on these hikes--we are talking and laughing too much! We ARE the wild life!!”
Next up, Anna used her newly honed Google skills to look up “how to run a conference” . There has never been a women’s hiking and backpacking conference and who better to host it than the Trail Dames? This summer’s Summit will be chock full of amazing speakers, documentaries and workshops. “We want to spread the joy of Trail Dames and a woman’s hiking even further”. The future holds a lot of wonder for Anna and her Trail Dames. She is in the process of registering Trail Dames as a fully charitable organization, and is working hard to spread Trail Dames chapters all over the U.S. “I want to do what Junonia has been doing for so many years – tell all women, no matter their size, that they can do it, they can achieve their dreams.
Anna, keep us posted on your next adventure!
Check out Trail Dames at www.traildames.org