Jackie Kuhn, trail name, Left Turn, is seen here celebrating her successful thru hike on Katahdin September 12.

Jackie Kuhn, trail name, Left Turn, is seen here celebrating her successful thru hike on Katahdin September 12.

Left Turn makes her way across the Tableland after passing Thoreau Spring after summitting Katahdin and completing her 2,185-mile walk.

Left Turn makes her way across the Tableland after passing Thoreau Spring after summitting Katahdin and completing her 2,185-mile walk.

What pushes each person to take on such an undertaking as hiking the Appalachian Trail? What kind of drive and determination does it really take for them to choose to put themselves at the mercy of the elements for upwards of six months?

I’ve read over and over again how each person makes their hike their own. Whether they take to the trail as a result of heartache, have been diagnosed with disease or maybe they want to see how fast they can make the 2,185-mile trek. Regardless of their reasoning, one constant is for sure, it takes preparation.

My gosh, think about it, living out of a pack everyday for six months or more, you need clothing, food, first aid and shelter.

I remember sitting on the couch one wintery night last February as I finished reading yet another story about a thru hike on the Appalachian Trail, when I finally decided to make the commitment for my own thru hike in 2016.

It was a couple weeks later, March 19, when I found Left Turn on the Trail Journals website. Little did I know, after reading about her first ten days on the trail and signing her guestbook, that I would follow her every move and make a true, life-long friend when she walked into my life a little more than five months to the day after I happened upon her journal.

I followed her as she endured long days of hiking through rain, heat and cold. I continued to check in on her and read as she shared her experience of waking up to six inches of snow surrounding her tent, frozen water bottles, stiff and frozen shoes and having to pack up and carry her now, 30-plus pounds of frozen gear down the trail.

A real life adventure was taking shape before my eyes and I couldn’t help but think of myself being in those places she wrote of in two years’ time.

Left Turn wrote about it all. She had wonderfully blessed days with fairly easy miles, sunshine and interaction with amazing trail angels, but then there were those days when the miles came harder, the weather was dreary and she ran into obnoxious day hikers.

I witnessed the point when she was at a real low and asked herself why she took to the trail and if she could really keep going, never mind make it to Maine.

I had asked her to let me know when she was going to be in Gorham, New Hampshire so I could be sure my schedule was clear in order to help her out while she was in the area and on Saturday, August 17, I got a phone call from her.

“Cherri, this is Left Turn, from the trail.”

I was as giddy as a little girl in the candy store. I couldn’t believe I was talking to her. After all, she is kind of like a movie star with being on the trial for so long. Only superhuman people can do such things, right?

After a short conversation about how she was and her plans for the next few days, it was agreed that I would pick her up in Grafton Notch on Thursday afternoon. I couldn’t believe it. Only four more days and I was going to be able to perform some real trail magic.

Now, please understand, I’ve offered food, drink and rides to hikers before, but never before had I the opportunity to host a thru hiker. I was SO excited!

Over the next few days I busied myself at the office to get as much work done as possible so I could devote all my time to Left Turn. After all, I had questions, she had answers, and I needed to learn all I could.

Left Turn was able to keep in touch while she was traversing the Mahoosuc Notch with texts updating me to which shelters she and her hiking partner, Scarab, were staying near, what the terrain was like and a better approximation of meeting time.

On Thursday, I loaded up the cooler with soda, fruit, cookies and whoopie pies and headed for the Grafton parking lot. It was while I was waiting that I was able to chat with K-Busy and Pack Rat.

K-Busy was a section hiker who had completed his thru hike in 2013, and Pack Rat was trying to finish his thru hike that he had to cut short in 2013 due to injury. Both men were very interesting characters. One with a jug of whiskey; the other with out-of-control hiker hunger; both making very interesting conversation.

Just before seven, down out of the woods, Left Turn and Scarab came. I couldn’t believe she was finally in front of me. After all these months of just seeing her picture and reading her words, she was finally here.

She was smiling from ear to ear, and gave me a big hug, but didn’t waste any time asking if we could please get to Sud’s Pub in Bethel for food. They had run out of food earlier in the evening and were starving. Scarab gave me a hug and thanked me for the magic.

That night we chatted and got to know one another while enjoying our meal at the pub and then got Scarab to The Chapman Inn, while I brought Left Turn back home with me. We had agreed that we would pick Scarab up about 7:30 the next morning to get them to the trailhead for a southbound slack pack from East B Hill to Grafton.

It was a short night of sleeping by hiker standard, as I don’t believe Left Turn shut the light out until well after 10, and she was up by six the next morning. We made breakfast and we headed off to pick up Scarab and make our way to Andover.

I had planned to hike the whole day with them, but needed to get some work done, so we agreed that I would hike in from Grafton and meet them on East Baldpate after my work was completed.

It was a very overcast day and the mountains were filled with clouds. I made the trek into East Baldpate by myself and met up with them while clouds and fog swirled around the mountain tops and in the valley below.

It was a great experience to hike with two who have come so far. Left Turn being a current thru-hiker and Scarab on a mission to complete his 14-year commitment of hiking the AT, start to finish. See, the trail really does do something to you.

That night, Andy and I invited Scarab to stay with us, too, as we had the opportunity to chat with him and learn that he was a really nice guy who deserved a little magic, too. We enjoyed another delicious meal and conversation before finally letting the two get some rest for their next southerly slack pack from South Arm to East B.

During the two days of slack packing, Left Turn and Scarab only had to carry the essentials for the day since they were coming back to my house for the night. They were able to wash their clothes, eat hearty meals and sleep in comfy beds out of the elements.

Sunday came all too soon and after enjoying one final breakfast with our new friends, Left Turn showed me what she carries in her pack and how she packs it as I took notes of brand, size, weight, etc. I was in no hurry to take them back to the trail, for over the last couple days we had shared some great conversations with these two strangers who came into our home and shared meals and laughter. They were now friends.

I was reluctant to take them back to the South Arm Road for them to continue their journey north toward their goal of Katahdin, but knew that I would see them again soon. We prayed together and they walked back into the woods more than 20 hiking miles away from where we first met.

As it turns out, Scarab was feeling rather homesick after spending time with us and decided he needed to move a little quicker and parted ways with Left Turn that afternoon. She had made mention that it’s difficult to find someone on the trail that has similar hiking style and is a good conversationalist in order to remain together for a period of time.

In fact, for about six weeks prior to entering Maine, Left Turn was hiking with a woman, Dallas, who ended up getting sick in New Hampshire and needed to zero a couple days. Left Turn parted ways with her, knowing she would see her again soon.

Over the next couple of days while Left Turn was making her way through Rangeley I met her for lunch at Height of the Land, and then again at the Farmhouse Inn on Route 4 in Rangeley. What a great place for hikers to spend some time off the trail. Shane and Stacey are so accommodating.

Left Turn remained in constant contact with me via texting and once in awhile a phone call if she had service, and we even made plans for me to join her on her final summit at Katahdin. I couldn’t wait!

As everything worked out, I was able to be on Katahdin with both Left Turn and the Warrior Hikers on September 12. What an amazing day filled with brilliant sunshine and success! It was as if the heavens above were rejoicing with all the amazing souls who were touching the famous sign after completing their long journey.
I am so absolutely grateful for my time spent with Left Turn, but even more thankful for having the opportunity to stand on Katahdin and see her make her final summit. What a moment to witness.

I have made a very dear life-long friend and pray for Left Turn as she uses her trail experiences to live the rest of her life knowing just how powerful of a woman she is.
You can find more about Left Turn and share your Left Turn experiences by visiting www.leftturnlife.com.


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