NORRIDGEWOCK — After hiking a trail with her family in Caratunk about four years ago, Abby Washburn decided that her next goal was to tackle a bigger trek before finishing high school: the Appalachian Trail.

That Caratunk hike “was enough to set the seed in Abby’s mind,” her mother, Amy Washburn, said.

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,192-mile hike that spans 14 states. In the 2010s, more than 9,200 thru-hikers were expected to complete the trek. According to Appalachian Trail Conservancy, about 25% of hikers who attempt to complete the entire hike finish it, taking from five to seven months to get from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Abby and Amy Washburn on the Appalachian Trail at Laurel Falls in Hampton, Tennessee on Oct. 19, 2019. Photo courtesy of the Washburns

About a year after the trip to Caratunk, Abby, now 16, pitched the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail to her parents, who supported her idea, but insisted that she not do it alone. Her mother, Amy Washburn, decided to do the hike with her.

“My dream was not to hike the Appalachian Trail; my dream was to make Abby’s dream come true,” Amy Washburn said.

From there, the two planned their trip, deciding that the best time to complete it would be the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Skowhegan Area High School.

The two planned their trip to span six months. Abby would miss the last two months of her sophomore year and the first two months of her junior year. According to her principal, Bruce Mochamer, that was the plan the family worked out with him and other school officials.

“We don’t typically encourage these kinds of things because it’s such a hard thing to complete,” Mochamer said. “Her mom came to us about a year before the trip and laid out (Abby’s) wishlist and asked us how we could make it work.”

“This is not something we normally do,” Mochamer said, although he acknowledged students learn more about themselves outside than inside a classroom. “We had a lot of meetings before Abby left and put a lot of the responsibility to complete the work in her hands. The staff has been great and she has been plugging away at her work.”

Amy, left, and Abby Washburn of Norridgewock with full packs on April 15, 2019, at the onset of their hike from Georgia to Maine at Amicalola Falls State Park. More than 250 backcountry shelters are located along the Appalachian Trail. Photo courtesy of the Washburns

The pair left for Georgia and Springer Mountain on April 12, 2019, with a few friends. They officially began the hike on April 16.

In Asheville, North Carolina, in the middle of June, they calculated that their pace of about 9 miles a day would add an extra 300 days to the trip. Already miles behind other northbound hikers, they found themselves alone.

Amy Washburn decided to go off the trail and return home to retrieve her car. She returned to Asheville to drive Abby 400 miles north to catch up with other thru-hikers. Abby resumed the hike in Virginia, her mom stopping at rest stops to supply Abby and other hikers with snacks and drinks.

Thru-hikers gave Abby the nickname Oreo, which came about when she was calculating how many Oreos she would need to consume to sustain a hiker’s diet of 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day. That’s about 102 cookies, about 5,440 calories. Even though she didn’t eat that many cookies daily, the nickname stuck.

“I hiked with a bunch of different groups,” Abby Washburn said. “We all became really good friends because we were all reaching toward the same goal.”

Abby Washburn of Norridgewock hikes the Appalachian Trail with other hikers and Roo the dog near Erwin, Tennessee, in late October 2019. Photo courtesy of the Washburns

Amy Washburn, who is 49, got her trail nickname — Graduate — when thru-hikers found out she was going to miss her college graduation from the University of Maine at Farmington to hike the trail. On the day of her graduation, Washburn, who earned an early education teaching degree, received a package from friends at home containing a graduation gown and a mock diploma.

Along the way, the pair made friends with other hikers. At mile 1,300 Abby met David “Hobo” Gorby, a thru-hiker from Ohio. Gorby, 56, was hiking the trail after retiring from his job in the spring.

“I clicked with Oreo,” Gorby said. “I am so impressed with her. The trail can be very grueling and was much more of a challenge than I had imagined.”

The two separated when Gorby met up with family. Abby resumed the hike with other thru-hikers and was joined by friends on some of the days. To her surprise, Gorby returned to the trail to summit Mount Katahdin with her.

After Abby summited at Mount Katahdin, she returned to complete the 400 miles of her trip from North Carolina through Tennessee to Virginia, completing the entire 2,192 miles on Oct. 23. Gorby joined her again to hike the last 8 miles with her at Dragon’s Tooth in Catawba, Virginia.

Having spent six months on the trail, the mother-daughter duo returned home on Oct. 25. They spent the first couple of weeks back at home observing and working to reestablish a new normal. While they were gone for the summer, Abby’s father, Bob, and twin brother, Ben, took care of their dog, Bailey, and their home in Norridgewock.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers Dave Gorby and Abby Washburn mark her completion of the 2,192 mile trail. Washburn finished the 2,192 miles she hiked at Catawba, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Amy Washburn

“Not only had my relationship with Abby changed, but so did Bob and Ben’s,” Amy Washburn said. “It was the same house with the same people, but the relationships were different and now we had to reintegrate.”

At school, Abby completed her sophomore year and is working to catch up on her junior year workload. She expects to graduate on time and plans to go to college.

“This was such an adventure for her,” Mochamer said. “When her mom proposed this to me, I was not sure if she could make it through. Hats off to her. I certainly couldn’t do it.”

Gorby remains close with the Washburns. The three will be gathering with their families in a couple of weekends to go skiing in Vermont. Gorby praises Abby Washburn for her independence and for completing the trail in six months.

“Only about a quarter of the people that start the trail actually finish it,” Gorby said. “It’s so awesome that a 16-year-old would have the interest to bare through. It’s very impressive that she had the desire and stamina to do it. Oreo is a tough girl.”

Taking six months off from the world allowed Amy Washburn to unplug from the world and focus on living in real time.

“During the first couple weeks of the trip, I had to be very conscientious of being fully present on the Appalachian Trail,” she said. “I had to focus on where I was and what I was doing.”

Though the disconnect was challenging, she says that seeing her daughter thrive and accomplish her goals was what made the trek worth it.

“I watched my teenage daughter come out of her shell,” Washburn said. “And in the process, she discovered within herself the ability to carry on and finish what she started.”

As for Abby, she continues to work to catch up at school and make up for lost time with her friends. Reflecting on her trip, she feels a sense of pride for accomplishing the 2,192-mile trek.

“It was really hard,” Abby said. “There was a guy who hiked the trail who was blind, and I reminded myself that if he could do it, then I could.

“I just had to remind myself to lean forward and don’t look back.” Abby said.


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