Geraldine Largay, 66, of Brentwood, Tenn., was last seen one year ago on July 22, hiking the Appalachian Trail in Wyman Township in Franklin County.

Ever since, her husband of 42 years, George Largay, and other family members have waited for news as the search for her continued — first urgent, then methodical, then intermittent.

Two weeks after she disappeared into the Maine woods without a trace, as the chances of finding her alive greatly diminished, Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam said it was frustrating to “leave the family in limbo.”

Largay’s family and friends have remained in limbo during the past year.

David Fox, a friend of and spokesman for the family, said George Largay, who is in the process of moving to a new home in Brentwood, and the rest of his family continue to grapple with the emotional weight of what happened.

“This is a rough stretch for him on the anniversary,” Fox said. “They are really kind of holding each other close and really relying on their faith right now.”

Fox said he attended the memorial service held for Largay in October. “That service was such a celebration of her life and their family’s relationship,” he said.

But even during the service, he said, the questions about what happened to her were ever present.

“I think there’s always going to be a sense that we don’t know what happened, so closure, as close as we can get to it, is good,” he said. “But you know it’s still not final, and that is always there.”

It’s been 16 months since April 2013, when a smiling and bespectacled Largay set off on a grand adventure, aiming to hike the northern thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail.

It’s been one year since Largay, just 200 miles from her goal, was last seen between the trail’s Spaulding Mountain and Poplar Ridge lean-tos by a southbound hiker.

It’s been 11 months since the initial search efforts organized by the Maine Warden Service began to tail off, and 10 months since the family put up a $15,000 reward in the hope someone would come forward with information related to her disappearance. It’s been nine months since an October memorial service was held for her in her longtime hometown of Atlanta, Ga.; eight months since the beginning of a brutal winter that buried the region in thick layers of snow and ice; three months since the snows melted and aircraft began once again flying over the area, hoping that the bareness of the branches would create enough visibility to see some previously unnoticed sign.

Two months ago, the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association assembled a team of experienced hikers to scour a section of the search area on Crocker Mountain. One month ago, the Maine Warden Service resumed an active ground search, though it didn’t specify why.

Throughout the process, Fox said, a strong bond has formed between the Largay family and the members of the warden service who have not given up efforts to find an answer to a deepening mystery.

Hikers go missing all the time, especially on the more remote stretches of the Appalachian Trail. Maine sees an average of 28 such cases every year, Adam said.

Only 2 percent remain missing after two days of searching; most of those are drowning victims, their bodies to be eventually recovered by divers.

Adam said it is extremely rare for a person to be missing on the land for an extended period of time, in part because searchers are very thorough in covering the ground of the search area. While the region’s rugged terrain, which includes steep ascents, thick brush and treacherous networks of rocks, slowed initial search efforts, they don’t fully explain why Largay hasn’t been found.

Police have also considered the possibility that Largay is not in the search area at all — that she was abducted and removed from the trail, or left of her own free will to start up a new life for herself, perhaps far away.

But Adam said investigators have concluded that the chances of such a scenario are very small.

“We had the Maine State Police helping us out and none of us can seem to come up with any evidence that there’s any criminal activity,” he said. “If I didn’t think she was in the search area, I wouldn’t be out there.”

Adam said he continues to work the search in the hopes that he will one day deploy the right resource — plane, dog or ground searcher— into the right place.

Fox said searchers and family members are bound by a shared desire for answers.

“I think about it at odd times in the morning,” Adam said. “My kids ask me about it. My nieces and nephews ask me about it.”

Adam said the intimacy of the relationship is natural, given that he had many hours of conversations with George Largay and other family members during the first week of the search.

“When you have those crucial conversations with people, you come to grow close to them,” he said. “There is motivation there, to want to end this for them and to return their loved one. She’s still in our minds and our thoughts.”

Largay’s friends, too, have kept her memory alive.

Jane Lee said in an email on Friday that she had just finished walking a portion of the trail to its northernmost point at Mt. Katahdin in Maine to “finish Gerry’s hike.”

“She so wanted to reach and see Mt. Katahdin,” Lee wrote. “I hope she knows that I brought her memories to the top.”

Lee also said the mystery has persisted in the face of the recent searches.

“Still the question remains,” she said. “What happened, and where is she?”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt


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