Andrea Deyling and her mother, Linda Deyling, have been on the Appalachian Trail since March, when they began the 2,180 mile thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.

They’ve jumped around a bit — taking time to go up Mount Katahdin before the weather gets too harsh to hike the mountain — and on Friday were preparing to go to Caratunk to hike some of their last miles in Maine.

As they’ve hiked through Maine, they couldn’t avoid thinking about Geraldine Largay, also known by her trail name, Inchworm, a Tennessee woman who disappeared from the trail in July 2013.

“Knowing that she disappeared in that area, when we went through it, was in the back of my mind,” said Linda Deyling, 71, just a few years older than Largay, who was 66 when she disappeared. “I was wondering what did happen to her, was there any foul play and was there anyone else around? We hike in the dark and at night, and it just makes you wonder whether everything is going to be all right.”

On Thursday the mother-daughter pair, who are from San Francisco and the Cleveland, Ohio, area, crossed through Redington Township, a 40-square-mile area where the day before a forester doing an ecological survey for the Navy had found remains believed to be those of Largay.

Largay was last seen alive at the Poplar Ridge lean-to, which is in the midst of some of Maine’s tallest peaks. The lean-to is on the back side of Saddleback Mountain — elevation 4,121 feet — and before Spaulding Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Crockers.

The section can be tough, even for experienced hikers, although the Deylings and others interviewed Friday said the trail is well marked and they thought it was unlikely anyone would get lost.

Katahdin, the northernmost point of the trail, can close at any time this time of year because of the weather, so after hiking the Mahoosuc Notch, considered by many to be one of the most difficult sections of the trail, the Deylings got a ride to Mount Katahdin, which is in Baxter State Park, then came back to the Rangeley area, more than 100 miles to the west, to finish hiking in Maine.

“I wouldn’t say we’re more exhausted than before,” said Andrea Deyling, 40, who goes by the trail name Hakuna Matata. “There’s a lot of excitement still, and the terrain actually gets a little bit easier through this section, so we’re all feeling really good.”

The Deylings said they had heard of Largay and have seen pictures of her posted along the trail in Maine.

On Friday they were resting at The Farmhouse, a hostel in Rangeley, before finishing a section of trail in the area and then heading to Caratunk.

Fynn Smith, another hiker at The Farmhouse who recently completed his third thru-hike on the trail, said he too noticed the posters asking for information on Largay while hiking the trail last year.

“It made me sad,” he said. “I felt bad that someone was lost and their family had to go through that.”

He said he heard on social media Friday morning that Largay’s remains had been found.

“A lot of people are talking about it,” he said. “Social media is blowing up.”

Smith, who finished his latest 2,180-mile hike in five months, said the Poplar Ridge lean-to, where Largay was last seen, follows a strenuous section of trail and is a popular resting spot for hikers. But he and others said it was unlikely anyone would get lost.

“It’s just trail,” said Zach Cherry, a thru-hiker from Georgia. “There’s nothing weird.”

“I would say it’s very surprising,” Deyling said. “The trail is well marked and there’s nothing different about this section from the other 2,000 miles, and it’s surprising. You wouldn’t think of something like this happening.”

Some of the hikers at The Farmhouse said they were not aware of the Navy property where Largay’s belongings were found, and they said they weren’t sure what might have led her to stray about 3,000 yards from the trail.

“I will say this: The direction she was going, she came over Saddleback, which is a pretty big mountain; and there’s exposed ridge line for 1.4 miles,” said Cherry, 29. “The backside is steep, and if there were bad weather or she was in bad shape or hypothermic, that could explain why she was found not on the trail and was somewhere else, maybe trying to get help.”

Largay was last seen alive on July 22, 2013, and a heavy rainstorm hit the area July 23. She was reported missing July 24, the day she was supposed to meet her husband, George, in Wyman Township, about 22 miles from the Poplar Ridge lean-to.

“If she was lost, I don’t know why she wouldn’t have waited in one spot where she could have heard somebody. A lot of hikers, they’ll sing going down the trail or their poles make noise,” Smith said. “Any hiker hiking is going to know what the trail is as opposed to just wandering out in the woods.”

More than 2,500 people attempted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2014, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. July is one of the most populated times on the trail, not just for thru-hikers, but also for section and day hikers.

As exhausting and long as thru-hiking can be, there are opportunities along the way to rest and recover at places such as The Farmhouse, Andrea Deyling said. “They have a kitchen here. You can eat here and get good sleep and stuff like that,” Deyling said. “I thought (Largay) was getting picked up regularly and I would think she would still be feeling pretty strong. A lot of hikers take advantage of those opportunities, so you may be hiking just a few days before you are back in civilization.”

The hikers said they take comfort hiking in groups, but at the same time there are lots of people who hike the trail on their own. For the most part, they say Largay’s disappearance is a surprise and doesn’t leave them worried about their safety on the trail.

“It’s a community that I think you can’t even explain unless you’ve experienced the way people help each other out and how safe most people feel out here,” Andrea Deyling said.

“It’s almost like an extended family — a trail family,” Linda Deyling said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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