Chasing the Dream on the AT in 2018
Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire is one of my most favorite places in the United States. The first time I saw this I actually cried. I am so amazed that there are places like this that I am able to walk on. Even more amazing is that I get to fulfill a life-long dream and hike it all over again.
Who am I?
My name is Julie Wilson-Freeman, aka “Stripper.” I have hiked right at 4,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail since 2008; and yet, I have not completed it. I missed a section of the trail, due to breaking my toe, of about 15 miles in Massachusetts and another section in New Hampshire because I was running out of time and had to get back home. I am a college professor and teach Freshman Composition at a community college in Indiana. I love my job and use my summers to hike. I am 53 years old, my children are all out of the house now and I have 3 grandchildren. I have osteoarthritis, diabetes, and have had high blood pressure and fatty liver disease. In December 2016 I had bariatric surgery, the sleeve procedure, and have lost just over 100 pounds. I have never felt better in my life. I no longer have high blood pressure or fatty liver disease. I do not take medication at all, except for high cholesterol, which the doctor didn’t want to take me off just yet. It has always been my dream to thru-hike the AT and now seems to be the time.
Why do it?
That is a fantastic question! I have always dreamed of doing a thru-hike, ever since my foot first touched the AT in 2008. That first summer I hiked from Springer to Harpers Ferry in just 71 days. I fell in love that very first night. The following summer a friend asked if I would redo that section, so I did. After that every summer I spent at least 6 weeks on the AT with the past few years hiking with a partner, Mama Bear. She is a mom of 13 children and I now pretty much hike what she needs in order to finish the trail. We’ve been hiking together since 2012. This year; however, she will hike with me, but not thru.
My trail name is one that turns heads, once someone sees me, because I do not look like a “Stripper” at all! I earned my trail name by working with the Smoky Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail crew. The SWEAT crew is a trail crew that works to maintain the Smoky Mountain National Park section of the trail. I was putting in waterbars on the trail near Cosby Knob shelter and could “strip” the bark off the logs faster than the men. I was mid 40s at the time, overweight, out of shape, and really had no clue as to what I was doing. I did, however, grow up in the woods and knew how to debark a tree! That night, around the fire, one of the men said that I was, “The best tree bark stripper he’d ever seen.” From that moment on I was “Stripper.”
I will begin chasing the dream sometime around May 15, 2018. I have not set the date in stone yet because I will be teaching this spring semester and I also may have a young man joining me on this journey. We will be starting from Harpers Ferry heading north, then return to Harpers Ferry and finish at Springer Mountain, GA. We will begin the journey just as soon as both of us have completed the spring semester. I cannot wait for the journey of a lifetime to begin!
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