How I Decided to Hike the Appalachian Trail with Someone I Knew for Six Weeks
I first met Liza at a traditionally Jewish summer camp in New Hampshire during the summer of 2022. We both worked seasonal jobs as camp counselors; picture “Dirty Dancing” meets “Camp Rock”. I taught music on the arts team where I directed over 60 bands of children over the course of eight weeks that culminated in a mini-music festival. Liza ran the trips program where she spent her days taking the kids cliff jumping, camping, and canoeing, just to name a few adventures. Liza, an accomplished hiker herself, hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2016. Campers referred to us as “Music Erin” and “Trips Liza,” a very endearing yet one-dimensional view of who we are as humans. Typically, counselors at camp who specialized in specific subject areas, known as the “Specialists”, stuck to their areas of expertise. However, I couldn’t just stay in the arts bubble. I loved the theatre team and the creative folks, but I was in the thick of marathon training, which thankfully forced me to fall in with some sports specialists, my soon-to-be best friends.
“Trips Liza” sought me out at camp after a mutual friend, “Office Sammie,” told her that I was training for a marathon. Sammie and I actually went to college together at Berklee and we both graduated with degrees in music education. At camp, we lived in Hemlock lodge together, where Sammie tirelessly put up with my world revolving around this marathon. They would wake up as I was getting back from running laps around the pond, just in time to beat them to a shower. I always sprawled my yoga mat across the space between our beds, tried to dry my sweaty sports bras in our window, and constantly used the sink to wash my water bottles. When we went to college together, I could barely run 2 miles around our Boston neighborhood, let alone get up at the crack of dawn to run for hours. A lot had changed in the few years that we lost contact during the pandemic, but Sammie dealt with all of my antics without complaint, and introduced me to the two girls who would change my life.
Sammie and Liza both started working at camp in 2021; I had taken this summer off from working at camp to go backpacking. While I was hiking, Sammie and Liza shared a few things: being covered in unique tattoos, enjoying nature, and a philosophy of trying to get the most out of life. It was this philosophy of having an exciting life that brought us all together; even though neither of them wanted to run a marathon, they wanted to support me in my crazy dreams. Liza showed her support in strange ways; for example, most of our conversations started like this:
L: “Erin! How was your run this morning?”
E: “It was great! I went around the pond a few times.”
L: “That sounds awful!”
Even with her pessimistic outlook on my runs, I always knew she cared about my goals, which became more clear after one particularly terrible run.
Before I get to that awful run, I have to bring up the third member of our little girl group, “Fitness Jess.” Jess came to camp from London and taught fitness classes to the kids. As a personal trainer and dietician, Jess came to camp to see America and travel the east coast. Her classes weren’t very popular because the kids played sports for half the day and didn’t really want to workout after that. By the end of camp, I think Jess spent more time taking my car on a coffee run or coaching me through workouts and runs than she spent with the campers. Jess has trained for the London marathon before and is an avid runner herself. She would sneak away from camp one or two times a week with me to get in a longer run, usually running a loop around Pleasant Lake, and then following up our adventure with a quick swim. One of our most memorable (and successful) runs was my first half marathon; Jess biked as I ran from camp, down the rail trail, through our small hamlet, and ended with our loop on Pleasant Lake. I was so grateful to have her there to celebrate my accomplishment, and to carry my snacks. Jess is the ultra optimistic foil character to Liza, who was likely napping while Jess and I were on our runs. Liza and I had hiking to bring us together, while Jess and I had our runs.
On the hottest day in August, Jess and Liza proved their investment in our friendship. Despite the proper cautions from all of my friends, I still felt compelled to get my miles in. I started running on the rail trail, a few hours later than I had planned to.
It was about 90 degrees when I started.
I made it just over four miles, out of the 11 I had planned, when I suddenly had to sit down. I was drenched in sweat, watching the world spin around me as I sat on the side of a dirt trail in the woods. I hadn’t seen anyone else out that morning, which was strange for the typically busy trail. I eventually made it down a side trail that was used by snowmobilers to get to a local pizza restaurant, Pizza Chef. I cried the whole way; the world wouldn’t stop moving, I was suddenly freezing, and my stomach was turning. I slumped on the cold, wet tiles of the Pizza Chef bathroom and threw up, probably turning away the poor customers eating lunch right outside the door. I immediately felt a little better, rushed outside while avoiding eye contact with the Pizza Chef patrons, and called Jess. Thankfully, she was already in the car with Liza. I was still crying under a tree in the parking lot when they pulled up, bumping Liza’s crazy techno music. The smiles fell right off their faces and they rushed over to give me a hug and get me into the air conditioned car. After giving me the appropriate amount of shit for making such a dumb decision to run in the hot weather, they drove me to the ice cream stand and held my hands. There has never been a better post workout snack than tear soaked raspberry sorbet. Jess and Liza laughing at my decisions and still taking care of me solidified that they were exactly the kinds of friends that I needed; girls who will be there to wipe your tears, but still pressure you into getting right back out there the next day.
The story of Erin, Jess, and Liza continued after camp with a week-long trip to visit Liza’s new town in Colorado. Of course, they convinced me that taking my first trip above 5,000 feet elevation in the peak week of marathon training was a good idea. Again, they worked our plans around my runs, hugged my sweaty self when I returned, and constantly questioned my sanity. After going on my longest run up to that point,18 miles (at 10,000 feet!!!), they were able to peer pressure me into getting matching best friend tattoos. The dainty little chicory flowers on my arm will always remind me of what I can achieve, especially with them on my team.
Liza is mostly a goofy girl, but deep down she is one of the most caring humans I know. I know a thru-hike with Liza will include silly challenges, befriending anyone who can tell good stories, Facetime calls to Jess, and probably some wild side quests. Being her friend has already created some interesting memories, and we have a bond that is way closer than our eight month long friendship would suggest. I am so lucky to have met her at a random summer camp in New Hampshire, and I am SO excited to hike the Appalachian Trail with her this year. You can read her hiker intro here! https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/get-to-know-me-eliza-swackhamer/
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