Why Hike the AT? Peace Pilgrim

“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” Peace Pilgrim (First Woman Thru Hiker of the Appalachian Trail, Class of 1952, First Appalachian Flip-Flopper, Class of 1952, Considered one of the first ultra-light hikers and the first dedicated cold soaker on the Appalachian Trail wearing Keds tennis shoes.).

Mr. Rook will tell you, the Appalachian Trail Adventure is all the Dessert Queen’s idea. Yes, it appeared on the Post COVID Adventure List, but to journey on the Appalachian Trail, or AT, is something I’ve thought about for at least three decades.   

As an Ohioan, many would think I was following in the footsteps of Grandma Gatewood, but I’m not. I actually didn’t learn about Grandma Gatewood until after I discovered Peace Pilgrim’s journey.  

Cover picture from Peace Pilgrim’s book.

A book that started the AT Dream

My dream of trekking the AT started after a co-worker gave me a copy of Peace Pilgrim’s biography in the late 1980’s.  It is a thin book with a front cover that shows an older woman walking along a road. The woman, Peace Pilgrim, is smiling and wears a blue tunic with white block letters stating “Peace Pilgrim.”  She doesn’t appear to be a pushover; her eyes show determination and they look beyond the cover. Peace Pilgrim is walking for a cause she believes in.

I was intrigued that her life’s work in peace activism was inspired by her hike of the Appalachian Trail in 1952.  She didn’t stop walking until she died 28 years later.  Back and forth she trekked across the USA in Keds tennis shoes (canvas laced up sneakers) promoting peace and nuclear disarmament with the message: “This is the way of peace.  Overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”  Some have estimated that Peace Pilgrim walked over 43,500 miles (perhaps she inspired the author of Forrest Gump, Winston Gloom?).  

If the AT radically transformed her to take on this kind of mission, how would it change me?  What would I be inspired to do for the betterment of humanity?  

Where and what was this AT?  I needed details.

In the eighties, I had hiked many trails with my family and friends, however I never heard about the AT.  On a visit to my local library, I looked up “Appalachian Trail” in an encyclopedia before searching the card catalog.  (NOTE: The 1980s were prehistoric times for technology: no personal laptop and no internet. The card catalog only represented what each library had in their own collection of books, microfiche, newspapers, or filmstrips.) The encyclopedia entry briefly described the history of the AT, the states it went through and had a few black and white pictures including the plaque of the hiker on Springer Mountain.  The only book at my library was published by National Geographic, so I checked it out.  The photographs were like a Siren’s song calling me to the forest.  

Malchus Stafa, B. AT Dreaming Hike at Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve, Ohio. 2022. Author’s personal collection.

Excerpt from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Read the entire text at Poetry Foundation

Malchus Stafa, B. Leaf Dreaming on Appalachian Trail, Oct 2022. Watercolor and pen.

There are many reasons why a hiker refuses a call to Hike the Appalachian Trail.  These were my top twelve:

  1. How would I pay the bills and support…my cat, in 1989 to how will I pay for my son’s tuition in 2018?
  2. My work will never let me have six months of vacation with or without pay.  Sabbatical…right.
  3. How will I pay for health insurance for my family?
  4. Who will take care of the house, car, cat…name it?
  5. I don’t have the gear.
  6. Where does an Ohioan train for the elevation gains on the Appalachian Trail?
  7. My hiking speed is really really slow.  It will take me more than 180 days to reach the end of this journey.
  8. Bears and mice.
  9. If I quit my job with a great supervisor and co-workers, will I find something better when I return?
  10. How will I explain that I resigned from my job to spend six months hiking on the Appalachian Trail?
  11. Many will think I am out of my mind…quitting a job with good benefits.
  12. More recently, “Aren’t you a little old for this type of adventure?  Carrying a backpack 2200 miles…”  

Despite all my excuses the call to hike trail was great and lived in the back of my mind and in my heart for thirty years.  It took something drastic to happen at work for me to resign. In the past, I let the small things go that were in conflict with my personal values.  I held my breath; I compromised, but this time tribal politics crossed a line with respect to my moral beliefs and values.  It was a realization that my heartbeat was out of sync with nature’s drumbeat.   Reality, I couldn’t stand in front of the mirror with myself, put on my public health face and do my work.  In front of the mirror, I kept asking myself: “Is there another way to do violence prevention?”  

Reading Kelly Winter’s book Walking Home: A Woman’s Pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail, she had a name for the AT goddess or Spirit: Gladys (204). I believe Gladys was placing more and more boulders for me to climb over at work.  Every morning these last two years, Gladys said in her Bronx accent, “Okay, can you still look at yourself in the mirror and go to work?  Will you just quit and come out and play on the trail?”  Somehow I managed to ignore her and jumped, climbed and leaped over boulders placed in my way (maybe this was preparing me for Mahoosuc Notch?).  But in the end, I finally said enough and yes to Gladys.

Malchus Stafa, B. Beth and Tom Purposeful AT Shakedown Hike near the NOC, Oct 2022. Author’s personal collection

Purposeful Hike: Hiking Like Peace Pilgrim

Mr. Rook and I don’t have a big purpose other than reflecting on practicing joy and awe, being curious and trying new things and to face the unknown together.  Hiking allows time for contemplation and meditation to listen to your inner voice or Spirit.  We hope to come out of the woods with some idea of what is next in our lives.  (One could only wish for a Peace Pilgrim Damascus experience.) 

These past couple of years, we have been thinking about what it means to belong and how this feeling is the cornerstone for community building.  We have been volunteering for the food pantry and participated in the arts.  It has been our experience that food and the arts do allow people to feel like they belong.  Having access to green spaces to play and hike also allow people to feel like they belong.  The idea of belonging has been shown to be a buffer against many forms of violence and help heal trauma caused by violence.  

With this in mind, Mr. Rook and I hope to break bread, share desserts, and listen to people tell their stories both on and off the trail.  We do plan to blue blaze to organizations in trail towns that support food security, promote the arts and community.  

We hope this blog will inspire you to get out and hike, volunteer, and/or support your local food pantry and artists in your community or to share your talents, be curious and listen, scribble a poem about nature, paint an abstract tree…

Two organizations we blue blaze in Ohio:


Blazes on the trail: A blaze on the trail tells you the direction the path goes.  The Appalachian Trail uses a white blaze. A blue blaze on the Appalachian Trail is a side trail to a shelter or a scenic view.  



Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 5

  • hikernation : Mar 1st

    We enjoy the hard work every does ? The articles bring a story everyone should

  • hikernation : Mar 1st

    We enjoy the hard work every does ? The articles bring a story everyone should read

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Mar 4th

      Hi Hikernation. Thank you for your kind comment.

  • Julie : Mar 2nd

    I enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to more. 🙂

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Mar 4th

      Thank you Julie. I look forward to writing these blog posts and Mr. Rook enjoys editing.


What Do You Think?