A newsmaker you should know: Upper St. Clair woman celebrates graduation with gargantuan hike

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After her recent graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, Colleen Lloyd is taking a walk.

But it isn't just a stroll; it's more than 2,000 miles. Ms. Lloyd is hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer as a fundraiser for Camp AIM, a program run through the South Hills YMCA for special needs children. She also hopes to challenge herself like never before.

The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continuous trails in the world and traverses approximately 2,180 miles through 14 states along the Appalachian Mountains. The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine.

The 21-year-old Upper St. Clair resident first started thinking about the iconic trail after an "alternative spring break" she attended as a sophomore at Pitt.

"We went to Cumberland, Tenn., and there was a student there who had hiked the trail. It sounded so interesting," she recalled.

After that trip, she started reading journals of "thru-hikers" -- the term for those who hike the entire length of the trail as opposed to just sections -- and the book "Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail," by best-selling author Bill Bryson.

"I just became more and more intrigued," Ms. Lloyd said.

She spent a semester studying abroad in London so she wasn't afraid to travel alone. And since she had camped at Deer Valley and enjoyed hikes with her father, Mike, she felt she had an understanding of the outdoors, albeit maybe not a 2,000-mile hike carrying everything on her back.

"I've done shorter backpacking trips and have planned places for my parents to send me supplies," she said, a common practice for thru-hikers.

For the trip, she purchased her backpack, small tent, sleeping pad and bag and trail maps; she is carrying a couple of changes of clothes. With food, she estimates her pack weighs about 40 pounds.

Due to her spring class schedule, Ms. Lloyd started almost a month ago, a bit later than most thru-hikers -- they usually begin in March -- so she was to kick off her adventure in Tennessee, a little more than 100 miles north of the southern start of the trail. Technically, she will not be considered a "true through," but approximately 2,000 miles is still quite the undertaking. Only one-quarter of those who attempt thru-hiking actually complete the journey.

Her father started the trek with her, and they will meet up with some of his friends who are already hiking. She currently is hiking with a group of young people she met on the trail. Groups of friends and family, including her dad, also will meet her on some sections of the trail.

Ms. Lloyd decided to raise money for Camp AIM following her dad's efforts; last year he raised funds by completing a trio of physical challenges. He hiked the 34-mile-in-one-day Rachel Carson Challenge in Pittsburgh, biked 350 miles from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, and ran the half-marathon up Pikes Peak in Colorado last summer.

Ms. Lloyd has asked for pledges for her hike.

Although she said she doesn't know what will face her on the trail, Ms. Lloyd has studied trail maps and hopes to hike at least 10 to 15 miles a day so she can reach the northern trail terminus in Maine before she reports to Boston College for graduate studies in late August.

"I'm going to keep a blog so folks can follow me and I plan on calling home a lot," she said. She will use her phone with Internet access to blog.

While most people may be nervous about hiking more than 2,000 miles, Ms. Lloyd said the thing she is worried about most are the pesky ticks that are often in wooded settings.

Still, "I think there is something really valuable about having the experience of carrying everything you need on your back and experiencing nature like this," she said. "This is probably my last free summer and I want to see these amazing forests and be outside."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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