Laura Finch is home again

We’ve been following the progress of Laura Finch and her black lab, Shiloh, as they trudged uphill and down on the Allegheny Trail.

The Allegheny Trail is a 330-mile hiking trail that passes through the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia.

Laura has made it home, and she is back at work in her law office in Marlinton.

Here is her final report:

Shiloh and I ended our hike Saturday, after 19 days and nights on the trail.
I am so grateful for everyone who has been following my story and wishing me well.  It really was an incredible adventure.
But after returning home Saturday, it was hard to imagine walking any farther on Sunday.  I took the day to rest and was grateful to be done, for now.  

We completed about 168 of the 287 miles that are currently open on the Allegheny Trail – and which I had planned to walk.

The best parts of the hike were meeting the kind, thoughtful and helpful people in the four counties we traveled through. One young man mistook me for homeless and asked if there was anything he could do to help.  I told him no, we were just hiking for fun!

The most surprising part about the trip was the treacherous “road walking” on the northernmost sections of the trail.

The trail itself was well-maintained through the wilderness, but the roads we walked were seldom used and some would not have been passable with ordinary passenger vehicles.  

Whether walking uphill or downhill, it was important to be aware of the condition of the road and to step carefully. I was grateful not to have any injuries.  

I had a tight knee the very first day, but as I learned to carefully make each step and not overextend my knee, I was able to avoid any injuries.  

I guess my biggest fear was about sleeping alone in the woods. But I can now confidently say that I have overcome that fear.  
With a dog, there is really nothing to be afraid of.  

I met a woman hiker who said she doesn’t even take a tent anymore, just an ultra lightweight tarp.  She said she doesn’t need a tent to protect her because she always has her dog.  

Carrying 30 pounds on my back – five or six days of food for me and Shiloh and two liters of water – for nearly three weeks, was a lot more challenging than I expected.  

After about a week on the trail, I adjusted well to the extra weight of the pack, but it was still a challenge. It’s now a relief to be walking around without all that extra weight.  

Our last stretch – from Davis to Durbin – was mostly without any services at all.  

The trail passes across Rt. 33 east of Elkins, and passes through Glady before climbing Shavers Mountain – in all, around 75 miles.  

This hike was very challenging, if only for the lack of any services.  There were no stores at all, although there is a pay phone in Glady.  

For us, this was a week-long hike and carrying enough food for a week was a challenge.   We made it into Durbin with only a little trail mix and a day’s supply of dog food.  

Although I took a stove with me, I had sent it home in Rowlesburg, so I could carry some of Shiloh’s dog food.  She was getting tired quickly, and could not carry all her own food.  

For the rest of the trip, I had only cold food.  I wasn’t as hungry as I expected, until about two weeks into the hike.

My last night in the woods, I ran out of batteries for my headlamp and my phone was also dead.  I had no light at all, but, I wasn’t afraid.  I just went to sleep and soon enough it was morning.   

After my long-distance hike, I can confidently say that the things you have to fear in the woods are not bears, bugs or people, but instead, running out of water, running out of food, and getting lost.  

I never lost the trail, as it was well-marked (“blazed”) but I could see how panic could set in if you found yourself turned around.  

I always had a printed topographical map and a compass, which made me more confident.
I also carried an emergency alert (SOS), which relies on satellites instead of cell phone signals.  

But, in the woods, it is difficult to keep your devices charged, and there was a time or two when I had no battery left.
I did run out of water at one point, knowing there was a spring a couple miles ahead but struggling to get there.  In my future hikes, I’ll know to carry extra water.  

I am looking forward to weekend hikes and maybe another longer long-distance hike some time down the road.  I’m hoping to complete my hike over weekends this fall and in the spring, in sections of about 20 miles.  Maybe I’ll do the whole Allegheny Trail, and try again to make the record for the only known time self-supported.

I’m looking forward to doing another hike next weekend.

On Columbus Day weekend, I’ll be joining the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, which maintains the Allegheny Trail, for part of their annual group hike along the section of the Allegheny Trail that passes through Seneca State Forest.  

Maybe I’ll see you out on the trail.

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