Geraldine Largay was a 66 year old woman who loved to hike. She began to prepare for her bucket list dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail two years before her adventure was to begin. She attended a hiking school in order to learn the finer points and skills that she would need for this adventure. Geraldine also had help in planning the trail hike from experts who not only know the trail, but create the trail guides which people use every day.
Geraldine began the hike in April of 2013. Along the path she had a partner who was hiking with her and at times her husband would join in the hike before leaving, or meet her at points along the trail. At these meeting points Geraldine would resupply and then push on. While on the trail her hiking partner had to abandon the trek due to a family emergency. This left Geraldine alone for the last half or so of the AT.
On July 22 she went missing along the trail in Maine. Her husband was to meet her at a point along the trail like other times before. After waiting for 48 hours he then reported Geraldine missing. One of the largest search parties in the history of the state of Maine began, yet she was not found. Two years went by before a private contractor surveying land discovered her tent. Inside was Geraldine Largay. She had passed away from exposure, starvation, and dehydration.
Found among her belongings was a cell phone and a journal. A note was left to whoever found her body to give these few belongings to her husband. The journal entries contained messages of her ordeal and that of her love for her family as she struggled to survive. On her cell phone were text messages that she had attempted to send asking her husband to send help. From her text messages she had a general idea of where she was in relationship to a road that was further south. She stated that she had lost the trail after taking an off trail stop for a break and to camp.
Geraldine attempted to hike to a higher elevation with hope that her cell phone would get a signal in order for her texts to finally reach her husband. Despite her efforts, no text were ever received. Roughly ten days before her last journal entry a canine search team came within approximately 100 yards of Geraldine's tent, yet she was not discovered. Two years later when her body was found she was about 3,000 feet from the trail where she had become lost.
There are other facts surrounding Geraldine's death which bring out questions. She had a gps emergency beacon but it had not been activated due to her leaving it at her shelter earlier in the day before she became lost. There also was missing medication for anxiety. The questions surrounding how this ordeal began come to the front.
Solo trekkers often set out with the proper equipment and training. Despite all the efforts put into safety the worst can still happen. Most often hikers who do become lost find their way back within a few hours. Those who do not are typically found within 48 hours. This story is tragic for so much could have been prevented. It became the perfect storm leading to Geraldine's loss of life.
The first mistake many make within our culture is the dependency upon equipment, specifically technology. Americans spend more than 120 billion dollars each year on outdoor equipment. Yet having the equipment will not translate into understanding your environment. Most often the mistake that causes one to lose their life is not one mistake, but many small mistakes which add up along the way.
When Geraldine left her gps beacon her greatest aid for obtaining help was lost. This may have taken place due to the question surrounding her medication. Nevertheless when she needed the beacon it was not there. Once the beacon was gone her cell phone became her primary tool for getting help, yet it could not connect to a network.
Geraldine was found 3,000 feet from where she became lost, that is less than a mile away from where the ordeal began. This woman would hike an average of 16 miles per day while on the trail. Despite her hiking ability, for more than 20 days she remained at this camp where she was found. One cannot help but wonder why.
What if she did not have the cell phone? Would it be possible that she would have attempted to find her own way out? She had a general bearing of where she was in relationship to a road, why not attempt to make a hike which was within reach? Furthermore she did not have enough experience with bush skills in order to sustain herself for an extended period of time without resupply.
Ones choices can become clouded by the fog of the situation. One mistake leads to another, and at times one may not think that the choice is a mistake. A decision to push on to the next camp, or to not properly care for their body as they are on the move attempting to put miles behind them. Small choices can add or subtract to your survival number. This number you always want to remain in the positive, for once it goes negative you are fighting for your life if only one unintended circumstance comes your way.
Geraldine's choices may have been clouded by a number of factors. Whether it be from anxiety, fear, the loss of her gps beacon, and that her cell phone would not connect, she failed to look at her one skill which she had with her at all times. This skill is the ability to create and be proactive. The choice to leave or stay can be one of the most difficult choices someone who is lost can face. Yet in Geraldine's case the option to move in hindsight would be apparently obvious.
Despite the ability to look back in hindsight she did have other options. A signal fire with all the smoke she could create, or tapping out SOS with a big stick against a tree trunk making it so loud it would sound as if she was calling Bigfoot. These little things could make the difference. Keep in mind the search party did come within 100 yards of her tent. Any action, even if she did not walk out on her own, would have played a critical role in her efforts to be saved. Yet with her knowledge in having a general bearing of her location to a known road, this was her greatest asset.
Being in the wilderness requires more than equipment and technology. In fact it requires more than practiced and well versed bush skills. One must have the ability to assess a given situation and make the best decision possible, and then reverse course if necessary and adapt to the surrounding situation. Tunnel vision can often take over. We can begin to focus on a single track of thought or process and push harder attempting to force the path we are on to give us what we need.
The mind is the greatest resource that we can possess. It is imperative to rely on yourself more than any piece of equipment or technology. It is necessary to recognize that the choices we make add and subtract to our survival factor, at times this can have an exponential impact. No matter what one does, being proactive is a must. Maintaining, not a positive mental attitude, but rather a creative mentality to work the matter one problem at a time is essential. One cannot simply stand still and wait.