Former Los Alamos resident Kim Selvage hiked the 2,190-miles Appalachian Trail in 2020. Courtesy photo
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“Hike your own hike,” advised guest speaker Kim Selvage as she spoke by Zoom from Florida to the members of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on April 20. Selvage, a former Los Alamos resident, business woman, and Rotarian, traversed the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2020. She entitled her presentation “Remain Fluid Because Flexible Is Too Rigid.”
The AT Trail is described as the oldest hiking trail in the United States and, at 2,190 miles, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. “Hiking its full length,” Selvage said, “is equivalent to summiting Mount Everest 16 times.” It extends through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Selvage’s story begins on February 26, 2020, when she set off to hike the AT, starting in Georgia, with every intention of “completing the trail by July with the epic climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine.” Inspired by a photo of a friend at McAfee Knob in Virginia and the urge to “simplify and unplug,” Selvage had planned carefully for her monumental thru-hike of the AT.
Unfortunately, by mid-March, pandemic restrictions derailed her initial plans, as “thru-hikers were canceling their hikes while hostels, restaurants, outfitters, shelters, privies, and trail towns were shutting down.” She explained that a “new kind of hiker emerged that flooded the trail: pandemic day hikers.” She had already hiked through the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest before those AT sections were closed, but by the end of March, just 34 days into her thru-hike, she realized she would have to postpone the rest. There were simply too many closures and pandemic obstacles.
Selvage returned to her job in Las Vegas, Nevada, which she had quit to undertake the lengthy hike, and then “quit again” eighty days later to return to the trail when sections re-opened. She had already hiked the AT through Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, which boasts the highest elevation of the trail, Clingman’s Dome, at 6,625 feet. Now, in June 2020, she resumed in Virginia, and “found everything green, overgrown, and not as crowded.”
Limiting herself to a 20-lb. pack, and intentionally hiking without a stove, Selvage carried an assortment of foods including cooked bacon, energy bars, jerky, pemmican, fruit, cheese, and chocolate. She also foraged on wild berries and apples, supplemented by generous meals offered along the way. This generosity is “trail magic,” the acts of kindness that many residents along the trail or other hikers bestow on trail travelers, especially in the form of food, water, and lodging.
Many of Selvage’s fellow hikers became “tramily,” the friends one makes along the trail and meet repeatedly as each hiker maintains his or her own pace and their itineraries overlap. Particular to the pandemic, a new trail word came into use: “cobo,” meaning a detour is required because the section ahead is closed due to Covid-19. Selvage averaged 14 miles a day and only rarely paused for a “zero,” or no-walking day.
Selvage meticulously documented her hike. As she gave her presentation, she showed spectacular photos of the trail: misty forests, autumn-bright trees, breathtaking mountainsides and skyscapes, vast meadows, nearly impassable paths, and wildlife, including the mother bear and cub with whom she shared friendly passage. “Every day,” she remarked, “was a natural museum.”
For the most part, Selvage hiked alone, experienced extremes in temperature and weather conditions, and suffered some bumps and bruises along the way. She was not deterred by any hardship or inconvenience and made careful accommodations for the pandemic. While taking to heart the Centers for Disease Control’s encouragement for the public to spend time outdoors, Selvage always respected state and local protocols regarding the AT. She “never hiked on a closed part of the trail during the pandemic” and honored Massachusetts’s “no overnight camping” restriction while crossing the state’s 90 miles.
Selvage described her favorite memory as “seeing the second white blaze,” the painted markers on trees, rocks, and logs that point the way. She knew then that she was headed in the right direction.
Selvage completed her adventure at Mount Katahdin in Maine after 153 days on the trail. Although she emptied her backpack months ago, she is still unpacking the remarkable memories of almost seven months on the trail. As Selvage says, she would rather stay under a night sky of “five billion stars than in any five-star hotel.”
Kim Selvage, who was born in Texas, holds Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degrees from Texas A&M University. She loves to hike, as her recent adventure confirms, paint, and share photos, and she has two young adult children, Derek and Ruby. Selvage currently lives in Florida and works for Sandia National Laboratories as a project controls specialist.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus, as noted in above, include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its humanitarian service, please contact: Laura Gonzales, President, 699-5880 or Skip King, Membership chair, 662-8832.