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Teacher on the trail: Local professor starts months-long journey on Appalachian Trail a week after retirement

Teacher on the trail: Local professor starts months-long journey on Appalachian Trail a week after retirement

Retired Fulton-Montgomery Community College professor has over 2,000 miles left to trek
Teacher on the trail: Local professor starts months-long journey on Appalachian Trail a week after retirement
Recently retired FMCC professor Laurie Freeman takes a break on the Appalachian Trail.
Photographer: Submitted photograph

Laurie Freeman taught her last college class on May 8, completing a journey that started many years ago.

But soon enough, Freeman embarked on a journey of another type.

Freeman, a now-retired biology professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, set her sights on hiking the Appalachian Trail years back. The hiking trail connecting Georgia to Maine was always a dream hike for Freeman, but she didn’t realize how soon her journey would begin until those around her inspired her to give it a try. Now Freeman is almost three weeks into the trail, hiking everyday from 5 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and spending nights in her tent.

She still has over 2,000 miles of vacation left to trek.

Freeman has wanted to hike the trail since she was a teenager, but she never thought she’d have the time for it. She changed her mind two years ago when a friend shared  AT experiences with her. And soon enough, her mailman was hiking the trail, too.

So once the spring semester rolled around and her retirement loomed larger, Freeman started letting her biology students know that she’d be taking her knowledge to the trail.

Freeman didn’t have to train too much, since she’s a yoga instructor on the side. She walked with snowshoes a bit to build endurance and did her own research on the trail. And when news broke of a stabbing on the trail in May, Freeman wasn’t worried. She said it gave everyone pause, but didn’t deter her from her goals. So, she left as planned.

The retired professor, now on the trail in Pennsylvania, is on what many hikers call a “flip-flop hike.” She started her trek in West Virginia, is traveling north to Maine, and will take transportation back to her starting destination in order to travel south to Springer Mountain in Georgia. She hopes to arrive there by late October or early November.

Despite not taking the usual trajectory, Freeman is still hiking the trail’s entire 2,192-mile distance. Not all at once, though.

Freeman operates on “hiker time.” She sleeps in her tent -- or a shelter depending on weather -- usually setting up camp in the late afternoon, wakes up naturally in the early morning and picks up her supplies every four days at local towns. She hikes 12 to 16 miles a day.

And she’s certainly not in a rush.

Just the other day, her husband met up with her after two weeks of not seeing her. Freeman got to their meeting spot three hours early. And while her husband was worried about her waiting there for three hours, she had to reassure him she was now used to taking her time.

She knows that there’s no rush, especially when hiking something as massive as the AT.

Freeman is a strong proponent for the “blue blazes,” off-shoot hikes of the Appalachian Trail. As an environmental science professor, she wants to see everything she can, and the blue blazes represent additional trails that offer scenic routes off the main spine of the AT.

She started her journey wanting to see it all and soon realized she couldn’t. But fellow hikers helped her learn how to pace herself. One hiker, a man who intended to trek 6,000 miles of the trail, told her that if she walks a mile and a half every hour for 10 hours, that’s still 15 total miles a day.

Now, Freeman tries to slow her pace, using opportunities to teach fellow hikers about birds and plants, as any biology professor would, she said. That way, she can enrich her experience, taking in her environment more fully.

“Slow down,” Freeman said. “There’s no worry. You get there when you get there.”

One thing Freeman really wants to see is a wild pony in Virginia’s bald mountains.

She certainly won’t see one until the fall, as that’s still many miles out.  But she’ll be documenting her entire journey on both her blog and trail journal until then.

Also Friday, June 8:

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