Catawba County Employee Spotlight

Lori Wray

Lori Wray

Department: Tax
Hiking the Appalachian Trail 

What inspired you to conquer the full Appalachian Trail, and when did you start? 
I am a person who likes to have goals, big and small. I enjoyed walking for exercise, which led to hiking. Probably 20-plus years ago, I found a group of retired people who went hiking somewhere every Wednesday. I was self-employed at the time, so I was able to work those hikes into my schedule. 

On those hikes, we might be on part of the Appalachian Trail or the Mountain to Sea Trail. I started reading about the Appalachian Trail since we are so close to it. This evolved into a goal of someday being able to say I hiked the whole trail. You look at it and get excited about being able to hike through all these states and parks. There was a wonderful anticipation of what I was going to be able to see. 

I have said this many times: the hardest part of hiking the AT is not necessarily the hike, it is finding someone to hike with you. There are many people who do it solo, but I like knowing there is someone else out there with me. We may not always hike together, but we come together at the end of the day. The motto on the trail is “hike your own hike,” which simply means to take it at your own pace. 

In 2016, I overheard a co-worker talking about hiking a section at Easter. I told him I had always wanted to hike it and more or less invited myself to go with him. I also reached out to a hiking club I belonged to to see if there was anyone else that would be interested. There was one woman who was very interested, and she went with us. I did not tell either one of them, but this was going to be my first-ever backpacking trip. I thought if I did, they would not let me come and there would go my chance of ever hiking any of the AT.

We hiked the first section of Georgia and we did it southbound, Neel’s Gap to Springer Mountain. With that trip, if I was never able to go again I had gotten to see Springer Mountain, an AT hikers' mecca along with Mt. Katahdin in Maine.   I learned a lot on that trip. Pack weight was the number one thing. Fate had connected me to the woman who joined us. She had a plan to hike the whole AT. The plan was to hike roughly 200 +/- miles a year for 10 years.  Her plan was doable, so I adopted it as my plan. This made it not so overwhelming when you are looking at 2,185 miles total. 

On average, I have hiked close to 200 miles a year. If I fall short one year, I get in additional miles the next year. 

How many miles have you completed/how many miles do you have to go?   What sections have you completed? 
I will have hiked very close to 800 miles.  I hope that next year I will be close to the halfway mark. I have my first hike of the season planned for April, 2020. It will the Triple Crown in Virginia. They call it that because it takes in McAfee Knob, Dragons Tooth and Tinkers Cliff along the AT. McAfee Knob is probably the most photographed place on the AT. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and give us good views and amazing pictures. 

I started in Georgia and am in Virginia. Virginia makes up 500 miles of the trail. I have a 14-mile gap around Fontana Dam have not hiked. Once I get this section I will have completed everything to where I am in Virginia now, which is around Pearisburg. 

Any fun or interesting stories you’d like to share about hiking the AT?
I was lucky enough to be on the trail during our recent eclipse. That was a very powerful experience. The other side to that was that we got off the trail at 4 p.m., but due to everyone else in the area there for the eclipse, it was 4 a.m. before I got home. I have had shuttle drivers not show up to take us to the trail head twice and did another first, hitchhike. I was able to order pizza on the trail. Only two shelters are close enough to a road where that is possible. We shared it with a three-time thru hiker. Seeing wild ponies and longhorn steer at Mt. Rodgers was another highlight. 

The closest I have come to a trail name was the time I fell on the trail. I was only a mile into a 32 +/- mile hike. I got a black eye and a large knot on my head. So “Knot Head” became a possible trail name. We had fun that hike trying to think of trail names. Other possible names were Boo Boo, Bruiser, Petey (Little Rascal dog) and Hard Head. My husband loved the possibility of calling me Knot Head and me being OK with that.