Messages from Mary
“Done.” Mary Anderson—aka Mary Badass—sent me that message by satellite at 4:44 pm, Mountain Time, on Tuesday, September 14. That was how I learned that she had reached the end of her solo trek along the Continental Divide Trail.
“Done.” That was it, the entire message. A single word to mark the end of a two-year, 3,000-mile journey.
Mary and I met online one year ago, in a Zoom workshop hosted by Kimball Library in Randolph, Vermont. Although my house in Randolph is just a few miles from Mary's house in Bethel, we had never crossed paths before.
I learned that Mary had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in her twenties, then hiked it again in winter. I learned that she had thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in the 1980s, when the PCT was even wilder than when the writer Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling memoir “Wild,” encountered it. I learned that Mary was a weaver, a teleskier, and an organic farmer. I learned that she had built her own house. I learned that she knew how to use a chainsaw and that she had taught blind people to ski. And I learned that she had been wanting to die ever since she was a tiny girl, not even school age. I thought I knew quite a lot about childhood trauma, but I learned that I still had a lot to learn.
A few months before Mary came to my writing workshop, a traumatic event had caused her to question what more—if anything—she wanted to do with her life, and her answer was (1) write a book and (2) hike the Continental Divide, the third of America's "Triple Crown" trails. In the summer and fall of 2020, she hiked the southern half of the CDT.
We worked together through the following winter and spring on her book. In those few months, Mary wrote a complete first draft of a memoir that is, well, mind-blowing. And I don't use that word lightly. A revelation. Like nothing I've ever read before. I felt her story needed to be heard, and I wanted to help her tell it.
Just before Mary began hiking the northern half of the trail last May, Korongo raised a bit of money for an iPad, an ice ax, and overnight accommodations at resupply points. Since then, I have been in frequent contact with her, and she has fed me a steady stream of blog posts. She has kept up her commitment to post once a day despite the physical and mental challenges of the trail. She has developed a loyal following and created a blog that is inspiring and deeply personal.
The messages I've received from her in the past few days have been sent by satellite, limited to 160 characters. She has been crossing Wyoming's Wind River Range, where the weather has been a mix of snow, rain, hail, wind, and lightning. At one point she left the trail and began hiking cross-country, using a map and compass, because of the number of blowdowns (trees) blocking the trail. One of her messages read simply "OMG storm." Another informed me that there remained, by her calculation, 132,000 steps between her and South Pass City, her final destination. On Tuesday morning, she wrote "Spc by 4 ish night at wild bills and ayce bfast."
Spc is, of course, South Pass City. Ayce is hiker lingo for "all you can eat."
I'm in France, eight time zones ahead of Wyoming. I was asleep when Mary reached the end of her trail, at around 4 pm on Tuesday, September 14. On Wednesday morning, I sent her a congratulatory message. Then I waited until the sun rose in Wyoming's Great Basin, and I called her cell. No answer. So I called Wild Bill’s Bed and Breakfast.
"I'm calling to check on a CDT hiker," I said to the man who answered. Noise in the background suggested breakfast was being served. "Mary Anderson. I'm wondering if she got in safely."
"Yup, she's here."
"Could you give her a message for me?"
"Tell her Sara says hi."
As Mary's editor, I worry. I worry that the end of her hike will be the hardest part for her to bear. I worry that she won't want to return home. And it weighs on me that she had two more things she wanted to do with her life—to write a book and to finish her hike—and now she has done them.
In fact, her book isn't really finished—no book is really finished until it's published. And even then, one's job as a writer isn't done, because the second part of the job is to go out and talk to people about what you've written. Connect with your readers.
It is now Thursday morning in Wyoming, and I've heard nothing more from Mary. Some posts that she wrote before entering the Winds are scheduled to go live in the next few days, and she has promised me one or two more. The trail angel who has been keeping her car for her in Nebraska let me know that he would be meeting her in South Pass on Tuesday. Maybe she now has her car and is on her way home.