• Mary Anderson

Saying Good-bye

“A friend told me that one of the hardest things about losing someone was having love with no place to put it.”

Korongo writer and CDT thru-hiker Mary Anderson is now in Montana's Scapegoat Wilderness. She reports that she is making good time: three 17-mile days in a row, with steep ups and downs carrying five to six pounds of water. She expects to reach Helena on July 17, depending on the weather. For Mary, a big day is 15 miles, while some younger hikers can manage twice that. Her post is about coping with the loss of friends and loved ones. —ST


By Mary Anderson

There is a social aspect to many long-distance hikes. People meet for the first time and end up spending weeks or months together. It is such an important part of some of these hikes that there is a special name for these bonds. The folks you hike with for long periods of time become your tramily, which is short for trail family.

I had a tramily on my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, before the name was even coined. When I did the AT the second time I had no tramily, as I hiked in winter. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail long before it became popular, and so there were only a handful of thru-hikers out that year. I had a partner I was hiking with, and for a while we formed a tramily of three with one other hiker.

I knew last year when I began this trail I would be out of sync with the main body of thru-hikers. I camped alone for all but three nights of my three-and-a-half month journey. I knew I would be more in sync with the bubble of thru-hikers this year, and I knew that most of them would be hiking a lot faster than I was, but I was not prepared for how much I would be saying good-bye.

This year is a record year for the number of hikers attempting to thru-hike the CDT. I’ve heard there are some section hikers in their seventies out here, but so far most of the hikers I have met are in their twenties and thirties. I’ve met a few in their late teens, and some in their early fifties, and all of them hike considerably faster than I do.

I met Chim, Lost Keiz and James, Elvis, and others in East Glacier. I managed to keep up for a day, but then they were gone. I met Breezy, Gaia, Road Kill, and Caribou at a campsite one night. We shared a lovely evening together, and I managed to keep up until late morning. Then they, too, pulled ahead and were gone. Tonight I am with RoadRunner and Fetch, whom I first met in East Glacier. They left town after I did, so I managed to pull ahead for a short while. It has been great to see them again, but I know tomorrow I will again be saying good-bye.

It is common for tramilies to part when one member needs to stop for a day or two, but often they meet up again miles down the trail. I have no illusions about meeting up with most of them again. I am an old lady hiking this trail, and I am not a fast hiker. I have had too many injuries in my life and haven’t stayed in top shape to be able to hike twenty- and thirty-mile days. A big day for me is anything over fifteen miles.

This means I am constantly saying good-bye. I have to work hard not to get down on myself for not being able to keep up. I just physically can't. And each time I lose yet another tramily I feel a twinge of sadness. It kicks up the deep aloneness I have felt since early childhood.

I feel like this is preparing me for older age. I have a number of friends in their eighties and nineties, and I know that one of the things they find the hardest is constantly saying good-bye as those they love die before them. Many of my friends are at least ten years older than I am, so I suspect I will have a lot more good-byes farther down the road. I know that losing people I meet on the CNT doesn't compare to the loss of a longtime partner or close friend, but when I have seen no one for days, the connection seems pretty iimportant. I am trying to be grateful for meeting each unique individual and not get swamped in mourning the loss I feel once they move on.

I hope I can meet the partings I may well face in the years to come with the same grace as my ninety-year-old friends. A friend told me that one of the hardest things about losing someone for her was the feeling of having love with no place to put it. I understand this and am working to find ways to share love in the world, especially when I feel lonely.


Mary Anderson is a weaver, farmer, tele skier, teacher, and counselor. She is writing a book about hiking the Continental Divide Trail, a journey of healing that she began in her sixties. Working title: Becoming Mary Badass.


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