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2,200 Miles to Glory: Lyme Resident on AT Adventure

  • With a kiss on the cheek Anne Gamble says goodbye to her daughter Lucy as she is about to get back onto the Appalachian Trail in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    With a kiss on the cheek Anne Gamble says goodbye to her daughter Lucy as she is about to get back onto the Appalachian Trail in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Gamble sends scraps of birch bark to his daughter Lucy as she hikes the Appalachian Trail. She then paints them with watercolors and sends them back home. They adorn the Appalachian Trail map posted on the Gambles' refrigerator at their home in Lyme, N.H.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Tom Gamble sends scraps of birch bark to his daughter Lucy as she hikes the Appalachian Trail. She then paints them with watercolors and sends them back home. They adorn the Appalachian Trail map posted on the Gambles' refrigerator at their home in Lyme, N.H.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • In her childhood bedroom, Lucy Gamble, of Lyme, N.H. gets ready to head back to the Appalachian Trail on the morning of July 12, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    In her childhood bedroom, Lucy Gamble, of Lyme, N.H. gets ready to head back to the Appalachian Trail on the morning of July 12, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • In their Lyme, N.H., home Anne Gamble asks her daughter Lucy if she would also like some watermelon for breakfast before Lucy was about to start hiking the Appalachian Trail again on the morning of July 12, 2014. Lucy had cake and corn on the cob. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    In their Lyme, N.H., home Anne Gamble asks her daughter Lucy if she would also like some watermelon for breakfast before Lucy was about to start hiking the Appalachian Trail again on the morning of July 12, 2014. Lucy had cake and corn on the cob.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom and Anne Gamble, left, drove Lucy their daughter and five other Appalachian Trail hikers to the trail head in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014. All of the hikers had stayed at the Gambles' home the night before. Hikers from left Anthony Earl, Alex Bates, Tim Bird, Max Schnuck and Aaron Hohle get ready to get back on the trail. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Tom and Anne Gamble, left, drove Lucy their daughter and five other Appalachian Trail hikers to the trail head in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014. All of the hikers had stayed at the Gambles' home the night before. Hikers from left Anthony Earl, Alex Bates, Tim Bird, Max Schnuck and Aaron Hohle get ready to get back on the trail.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • With a kiss on the cheek Anne Gamble says goodbye to her daughter Lucy as she is about to get back onto the Appalachian Trail in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Tom Gamble sends scraps of birch bark to his daughter Lucy as she hikes the Appalachian Trail. She then paints them with watercolors and sends them back home. They adorn the Appalachian Trail map posted on the Gambles' refrigerator at their home in Lyme, N.H.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • In her childhood bedroom, Lucy Gamble, of Lyme, N.H. gets ready to head back to the Appalachian Trail on the morning of July 12, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • In their Lyme, N.H., home Anne Gamble asks her daughter Lucy if she would also like some watermelon for breakfast before Lucy was about to start hiking the Appalachian Trail again on the morning of July 12, 2014. Lucy had cake and corn on the cob. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Tom and Anne Gamble, left, drove Lucy their daughter and five other Appalachian Trail hikers to the trail head in Lyme, N.H., on July 12, 2014. All of the hikers had stayed at the Gambles' home the night before. Hikers from left Anthony Earl, Alex Bates, Tim Bird, Max Schnuck and Aaron Hohle get ready to get back on the trail. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Hanover — Lucy Gamble was 7 years old when she first noticed through hikers passing through the Upper Valley on the Appalachian Trail.

“I was with my dad (Thomas) crossing the Ledyard Bridge, which, of course, is part of the AT,” Gamble recalled. “I think I thought (the hikers) were homeless, but my dad said, ‘No, they walked here from Georgia.’ I remember being so amazed and thinking ‘I’m going to do that.’ ”

Thirteen years later, Gamble is finally doing it. The Lyme resident and rising senior at Colorado College departed Saturday for the final 400 miles of the AT, following a four-day stop-over in her hometown. It was a surreal experience for the 20-year-old on Tuesday as she trekked through Hanover and Etna and descended Holt’s Ledge onto Dorchester Road, four months — and approximately 1,700 miles — since leaving Georgia’s Springer Mountain to begin her northbound voyage on the AT.

“It was just so amazing, walking through the area and recognizing so many things, to think that it’s all connected to the trail,” Gamble said. “It was pretty spectacular.”

The hike has been a long-sought-after goal for Gamble, a Hanover High graduate who drew inspiration from a meeting with Jack Tarlin, known as “Baltimore Jack,” when she was a sophomore in high school. Tarlin, who lived in Hanover at the time, had hiked the entire AT for seven consecutive years.

“He was incredibly helpful. He wrote down the names of all the useful websites, gave me a full-length map and gave me an AT patch that says, ‘Maine to Georgia,’ ” Gamble said. “He said, ‘You’re going to be able to wear this patch one day.’ ”

Enamored with the idea, Gamble graduated early from high school with the intent of beginning the Appalachian Trail alone in March 2011. Her parents, Thomas and Anne, had other ideas.

“They were really uncomfortable with me hiking it alone when I was 17, without any (backpacking) experience,” Gamble said. “They wanted me to meet someone on a blog and hike with them. I was like, ‘I’m not about to go on a five-month-long blind date with someone in the woods,’ so I just decided to wait for a bit.”

Gamble built plenty of experience over the last several years through the Outdoor Education program at Colorado College, going on — and eventually leading — a series of backpacking trips in Colorado and Utah. Following her freshman year, she was in a group that received a grant for an excursion in Wyoming’s Teton Wilderness, where she and her peers mapped their own routes along rivers. They ended up leaving before their planned end point.

“What we didn’t realize is that there’s still a lot of snow melt happening in the Teton Wilderness in May,” Gamble said. “A lot of the riverbeds were in canyons, so we spent a lot of time up to our waists in water and hit a lot of snags. We ended up turning around after seven days, but it was a great experience.”

Last year Gamble hiked the Colorado Trail, a 486-mile, high-elevation route from Waterton Canyon to Durango. She and a friend completed it in six weeks.

“It’s really remote and disconnected,” Gamble said. “At one point, we went 10 days without going through a town, and most of it is about 12,000 feet in the air, so your body spends a lot of time adjusting to that. I think it was 90,000 feet of vertical gain overall, but a lot of the trails are switchbacks.”

Gamble took the spring semester off to get a head start on the Appalachian Trail, leaving for Georgia in mid-March. Despite all of the experience with Colorado College, she didn’t feel fully prepared for the journey when she left Springer Mountain. Yet it didn’t take long for “trail life” to assuage her worries.

“I wasn’t in shape and I had stitches in my foot. Things were just kind of messy getting out there,” Gamble said. “As soon as I stepped foot on the trail I was like, ‘Yes, I’m here!’ I was on what’s called a hiker’s high. I remember the first road crossing, I realized how cool it was that the cars were passing me and that I was the hiker, not the one in the car. I was finally on the other end of things.”

Though she had set out alone, March is a popular time for northbound hikers to depart Georgia. Naturally Gamble socialized with those hiking at a similar clip — which was fairly quick and steady.

“I wasn’t taking any zero days, I was keeping a pretty good flow. I did 14 miles one day,” Gamble said. “When you’re on the AT, you’re as alone as you want to be. If you want to meet people, you can always meet people at the shelters at night. I was with 4-6 people most of the time. You just sort of naturally fall into a rhythm with people.”

Gamble eventually received the trail name “Peppa” after fellow hikers heard her rapping the lyrics to None of Your Business by the 1990s hip hop group Salt-n-Pepa. “I rap a pretty intense version of that song,” she said.

Gamble soon experienced “trail magic,” acts of exceptional generosity or hospitality by non-hikers. The first example came after cold and dreary conditions stymied her group’s progress as it reached Neel’s Gap in northern Georgia.

“It was freezing and miserable, and sleeping in a wet tent wouldn’t have helped anything,” she said. “Me and three friends went onto the road and didn’t know where we were going to stay, but a couple pulled over and brought all four of us back to their house. It was pretty spectacular.”

Gamble eventually began hiking with a group of five young men, traveling in what’s known as a trail family, or “tramily.” The group dubbed itself 51/2 gentlemen — Gamble being the one-half.

Making steady progress, the group backtracked in mid-May for southern Virginia’s Trail Days festival, featuring a hiker parade and talent show and loads of services such as free gear repair and home cooked meals. Returning where they’d left off in northern Virginia, the group continued through Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., Maryland and Pennsylvania, stopping in towns to watch U.S. matches in the World Cup soccer tournament. Once they reached Massachusetts, Gamble broke away.

“They knew that a big part of this for me was being able to hike alone, and I wanted to hike Vermont by myself,” Gamble said.

From the Massachusetts border to Killington, the Appalachian Trail coincides with the Long Trail, Vermont’s 270-mile trail that was the inspiration for the AT in the 1930s. Gamble enjoyed meeting Long Trail hikers.

“They might be 10 miles into a 270-mile journey, and you’re 1,600 miles into a 2,200-mile journey, so they kind of look at you like you’re superhuman,” she said. “But there were a lot of great people. I met a trio that was three generations — grandfather, father and son — who were hiking it in sections. They seemed to having such a great time together in the beautiful country.”

Gamble relished walking through Norwich and Hanover, reflecting on her journey as she took in the familiar sights. After descending Holt’s Ledge in her hometown of Lyme, she insisted on walking the six miles from the trail to her Whipple Hill Road home.

Taking a couple days to catch up with friends and family, the “51/2 Gentlemen” arrived Thursday for a two-night stay. The “tramily” continued northbound on the trail Saturday morning.

What’s remaining for Gamble many consider to be the most challenging portion of the Appalachian Trail — New Hampshire’s White Mountains followed by a remote section of Maine that includes 100 consecutive miles of wilderness. The trail’s northern terminus is atop 5,269-foot Mount Katahdin.

“Some people hype things up and try to spook you, but I think I’ll be OK after (having already) hiked 1,700 miles,” Gamble said. “I think the biggest think to prepare for mentally is after it’s all over. You spend so much time living ‘trail life,’ and then all of a sudden, you’re not anymore. I think some people get antsy and rush through the end because they’re tired, but I just want to enjoy it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.