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Sharon woman hikes Long Trail as fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research

  • Sarah Molesworth, left, and Karen McNall hiked Vermont's Long Trail this summer. McNall used the hike as a way to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association Vermont Chapter because her mother has the disease. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2022 3:54:01 PM
Modified: 9/28/2022 3:54:03 PM

SHARON — Two days before leaving to hike Vermont’s Long Trail, Karen McNall decided she needed some extra motivation to finish the 272-mile trek.

“It’s easy to quit something like this,” McNall, of Sharon, said.

McNall reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and decided to raise money for research, and people and families impacted by the disease in honor of her 81-year-old mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago.

“She doesn’t know I did this because of the disease, she doesn’t know anybody,” McNall said. “But I figure this is one way I could help.”

Throughout the more than 30 days McNall hiked the Long Trail with her friend, Sarah Molesworth, she raised more than $2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association Vermont Chapter. The nonprofit organization’s Upper Valley walk begins at 9:30 a.m. this Saturday at Hanover High School. Walkers may begin arriving at 8 a.m. before a 9 a.m. ceremony.

McNall and Molesworth, of West Fairlee, started the Long Trail on July 30 at the southern end in North Adams, Mass., and finished at the Canadian border after 33 days.

“We didn’t set any records hiking because we wanted to  take our time because we were learning and we wanted  to enjoy the entire month of August,” said McNall, who works as an administrative assistant for the Har tford Parks and Recreation Department.

The pair, both 57, began hiking together around three years ago after reconnecting at a high school reunion. Prior to moving to Sharon, McNall lived in the Northeast Kingdom. While she’d always enjoyed hiking, her trips were usually on the shorter side because she was busy raising her children.

McNall and Molesworth started hiking trails in the Upper Valley and the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire. Then, around a year and a half ago, they decided they wanted to take on the Long Trail. They started doing longer hikes and buying the equipment that they’d need to complete their journey. They did quite a bit of hiking in March.

“We wanted to hike in wet, cold, rainy stuff so we knew what to expect,” McNall said. They also did one overnight camping trip off a trail to get used to pitching a tent and using other equipment.

While they were prepared for the rain, they were surprised by the heat and humidity. The first 11 days on the trail were particularly tough.

“We had to acclimate our bodies quickly,” McNall said. “It was hard getting used to being soaking wet all the time. That took a week and then you don’t care.”

They made a point to stop for water every half-hour and every two hours, they’d stop to take their packs — which weighed around 35 pounds — off.

“The heat really took a lot out of you mentally and physically,” said Molesworth, who works at the Etna and Howe libraries. “Every night you would unpack the things that were in your dry backpack, but everything was constantly damp.”

Water sources on the trail such as streams were impacted by the summer’s drought, which meant the duo had to carry more water with them. In other places, they used a leaf as a spout to make the water flow better into water bottles.

“There was a lot of problem-solving on the trail in a different way than ordinary life,” Molesworth said.

Each night, they’d pitch their tents and eat, often using small stoves to cook meals.

“Sometimes we were just so exhausted that we’d eat a snack and say we’re done,” McNall said. Snacking was a constant on the trail. “You snack a lot when you hike because your body needs to always eat. You crave sugar.”

Some days they did 10 miles, other days they did four or five depending on the difficulty of the trail or what time they got started. Their husbands resupplied them every three or four days along the way. McNall’s husband was always sure to include homemade maple candies, which she passed out to hikers along the way. That was how she got her trail name, “Maple.” Molesworth’s trail name was “Sweeps” after she was spotted by fellow thru-hikers using a broom to clean up a campsite.

Every five days or so they got off the Long Trail to shower, do laundry and make equipment repairs, among other chores.

“You don’t just sit around and sleep that’s for sure,” McNall said.

The Long Trail shares its first 105 miles with the Appalachian Trail before splitting off and becoming progressively harder.

“I just kept hearing from previous thru-hikers that you need to have your trail legs by Killington,” McNall said. “I don’t think I ever got my trail legs the whole trip, but I managed to make it to the end.”

The last few days, they became worried that they would get hurt and not be able to complete the trail. Beyond blisters, the pair remained in relatively good health along the way. When they finished, McNall did not feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

“I didn’t feel accomplished, and I’m not really sure why, but I think I have learned why,” McNall said. “I think it’s because I have more to do. There’s more trails to hike whether they’re longer, shorter or more challenging.”

Recently, McNall hiked Camel’s Hump and talked to a group of current thru-hikers. She mentioned that she had just completed the trail. As they shared stories, she began to realize the magnitude of what she had done.

“I’m starting to feel accomplished now because it’s confirmation that it was hard,” McNall said. “Every day was hard. There was no easy day.”

But every day also brought moments of peace. For an entire month, McNall had no idea what the cost of gas was or much else that was going on in the world.

“On the trail there is more planning and there’s a lot of simplicity which I really loved. You don’t need a lot. Everything that you need is on your back,” Molesworth said. “It’s a good way to slow down and be in the present.”

After they completed the hike, McNall was driving home with her husband and was struck by how fast-paced life can be.

“It just felt like the world was going so fast and I really didn’t like that.” she said. “After two weeks off trail for me I was wanting to be in my tent. I wanted to be back on (the) trail.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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