In July of 2013, she vanished without a single clue, and there are many things that remain a mystery. Why was she a half mile off the trail? How did searchers not find her? Was she really found in her tent and sleeping bag, like some rumors have suggested?
It's possible we will never know what really happened. Did she follow a path she thought was the trail (haven't we all done this?), did she get hypothermia (we have all come close); did she have a medical problem once she realized she was lost? Was she trying to make her way to a different road due to weather or another problem? She was unlike traditional thru-hikers in that her husband would generally meet her every few days at a road with food or supplies. Many thru hikers (she was doing the trail in long sections) are pretty good at being on the trail, but not so great once they wander off of it.
In my decades of outdoor adventures, I've had the following experiences:
- Stalked by a mountain lion at night
- Charged by a coastal grizzly with cubs
- Caught in 12 foot seas in a kayak
- Slid down a mountain, not on purpose (not the whole mountain)
- Caught in a flash flood (luckily there was an escape route)
- Run out of water in the desert
- Almost stepped on a rattlesnake
And there's probably more. But I have never been lost. Turned around a little bit, yes. But never truly lost, to the point where panic sets in. If Inchworm really did get lost, and it's hard to believe that anything else could have happened (how else do you end up half a mile from a major trail?) then I can only imagine what thoughts went through her head. Why wasn't she able to find the trail again? Did she have a stroke or a heart attack? Will we ever know?
Here's the thing, though. Gerry was 66. She was doing it. Her death is a tragedy for sure. But she wasn't on the couch, 100 pounds overweight. She wasn't saying she was too old to do it, or too scared to go alone, or all the other reasons she could have given for not doing it. Yes, if she had stayed home or taken someone with her, she would probably still be alive. Maybe. Who really knows? There are little earthquakes all over the world every day.
Keep doing it, you guys, Take a compass and a map, or a GPS, or a Spot Beacon. Don't get so caught up in ultralight that you don't have the equipment you need to survive. But keep doing whatever you dream.