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Posted on Mon. Dec. 17, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Appalachian Trail through hike a great experience for local couple

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When the ambulance left the roadside on that morning in June 1999, the siren was silent, and the vehicle moved slowly away from the accident scene.

“They expected me to be DOA,” recalls Roger Summers. “The sheriff at the scene told Judy he did not expect me to live.”

“And when he did, they expected him to be a quadriplegic because he broke C-7 (the 7th cervical vertebrae),” adds Judy.

The freak accident, which occurred as the couple traveled to Lafayette for the United Methodist Church's annual conference, changed their lives.

On Sept. 25, Roger Summers summited Maine's Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. After 200 days, traveling 2,184 miles on foot through 14 states, he became part of the through hiking Class of 2012.

Judy, who sustained injuries in the accident that still plague her today, provided support throughout the long journey.

“God spared my life,” says Roger, “(and) I believe God called me to hike to raise funds for the United Methodist camps. He has been preparing me my whole life. God (gave) me a spouse who not only said, 'Do it,' but said, 'I am going, too, and will be a support every step of the way.'”

Not a hiker

The southside residents, who are parents of five and grandparents of 14, have long been active in the United Methodist Church. Judy, a retired teacher, was the nature lover.

“As Rog tells it, it was not on his bucket list to hike and camp,” she says. “I was the one with the camping equipment when we got married 36 years ago. Being in the woods is one of my favorite places to be.”

“She owned the tent, the camping stove, the camping box she built herself,” recalls Roger, co-owner of Summers Financial Services.

He hiked and camped occasionally with Judy until the summer of 2009, when he joined other UMC members for a section hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the White Mountains.

“The White Mountains are not a place to start when you're not in shape, overweight and know nothing about backpacking,” he admits. By the fourth day, he was “battered, bruised and demoralized.” Of the seven who started the hike, two finished. Roger was not one of them.

Undaunted, he section hiked again in 2010 and 2011.

“I was prepared and was the fastest hiker of the group,” he says. “These three section hikes prepared me to do a through hike.”


Northbound hikers start in early spring at the trail's southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia. Last March, fortified with prayers and good wishes, a plethora of dehydrated food, and Shep, their prayer lamb, the Summerses headed for Georgia.

“We decided to start on March 10, which was Rog's father's birthday,” says Judy.

“It was a beautiful, blue-sky day with shirt-sleeve temperatures,” Roger recalls. “Springer Mountain ... was abuzz with expectant through hikers and their friends.”

“Approximately 2,500 hikers started at Springer Mountain intending to complete a northbound through hike in 2012,” says Claire Hobbs of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. — the psychological halfway point of the AT.

“Typically, one in four hikers will complete the trail who set out to do so,” Hobbs says. “This year, is the record for the number of through hikers starting at Springer.”

The total number of through hikes for 2012 hasn't been compiled yet, she said.

On the trail

“I knew we had time to hike ourselves into shape,” says Roger. “I weighed 208 pounds when I started, but (when) I finished I had lost 41 pounds and was probably in the best physical shape in my life.”

Since Judy was unable to hike long distances because of her lingering injuries, Roger chose to slack-pack. She would drop him at the trailhead each morning and pick him up at the designated point each evening. He carried lunch, snacks, and drinks in a daypack, along with raingear and an extra shirt — a contrast to the 40-pound packs carried by most through hikers.

“Unlike most through hikers, I did not sleep on the trail,” Roger explains. “I got off at a trailhead every night, ... (except for) three nights in the huts in the White Mountains. Judy had to know where the trailhead was and the approximate time I would arrive ... by using topographical maps, our GPS and grid coordinates.”

“It was great to know I was going to spend time with Trail Mama at the end of every day,” says Roger, referring to Judy's trail name, which was bestowed upon her by other hikers who appreciated her “trail magic” — snacks, drinks, shuttle services and genuine, loving mothering.

“The through hiking class of 2012 ... considered her a through hiker because she was there all the way with me and with them,” he says.

A sense of community

Judy, a knitter and voracious reader, spent her days investigating hostels and motels, exploring libraries (which she rated on a scale of one to 10), and seeking out yarn shops, cafes and coffee shops in the villages along the AT.

“I found great joy in the peace and quiet of the small towns,” she recalls.

“After I got my trail name and decided to start my food, drink and shuttle service, I was busy with our hiker friends,” she continues. “It gave me great joy to be able to help out hikers in this way. It made me truly feel like I was a part of this adventure.”

Roger says his joy on the trail was highest when sharing the experience with fellow hikers.

“I built relationships with people from every corner of the United States and from all over the world, ... relationships that will be lifelong,” he says.

Home again

The Summers found it difficult to return to civilization.

“Life on this adventure was so simple,” Judy says wistfully. “All we needed was in the back of our car.”

The through hike netted nearly $41,000 for United Methodist Church camps, and their adventure has entered a new phase as they begin sharing their experience while continuing to raise funds for UMC camping.

Roger and Judy attended camps as youth, as did their children, and both credit the church camp experience with influencing their spiritual journey.

“I hike because I feel called by God to raise awareness of what (church) camps do for youth,” Roger explains. “They provide today's youth a place to hear God's call in their lives. ... They can be Christian leaders for their generation (and) influence the world around them and ... the generations to come.”

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