Inspiring Women at home and around the world
Note: This is the fourth installment in a feature series about Inspiring Women. It is dedicated to all women who are trying to make a difference and better other people’s lives, as well as their own. In putting together this feature series, I was inspired by several moments in life that in particular stand out.
No.1 A dedication of a Relax, mind, body & soul book by Barbara Heller from my son Jake: “I dedicate this to my inspiring and motivational mother.” Kuba
No. 2 While on a story before Mother’s Day, I dropped in at Ace Bernard Hardware to talk about the prizes with owner Charlie Bernard. We talked also about the Lowell Area Chamber and its director Liz Baker.
“You know what I like about Liz, she keeps re-inventing herself,” Bernard said.
No. 3 Again on a story for the International Women’s Day I talked to Sow Hope president Mary Dailey Brown.
“If you want to make a difference in this world, seriously consider helping impoverished women. Helping women is the key to unlocking poverty.”
No. 4 At a parents teacher conference at Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell in mid 1990s: “Mrs. Pala, we do not give up,” teacher Karen Latva said.
Lowell woman completes North Country Trail to memorialize daughter
Name: Gail Lowe
Occupation: retired intensive care nurse
Hobbies & Interests: hiking, reading, writing
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Lowell, MI – It’s never easy to lose a parent, but to lose a child is a traumatic event beyond imagination.
Gail Lowe calls herself “Hiker Babe”, and she truly is a veteran hiker of 10,000 miles with just one fear left. And that is she won’t be able to hike anymore because of aging and related health reasons.
On Thanksgiving of last year, Lowe completed the most difficult hike of her life. It was “Becka’s Hike” to memorialize her daughter Rebecca Carrie Lyons, 46, who died of breast cancer in May of 2013.
Lowe is working on a book “My Best for Becka” about the end of her daughter’s life.
“It’s like opening a scar and an old wound,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
It is Lowe’s hope, that the book will help the grieving process and foster personal growth.
“Becka’s biggest fear was that she would be forgotten,” Lowe said. “I wanted to make sure that would never come true.”
So, Lowe embarked on a 4,600-mile long hike of the North Country Trail (NCT) on March 18, 2014. She wanted to complete it as a thru hike which means in one season.
“It was a hike with a mission,” she said.
Lowe had previously hiked twice the Appalachian Trail which is only half as long as the NCT.
One of the most difficult parts of the hike was in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, where the trail was overgrown.
“I had to do a lot of bushwhacking,” she said. “I was attacked by a raptor. I saw two wolves and bears.”
Lowe who has also hiked in Alaska, said, the UP part of the trail was much more remote than the one in Alaska.
On the other hand, probably the easiest part of the hike was through North Dakota.
“People welcomed me immediately,” she said. “I was dreading hiking there, but it was easy and it is a beautiful state.”
But, what was even more difficult than the length of the hike, was the extreme solitude. Lowe said that on the other trails people camp at night and share shelters together.
“I was it, there were no other hikers,” she said. “The loneliness was overwhelming.”
To fight the loneliness, Lowe went to as many towns as she could to meet with the locals and to reach out to them.
And that was mutual, because Lowe had the help of more than 100 “trail angels.” Trail angels are people who help hikers either with shelter, food or transportation from the trail to towns and back.
“The hike was truly blessed. People took me in for the night,” she said. “It was mind-boggling. Sometimes they did meet me along the way.”
Staying in a tent at 20 F would have been hard, if it wasn’t for the Methodists who opened their doors to Lowe.
“They truly practice their faith,” she said.
Lowe had planned her hike to start and to finish in Ohio. Three couples helped her by taking her back and forth between the trail and the town, so Lowe didn’t have to carry the “rock” or the big backpack.
“I could just use the day pack for four to five days,” she said.
Even though by now after thousands of miles of hiking, Lowe has it down to a science. She carries 26 to 28 pounds on her back.
She averaged 30 to 35 miles a day, before her health became an issue. Lowe came down with mononucleosis and had to make three trips to three different emergency rooms. Her average mileage was down to 15 miles.
“I was exhausted with respiratory infections,” she said. “There really is no treatment for it. I took massive doses of vitamin c.”
Against all odds including the nasty 2014 weather, Lowe finished the thru hike in one year as the only woman in the USA. She received major publicity including TV, NPR radio and 40 to 50 articles.
“It was a combination of being the first woman to do it in one hiking season and in memory of my daughter,” Lowe said. “I asked myself how do I want to finish this hike.”
Lowe wanted a quiet finish just between her and Becka. That’s why she planned the last two miles on Thanksgiving Day.
“I could sneak in under the radar and have the type of finish I wanted,” she said.
But, Lowe also wanted to know that Becka was with her all along.
“I told myself if I find a quarter on the ground I would know Becka was with me,” she said.
On the last two miles of the last day, Lowe looked down and found a quarter.
“That was a message she was with me,” Lowe said. “The outcome of the hike is that the entire nation is aware of Becka. The mission was accomplished.”
Her major motivation for a hike that took 8.5 months to complete remained Becka.
“I consider myself a bad ass in hiking,” Lowe said. “I almost drowned, had a surgery and encountered a man with a gun. But knowing that it was in Becka’s memory carried me all along.”
Lowe’s advice to those thinking about hiking the trail is not to tackle it in one season.
“The mileage is daunting,” she said. “There are unmarked areas and the solitude, it can be overwhelming. Give it at least two years.”
Because northern Michigan still had snow in May, Lowe had to turn back to Ohio and hike east and wait for Michigan to thaw.
How did Lowe succeed in spite of all the challenges?
She trained for two months before the hike walking 10 miles a day with an over weighted backpack.
Lowe turned 65 on the NCT hike on Sept. 4th, and she still wants to hike the Continental Divide trail to be the first woman with a quintuple crown award.
“Hiking is my passion, my church,” she said. “I feel closer to higher power. It has given me strength, freedom and confidence. It has come with tears, sorrow and joy. My trail name is Chosen. I am living out my destiny.”
Lowe said she will do the Continental Divide trail ASAP, before the aging process takes over and makes it impossible.
“My hiking days are numbered,” she said. “I have learned that it’s not the best motivator just pounding out miles, but the most inspirational was the kindness of the people and making lifelong friends. I could feel love coming over me like an ocean of love washing over me.”
Lowe says about herself that she is not religious, but she is spiritual.
“None of us does a hike like this alone,” she said. “I can picture a chain of people holding hands and those are the people who came out. I didn’t do it alone.”
Lowe calls her hikes pilgrimages.
“It’s a time to reflect, it gives insight and introspection,” she said. “The greatest fun is succeeding at your goal, finishing what you start. It gives me incredible accomplishment and confidence.”
Lowe ignores negative people in order to accomplish her goals.
“It’s my responsibility to step over them and keeping my eye on the goal and not let them affect my ability of moving forward,” she said. “I’ve become strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Lowe’s final advice:
“Don’t quit, no matter what.”
However, as far as the grieving process itself, Lowe says there is no closure on grieving, ever.
“Becka was my best friend, and when all was said and done, we both forgave each other everything and loved each other dearly,” Lowe said. “I miss being able to do the simple things with her like talking on the phone, going out to eat together, going “thrifting” at thrift shops, travelling together, and listening to her sing at karaoke. She lived for music and had an amazing voice! I miss being able to touch her and kiss her face.”
Since the establishment of NCT in 1980, only five men have completed a thru hike of the trail and Lowe was the sixth person, and the only woman in the USA.
NCTA executive director Bruce Matthews said Lowe’s hike elevates the awareness of the North Country Trail.
“It fires people’s imagination and makes the trail more accessible to women,” he said. “It expands the horizon. It is unusual to complete it in one season.”
Matthews hopes that the experience Lowe has had will inspire other people to follow in her footsteps.
“You have to be prepared,” he said. “NCT is different from the Appalachian or the Pacific trails.”
What distinguishes NCT from the other trails is that it runs through different environments, and it does not follow a mountain range.
“Trail angels will be looking for you ready to help,” he said. “You can share experiences and volunteers make the routes more scenic.
On the theme of the extreme solitude on the trail, Matthews said:
“Solitude is part of the NCT experience,” he said.
On the psychology aspect of the strenuous hike, Dr. Daniel Ehnis, professor at Cornerstone University, said that taking on this challenge aids the healing process in a few ways:
“First of all, it helps the mother to do something extreme and distracting, rather than sitting by helplessly.
Second, the mother’s agony and suffering helps her transfer her psychological pain into physical pain. The physical discomfort can be easier to manage than the emotional turmoil from the loss.
Finally, her daughter’s wish to not be forgotten would take something extraordinary to honor that request.”
For more info on Gail Lowe go to: www.naturenymphllc.com
North Country Trail Association go to www.northcountrytrail.org
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