One of the saddest stories on the Appalachian Trail is packaged in a small lady named “Inchworm.” Her off-the-trail name was Geraldine Largay, a 66-year-old thru-hiker from Brentwood, Tennessee. She began hiking the AT at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in April, 2013. After hiking over three months and more than 950 miles north, Inchworm disappeared on July 22. She lost her way with only 211 miles to the summit of the northern terminus, Mount Katahdin, Maine. She was last seen at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to, heading north toward Spaulding Mountain Lean-to (a journey of about 8 miles).
Geraldine remained missing for 26 months, despite an extensive search by the Maine Warden Service. Mid-October, 2015, “Inchworm” was found dead in her sleeping bag zipped inside her tent about two miles from the trail in Redington Township, Maine. She was found on restricted military land belonging to the U.S. Navy by a private contractor. Recent information released by authorities include insights from Geraldine’s trail journal and her cell phone.
A few hours into her hike on July 22 the temperature climbed to near 70 degrees, and Inchworm walked off the trail to relieve herself. She soon realized she was lost and couldn’t find her way back to the trail. Around 11 a.m., she took out her blue Samsung sliding phone and texted her husband: “In somm trouble. Got off trail to go to br. Now lost. Can u call AMC to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. Xox.” But the message wouldn’t transmit because there was no cell coverage in the area. She tried sending the text 10 more times over the next hour and a half.
Inchworm walked west through the dense and vast woods, seeking higher elevation in the hopes of getting a cellphone signal. The next day, Tuesday, July 23, she tried texting her husband again, at 4:18 p.m.: “Lost since yesterday. Off trail 3 or 4 miles. Call police for what to do pls. Xox.” She tried sending it again 20 minutes later. Still nothing. Geraldine decided her best chance of survival would be to stay put. She set up a tent on a bed of pine needles and sticks and would write in a journal every day for at the next 18 days.
In an Aug. 6 journal entry, Largay wrote this heartbreaking entry, “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me — no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”
Inchworm had started on the trail in West Virginia in April with a friend, Jane Lee, who had hiked the trail with her until they reached Maine. Jan left the trail because of a family emergency, leaving Geraldine to continue on alone. Her friend described Geraldine as afraid of the dark, scared of being alone and said she never wanted to bring extra supplies because she had a sore back and wanted to avoid having a heavy pack. These insights make this tragedy seem even more difficult.
The warden service, volunteer groups, police and others participated in a search for Inchworm considered one of the most lengthy and expensive in state history. Sadly, they could not locate Geraldine who died of lack of food and water and environmental exposure. According to Lt. Kevin Adam, scene commander of the Maine Warden Service, about 28 Appalachian Trail hikers get lost in Maine every year. Most are found quickly: 95 percent of the time, searchers find the lost hikers in 12 hours and within 24 hours, 98 percent of misplaced hikers are located.
Photo with backpack: http://www.centralmaine.com/tag/largay/