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LARSON: Age is no obstacle to mountaintop experience

I felt pretty good about myself last year when my friend Kathy Lee and I trekked up to the Len Foote Hike Inn in Dawsonville. The Inn is accessible only by foot over a five-mile trail that starts at the top of Amicalola Falls.

I carried all I needed for my overnight stay in a kiddie-sized backpack my granddaughter lent me. This hike, which takes most people two to four hours to cover the five miles, took us a little less than three hours each way. Not bad for two golden girls who weren't out to break any records, but only to say we did it.

We could have spent another night and attempted the nine-mile round trip hike to Springer Mountain, the Southern Terminal of the Appalachian Trail. But considering we didn't know what we were getting into when we made our reservations, we let the Hike Inn be our mountaintop experience. The AT, we thought, is best left to real hikers.

By real hikers, I mean those who spend years training and staying in shape specifically for walking the entire 2,175-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. For about 20 years, Aggie Calder of Stone Mountain, Julia Bridges of Winder and Kathy Baker of Bremen hiked the AT on the installment plan. Like Lee and I, they were not out to set any records. They just wanted to be able to say, "I did it." And on Sept. 13, 2009, atop Mount Katahdin, they did.

The three ladies, who'd each hiked the Georgia portion of the AT in the 1980s, met in the early 1990s.

"I had no intention of doing the whole trail," Bridges said, "but in 1993, I commented that if we were going to do all this hiking, we might as well be going somewhere. Not the whole trail, but just a little farther."

Calder agreed and nicknamed herself Gofer, saying she'd go as "fer" as she could, having no idea how "fer" that might be.

For 16 years, on and off, the threesome stepped over roots and around rocks, trudged through mud in pouring down rain, dodged rattlesnakes and dealt with any other surprises along the way.

"In 1998, it rained so much some streams were hip deep and we had to go maybe a mile out of our way to find a place with a log across it. And we had to be cautious around blueberry bushes because you never knew if Yogi Bear might be looking for a snack," Calder said.

Now that they've had their mountaintop experience, Baker, age 63, Bridges, age 66 and Calder, age 79, say as far as long distance hiking goes, they're at the end of the trail. But they won't be sitting around in rocking chairs, either.

"So what now?" Bridges said. "River trips. I have a 17-foot Blue Hole canoe. I can carry an ice chest and a chair. Oh, luxury."

"And," Calder added, "it'll be a lot easier on the knees."

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.