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LARSON: Hiking enthusiast creating path for female participation

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

Anna Huthmaker never set out to be a trail blazer. All she wanted to do was take a hike.

"I started hiking in North Carolina many years ago and quickly fell in love with the trail and all its adventures," Huthmaker said. "In 2003, I attempted to hike the Appalachian Trail. I took six months off from work, hiked 700 miles, broke my foot and met more amazing people than I ever dreamed."

But she said one thing really bothered her, and it wasn't the broken foot.

"I was the only overweight woman out there. Where were all my friends and sisters?" Huthmaker said. "I asked around and discovered that lots of women weren't keen on hiking by themselves. And when given the opportunity to hike with a group, even more of them were worried about being slow."

So in the spring of 2007, Trail Dames was born.

Trail Dames is a hiking club for women of a curvy nature, as Huthmaker puts it, but she makes it clear that they do not discriminate against the svelte. Any woman who wants to walk in the wilderness and make friends along the way is welcome.

I took Huthmaker up on her invitation and hiked the Golden Branch Trail in Roswell back in June. Ten of us exhibited various degrees of curviness and various degrees of hiking experience. In both respects, I was about in the middle of the pack. Huthmaker and my friend Mary Yale both had hiked the AT. My biggest feat was probably the five-mile trek to the Len Foote Hike Inn in Dahlonega. And then a lady named Wynn was taking her first hike ever. Despite our differences, we hung together for the whole four miles, even when we encountered a snake.

Nearly 600 curvy and not-so-curvy women have hiked with Huthmaker over the past three years, and she boasts Trail Dames chapters in Maryland and Delaware Valley.

"As of now, we have over 1,000 Dames in the three chapters," Huthmaker said. And new chapters are forming in Puget Sound, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Trail Dames offers something for every woman -- and occasionally their families -- from short simple hikes to backpacking trips on the AT. But Huthmaker, a musician by profession, hardly thinks of what Trail Dames do as trudging or trekking. In fact, their motto, inspired by a song is "We're Gonna' Dance Upon This Earth." Having walked the walk with her, I must say as we lifted up our feet over roots and rocks, I did at times feel like I was dancing.

And Huthmaker continues to blaze more trails.

"Starting June 1, 2010, Trail Dames has set a goal of having 500 women take their first TD hike. We have one year to reach the goal, so I invite all women to come on out and hike with us."

The next hike on Aug. 22 will be an easy one: A guided wildflower tour of the Athens Botanical Gardens. To stay ahead of the curve on all Trail Dame activities, visit www.traildames.com.

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