Standing at the base of Mount Washington, alumna Cathi Morris ’01 had one thought: “Today is the day I’m going to die.” She was alone, her knees were in pain and she had reached one of the most dangerous parts of the trail. It was a journey she began in February 2020, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it was a journey she was determined to finish.
It turns out Morris wasn’t the only Hawk standing in awe of the White Mountains last year. Saint Joseph’s alumnus Gary Morrison ’93 had added the 2,193-mile hike to his bucket list after being diagnosed with cancer two years prior. Both trips were unknowingly planned before the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread in the United States, and both journeys had changed Morris and Morrison’s lives for the better.
For Morris, the trek was about embracing a new challenge.
“I had checked off all of the boxes of things I was supposed to do, and accomplished the goals that were expected of me. I’d gone through college, gotten married, held jobs,” she explains. But still, something was missing.
Morris’ brother had passed away 10 years before, opening her eyes to how short life is, and causing her to reflect on what she wanted to do with her own life. “I never wanted to sit in an office, and I knew I couldn’t get everything out of a job that I needed.”
She left her marketing job and started working on a farm. She traveled out to California, spent some time in Yosemite, and fell in love with the mountains. Eventually, she realized she wanted to do a full trail hike.
“I felt like doing a long-distance hike out west would be too challenging, logistically,” says Morris. “I looked around at trails on the east coast, and the Appalachian Trail made the most sense to me.”
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. It runs from Maine to Georgia, spanning over 2,000 miles through 14 states. In 2018, 1,128 hikers completed the 2,193-mile hike.
Gary Morrison would become another one of those hikers in 2020.
“I started hiking five years ago when my girlfriend and I got a new puppy,” he explains. “She wanted to take the puppy on a trail and I got dragged along – and I ended up really enjoying it!” He began hiking regularly on different parts of the Appalachian Trail throughout New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. At St. Joe’s, Morrison was an athlete who ran track. “Distance never bothered me,” he says.
Then, two years ago, Morrison was diagnosed with cancer. He started a bucket list.
“One night in January, I saw a television program about people going southbound on the trail,” he says. “My girlfriend made an off-handed comment that I should do this. Five weeks later, I was driving down to Georgia.”