Rage Along The Appalachian Trail

WORDS BY VICTOR R PISANO, PHOTOS BY PAIGE LATHROP

SUMMER 2022

Every hiker on the Appalachian Trail gets their own moniker, their own “trail name,” especially “thru-hikers” who attempt the entire 2,193-mile trek. Paige Corrigan Lathrop of Richmond Hill, Georgia, lived up to her trail name – and then some. Fellow hikers called her – “Rage.”

To look at Paige Lathrop and to know what she accomplished, you would say, “no way.” Members of her own family said as much. Paige is in her mid 50s, slight in form standing about 5’4,” and weighs 100 and nothing pounds. True to form, Paige was a “carrot-top” redhead as a kid and never had to give that countenance up – every bit Irish with a feisty resolve.

Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (the A.T.) is no feat of whimsy. It takes planning, re-planning, and a steady stream of second thoughts.  

A thru-hiker is as it reads; someone who attempts to take on the entire 2,193 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous hiking trail in the world. Of the 3,000 or so thru-hikers who attempt this challenge annually, more than 80% of them don’t finish. The A.T. starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia, traverses 14 states, and ends up in Maine on a desolate mountaintop of cold granite called Mount Katahdin. Most of the A.T. etches along the Appalachian Mountain range with spectacular views.

So, we asked Ragin’ Paige why she attempted it?

“My brother Brad just retired. He convinced me. Hiking the entire A.T. was his lifelong dream, the top of his bucket list. He lived in Northern Virginia and when he was younger, he used to do day hikes on the A.T. It’s always been a dream of his to hike the entire trail. But he wanted company. We were joking about that one day and we just looked at each other and said, “Why not?””

This would be a special challenge for anyone, but for someone of Paige’s physical stature, age, and bodyweight, many “expert” opinions said what she was trying to do was impossible. Paige the Rage thought otherwise. Months of research, planning, and mental preparation went into it. Every ounce Paige would have to carry on her slight frame and shoulders would have to be justified, measured, and weighed. For six months, through the wilderness, she carried all of her food, shelter, hiking equipment, cooking gear, and clothing – all on her back.

Paige managed to trim her bare essentials and backpack down to just 36 pounds. Still, that was equal to a third of her own bodyweight. “I fell down a lot,” she confessed with an embarrassing smile. “About two or three times a day. That was about 500 times over six months. I badly dislocated my middle finger on one of the falls. I had to wear a two-finger splint for the rest of the trip.” Each time that Rage fell, she said she cried with frustration and anger. This would always elicit some encouraging tough love support from her brother. She would then center herself and press forward.

Paige and her brother Brad (trail name “Waz” after a children’s book character) left Springer Mountain, GA on March 29th, 2021, and set their long-range plans to finish on a mountaintop more than 2,000 miles away. When they started, it was at the height of the COVID pandemic, but no one wore masks on the trail. There was no need to. Paige and her brother’s goal was to reach Mount Katahdin in Maine at the end of September before the mountain closed down for the season on October 22nd. Paige recounts, “The lowest temperature was in Georgia, 18°, and the highest was in Pennsylvania at 103°.”

But, just six days into their expedition, Paige and her brother got word that their father had suddenly passed away. They hurried off the trail to attend the services. Being forced to make an anguished decision, they decided that they would continue their hike as planned. So, on April 11th, 2021, they picked up the trail where they had left off, inspired by the knowledge that their father would be hiking alongside them as a spiritual guide.

Rage and her brother usually hiked 16-18 miles a day on average. The weather was often unpredictable hiking along mountain ridges. Sudden storms and local weather often boil up. “If you like rain, you’re going to love the Appalachian Trail. It seems like it rained a lot more than the average. We had to drink filtered water and many times we had to pitch our tent in the rain.” When asked what her least favorite experience was, Paige replied, “Getting up sometimes and having to put on wet clothes because the rain didn’t stop and let them dry out. Also, the mosquitoes in Connecticut. They were on us everywhere. It was like a horror movie. I just cried.” Larger creatures like black bears and moose were often seen but posed little threat on their trip. “Mosquitoes and ticks were the most dangerous animals on the trail,” she said. “But there were wonderful things that made it all worthwhile. The views were spectacular! Mountains. Valleys. My day was full of new discoveries and things to see. We ate a lot of wild berries and saw a lot of wildlife. Every step there was something new and different to see.”

At the end of almost every week, Rage and her brother Brad would descend off the mountain trail and into a local village where there were either hostels or camp accommodations where A.T. hikers could get hot showers, food, recharge their batteries, and restock equipment – a respite from the trail. Then, thru-hikers climb back up to the trail and continue to a distant mountain most of them had only heard about.  

It is well documented that hikers along the A.T. assume a general kindness to each other – a silent code of ethics and respect. They are all in the same boat. Paige recalled, “Conversations around the campfire or shelters when you did meet other hikers never centered around politics or agendas,” she said. “Mostly – we talked about food.”

In many spots along the trail, hikers come across charitable “hiker boxes.” These are large Styrofoam coolers left by local good Samaritan “Trail Angels” who fill them with bottled water, energy bars, dried fruit, etc.” Hikers would also leave things for other hikers that they didn’t need like extra food or expendable equipment. “I left my little camp stove at one of the hiker boxes,” said Paige. “It was getting too heavy for me, and I thought someone else might like to have it in their gear.” Another trail angel.

After six months, one dislocated finger, innumerable tumbles, cortisone shots to the knee, 6 pairs of hiking shoes, and 2,193 miles later, Paige and her brother Brad reached the blustery summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. She remembers having tears of gratitude in her eyes at what she and her brother had accomplished – a sense of fulfillment. Rage did it. The seemingly unending hike many said was impossible for her to do. But, in the end, all 92 pounds of her hugged the jagged summit of a mountain.

And what did Rage come away with? “I learned what it was like to put one foot in front of the other because you “had too.” One step at a time. Nature was my forever discovery. You can read about it, see pictures and all, but it’s never the same until you live every day in it. The whippoorwill bird woke me up every morning at 5 AM. That was comforting. Insignificant things become significant things. You are aware of everything. I came away with gratitude, self-assurance, and endurance. Those are the big things,” she said with a reassuring smile. When asked if she would do it again, “Oh, Yes!” She blurted out. “This time with my husband. I want him to join me. I want to get the Triple Crown.” The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Coast Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail – each about 2,000 miles long. “Two more adventures to go,” she said with a glint of Irish in her eye.

Will Paige the Rage accomplish the hiking trifecta? I wouldn’t bet against this wee thru-hiker with the giant determination and the fiery red hair – not for one tumbling moment.