South Berwick duo completes years-long hike of Appalachian Trail
By Deborah McDermott
August 23, 2014 2:00 AM
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — It was a 13-year, many-adventure odyssey for “WhichWay” and “Braids,” who finally stood on Springer Mountain in Georgia this summer having completed the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail.
WhichWay and Braids are the trail names for South Berwick neighbors Becky Wright, a kindergarten teacher at Rollinsford, N.H., Grade School, and Marshwood High School librarian C.J. Mauger.
Along the way, they have shared laughter, injuries, blisters, poison ivy and a sense of accomplishment as they have hiked the sections of the trail each summer since 2000.
Mauger had long been a hiker when she invited her neighbor that summer to hike Carter Dome in the White Mountains, which is part of the trail. Wright was a runner, but had not hiked any distance.
They ran into two women who were “section hiking” the trail, “and Becky turned to me and said, ‘We should do that.’ Just like that,” Mauger said.
“I loved it. It spoke to me,” Wright said. “I hadn’t ever really considered doing something like that, but even with blisters and a pack that didn’t fit right, it was a lot of fun.”
Both 59, they wanted to complete their journey this summer, before Wright turned 60. They were confined by their jobs to hiking during the summers. With Mauger fitting in hikes around her summer job, the two began little by little to take on sections of the trail.
One thing soon became apparent to the women. Mauger — nicknamed Braids because she puts her long hair in braids when she hikes — was a slower hiker than Wright — nicknamed WhichWay, as in “which way am I going;” a reference to Wright’s occasional propensity to lose her way.
“You hike your own hike. Everyone has a different mindset,” Mauger said. “I’m more of a journey hiker. I like to stop and swim in all the rivers, lakes and streams, listen to the birds. Becky likes to breeze through it.”
So by the second summer, they found Wright was often hiking ahead, sometimes by as much as two or three days.
Without cell phone communication, the two came up with their own form of not-so-instant messages: Wright would write something in chalk on a rock.
“I remember once finding this stealth (not sanctioned) campsite and I left a message on a rock that C.J. should stay here because it was a great site,” Wright said.
Three days later, Mauger found the same site on her own, and it wasn’t until she’d set up camp that she found Wright’s note.
Knee surgery sidelined Mauger in 2013, and she remembered wistfully asking Wright if she was going to complete the trail that summer without her.
“She said, ‘I’m not finishing it without you,'” Mauger said.
Earlier this summer, the two women drove to Springer Mountain, Ga., and then hired a driver to take them to Hot Springs, N.C., to complete the last section of the trail.
For the last week, Wright’s husband and Mauger’s fiance joined them. The two of them said when they reached Springer Mountain, they were both sad to see their adventure end.
“It’s like a really, really, really good book, and you don’t want it to end,” Wright said. “That’s what it felt like.”