Outdoor Woman

Tackling the Trail

As Alpharetta-native actress, model and motivational speaker Kimberly Maxwell discovered, hiking the whole of the Appalachian Trail is much more than walking in the woods.

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By Steve Hudson
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You may have seen Kimberly Maxwell and not even known it.

Kimberly is an Atlanta actress, model and motivational speaker who has appeared in commercials for companies such as Zaxby’s and Tropical Smoothie, and it’s neat to see someone you know on TV. Just the other evening my wife and I were watching a little TV when the Zaxby’s ad appeared.

“Wait a minute!” I said. “Run that back! That’s Kimberly!”

But you may also have seen Kimberly if you’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Kimberly is a member of that select group of folks who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. That’s about 2180 miles…one step at a time. Some start in Georgia and hike straight through to Maine; others do what’s known as a flip-flop hike.To fit her schedule, that’s what Kimberly did, starting in the middle at Damascus, Va., hiking north to Maine, then returning to Virginia and hiking back to Georgia to finish atop Springer Mountain.

That’s a lot of hiking. But it’s not the only challenge Kimberly has taken on. She has also won a battle with cancer.

“Beating cancer taught me a lot about how limitless I am,” she says, and that helped empower her to tackle the Appalachian Trail.

How did folks react when Kimberly began talking about hiking the AT? As her departure date drew nearer, she began to hear warnings that maybe she shouldn’t try it. Quietly at first, and then more loudly, some began to tell her that the hike really wasn’t a good idea. The trail was long, they said. Weather could be rough, they said. And there were some bad people out there…

“I was told every day how scared I should be,” she recalls. “But if I’d listened to that, I’d never have left the front door.”

Instead, Kimberly decided to tell herself “a different story.” “Certainly, I would be aware,” she says. “But I would not be scared.”

Kimberly began her hike on May 17 and finished two days before the end of October. Did she ever doubt she would make it?

“People ask me when I knew that I’d be successful,” she says, “and I tell them that I already knew I’d make it through on the very day I decided to go.”

Yes. But what do you do when the going gets hard and the voice in your head that it would be easy…oh so easy…to call the whole thing off?

“There’s a saying among thru-hikers,” she says, “that you have to ‘hike your own hike.’ ” I ask her what that means, and I’m still processing what she said. But I think the bottom line has to do with (at the risk of cliché) charting your own course rather than letting others do it for you. That’s important on an adventure like this. You must decide what you hear: the voice that keeps you moving – or the one that urges you to throw in the towel.

“There are no bounds,” Kimberly once noted, “if you don’t impose them on yourself.”

It occurs to me that this really is a mindset thing. I know because I tried a little piece of the AT myself just a few weeks ago. It was (how to put it) challenging. I set out figuring I’d make it, but I forgot to let my head know. Instead, partway through and gasping for air, I started wondering if I was going to die right then and there. For me, giving up certainly was an option. And so I took it…publicly sad to have called it quits but secretly thrilled to be heading back to the comfort of the car and the prospect of a Yonah Burger on the way home.

Come to think of it, too many of those burgers just might have been part of my problem. I’m going to have to deal with that and try again.

But I still ask “what if?” What if I had decided, at the get-go, to take “turning back” off the table?

That’s what Kimberly did, and she finished the trail.

“That doesn’t mean that there were never hard days,” she says, “or even hard weeks. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t times when I was cold or lonely. But giving up wasn’t an option.” Instead, she says, “My only option was to come up with an alternate plan.”

What would she say to other women who are considering such an adventure?
“I’d say to them, ‘You’re capable,’ ” she says. In fact, that’s what she emphasizes when she speaks to groups about her experience and what it means.

“I speak about choosing bravery,” she says, “and about not listening to fear.”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail, she adds, “proved I can do anything.” She sums it up like this:

“I walked 2,189.2 miles, crossed through 14 states, saw 13 bears, one moose, one rattlesnake, countless other wildlife, took two trips to New York City, a trip to Washington D.C., a trip to Portland, Maine, a trip to urgent care, saw seven plays, was given nearly $400 by complete strangers, had five complete breakdowns, made friends with some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and learned more about myself than I could’ve ever imagined.

“I learned that I am smart, strong, and brave,” she adds, “and that there are no limits to what I’m able to achieve. I realized that I can do anything. Can you?”
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You can learn more about Kimberly Maxwell’s Appalachian Trail experience through her blog at www.KimbersAppalachianAdventures.wordpress.com.
To learn more about having Kimberly speak to your group or organization, contact her at KimberlyLMaxwell16@gmail.com. ■

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