Geraldine Largay was an avid hiker who had made it part of her bucket list to walk the 2190 mile long Appalachian Trail. When she went missing, an extensive search was put together with no success.
Recently she was found, over two years later, in her tent, zipped into her sleeping bag. Beside her lay her journal and letters to all her family. She had lived in the wilderness for over a month before finally being defeated by the environment.
Geraldine, known as Gerry to her friends, was a fun-loving grandmother who enjoyed hiking. She loved nothing more than being surrounded by nature. So the Appalachian Trial was a challenge that she had to attempt.
The trail runs from Maine to Georgia and is considered the longest hiking trail in the country. It is also popular with many hikers. So when she retired as a nurse, it was all she could think about doing.
In 2013, she finally made her lifelong goal a reality. Her husband was concerned about the trip, due to her having back trouble in the past. Still, they put a plan together where he would meet her along the trail to give her new supplies, meaning she did not have to carry so much with her.
Starting the Trek
The trek was to take Gerry five to seven months to complete. Nevertheless, she was determined to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
On 23rd April 2013, Gerry set off with her close friend Jane Lee. Hikers often adopt a trail name and Gerry chose the name Inchworm with reference to the slow pace she was going to walk at.
With her, as well as her supplies, she carried a journal to write about her adventure. As she left, she wrote this line.
This has been a long time in the planning, and we are excited and a little nervous to begin this adventure.
The two started in the middle of the trail and initially headed north to Mount Katharine. Gerry recorded the images of beauty and flowers in her journal.
The friends made a good hiking duo and helped each other along the trail. When one of them needed to relieve themselves, the other would stand as a guard. Unfortunately, however, this adventure was not to continue.
When Jane received a message about a family emergency, she was forced to go home. Despite begging Gerry to leave with her, Gerry refused, saying she would carry on alone.
Gerry managed alone for three weeks; twice a week, she would meet her husband for more supplies. Finally, on 21st July, she reached the Poplar Ridge Shelter, less than two hundred miles from the trail's end, where she spent the night.
Gerry woke early in the morning and asked one of the other hikers she had struck up a friendship with to take a photo of her. She was twenty-two miles away from her next meeting with George.
She texted him to let her know she was leaving the shelter. She then switched her phone off and said her goodbyes before setting out. By this time, she had covered approximately nine hundred miles.
The plan was to spend the night at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to before meeting her husband the morning after.
Her husband was waiting for her twenty miles away to transfer the next supplies to her. She never arrived at their meeting point. He was not worried at first, thinking the weather had delayed her and she had no phone signal.
He slept in his car that night, thinking she would interrupt him before daybreak. Instead, when she had not appeared the following day, he phoned the police and reported her missing.
The Truth of the Trek
Much of what happened to Gerry is now a fact as she documented much of it in her journal. After walking for several hours, her bladder was full. Without a walking companion, she had to go deeper to relieve herself.
When she got up, she realised she did not know the way back to the trail as she had gone too deep into the dense forest.
By 11 am, she was lost in the woods. Jane Lee stated that Gerry would become anxious when they took a wrong turn. She was also prone to becoming lost.
She texted her husband a message saying she was in trouble and needed rescuing. Due to the signal, he never received the message. She decided to walk deeper into the forest to reach higher ground to find her route or a phone signal.
That was when the light faded and the rain clouds rolled in. There was nothing for it but for her to pitch her tent and spend the night in the woods.
Gerry felt optimistic the following day; she had found drinking water and was sure she would be found soon; she hung pieces of her silver blanket on branches as markers for her route.
She had a few supplies left, which she would ration as much as possible. So that night, she ate a prune, a few almonds and several Fritos.
Gerry kept walking, but eventually, she ran out of food and her energy was low. She thought of her family and loved ones and tried to survive a little longer.
The police mounted a search party as soon as Gerry was reported missing. The first part walked the twenty-two-mile route from Poplar Ridge.
The search team found many clues along the path that could lead to Gerry. Blood droplets, strands of hair and a water bottle, none of these proved to belong to her.
Posters were circulated far and wide to other hikers telling of this missing woman. Many people came forward to say they had seen Gerry along the trail. Unfortunately, it is now thought that most of these sightings were another woman who looked remarkably like Gerry.
This misinformation moved the search party in completely the wrong direction. Still, the search party did not give up hope; Gerry had provisions with her and a tent she could easily still be alive.
When the on-ground searches provided no hope, they took to the air, thinking it would be easier to locate Gerry that way. She was never spotted; however, from her journal, we know that Gerry heard and saw some of these searches but could never summon their attention.
Some of the lands near the trail are owned by the Navy, as they use it for training exercises. The Navy sent in a few teams to search for her; again, they had no luck.
Letters of Love
Despite everyone's efforts, Gerry was never located. Finally, when it was evident that she would die in nature, she wrote several letters to her loved ones.
On 6th August, Gerry tried to send one last text message, which never reached its destination. She lit a fire with the last of her energy and wrote in her journal.
When you find my body, please call my husband, George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me.
A forester working for the Nacy discovered Gerry's tent two years, two months and twenty-four days after she went missing. She was in a dense area near the trail. She had climbed into her sleeping bag and died amongst nature.
Her journal was found beside her body and she had written 'George Please Read XOXO. Her last entry was dated 18th August; if she had got the date right, she had survived twenty-six days in the wild.
Her tent was less than two miles from the trail and thirty minutes from the lodge. The search team could have walked past her location several times.
In the tent, the recovery team found long letters to all her family members expressing her love for them and telling them they all meant so much more to her than any hike.
When George heard about his wife's discovery, he walked to the site and placed a cross where her tent had been found. When asked about the length of time she survived on her own he said
I knew she was one tough cookie; I just didn't realise how tough she was.