At the peak of leaf season this fall, six Ardenwoods residents proved that age is just a number as they embarked on an arduous adventure up a nearby section of the Appalachian Trail.
The hikers, ranging in age from 79 to 89, made their way up Lover’s Leap trail, just outside of Hot Springs, meandering through switchbacks, traversing a steep incline and following white blazes until the trail opened up to a spectacular panoramic view of the French Broad River and small mountain town below.
The Oct. 11 hike was organized by Ardenwoods and led by resident and seasoned outdoorsman Dick Jedwell, who landed on Lover’s Leap following a bit of research on senior-friendly sections of the famous 2,180-mile trail.
“A resident here in her late 80s had indicated that she would be interested in hiking at least a portion of the Appalachian Trail, so Ardenwoods approached me — having been aware that I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in my day — to get a group organized,” said Jedwell, who’s spent 40 years hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking and cross-country skiing with a group of friends all over North America. “I did a little investigation and settled on this particular trail, which is a short 2-mile loop hike roughly an hour trip from Ardenwoods. It’s a scenic little hike through the woods right along the edge of the French Broad River, and it’s very pleasant.”
Jedwell put a presentation together with details and videos of the hike, then invited all interested residents to attend an informational session ahead of signing up for the adventure.
“I knew there was a section of the trail that was going to be a challenge, so we did a few conditioning hikes just here on campus” to give residents a bit of practice — while also gauging each individual’s abilities for the trek ahead, Jedwell explained. “I think that proved effective, allowing the people who did go on the hike to be pretty confident that they were going to be able to complete it.”
The morning of the big trip, the six hikers piled into a bus and made their way to the trailhead in Hot Springs — and despite the difficult terrain, each resident ultimately overcame the obstacles and summited a section of the Appalachian Trail.
“There’s one section, about a third of a mile long, that’s really quite steep,” Jedwell said. “And, you know, none of us are any longer in our youth — so this did prove to be a challenge. But everybody got through it and seemed to enjoy it. I think we were all pleased that we met the challenge and accomplished our goal.”
Though a follow-up hike isn’t yet on the books, Jedwell said he’s happy to organize other hikes if the need arises. “In this area, there’s certainly an unlimited number of opportunities,” he said. “And I’ve done a number of them already, so I have all sorts of reference books that would help me out if there’s an interest.”