A group of individuals affiliated with the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) gathered in Maine on May 28, 2014, to informally search for a few days, once again, for missing Appalachian Trail (AT) hiker, Geraldine "Gerry" Largay.
Gerry, as she was known to friends, used the Trail name "Inchworm" to identify with the slow, steady pace of her hike. Supported by her husband, George, Inchworm had been hiking the AT, an item on her "bucket list."
Gerry Largay was a former nurse and had been on the Trail for three months hiking northward from Harpers Ferry, WV.
Inchworm has not been seen or heard from since the morning of Monday, July 22, 2013. That's when she reportedly sent her last known text to her husband, George, confirming their meeting on Tuesday, July 23rd at the AT's Route 27 portal, outside of Stratton, Maine.
Gerry Largay's last confirmed location was on July 22nd at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to, north of the Saddleback Mountains in Maine's Saddleback Range, northeast of Rangeley.
Inchworm was 66 years old when she disappeared. She was 5-feet, 5-inches tall, weighed 115 pounds, had brown hair and brown eyes. She commonly wore a black pullover shirt, tan pants, a blue hat and was carrying a black-and-green backpack. In her last known photograph, however, she was wearing a bright red top. A color that should have made finding her off the Trail quite a bit easier than something black.
Mike Wingeart, a member of ALDHA and the organizer of the most recent search expedition, told me on June 7, 2014, that his team had "great weather, few black flies and almost no snow" to hinder their mission to either find Inchworm or glean clues to her baffling disappearance. Annual ferns had not grown around the AT, so they had "a great sight line."
Mike's team included Jessica Pace, a reporter for Brentwood Home Page, whom he referred to as "a trooper" who waded in icy streams and searched with more experienced and trained personnel. Jessica's story about Inchworm became a personal quest, so she joined the team hoping to write the final chapter in the story. Maybe next time.
Jessica, Mike and more than a dozen others paid their own way and donated their personal time to the effort. Together they combed the AT from Caribou Valley Road to Route 27 -- including both the north and south peaks of Crocker Mountain -- a distance of roughly 8.3 miles, among other locations.
Caribou Valley Road, according to one informed source, can only accommodate all-terrain vehicles, due to the poor quality of the road and because locked gates do not allow for passage of Jeeps or similar four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Each of two teams walked parallel to the AT, with searchers on both sides at 20 and 40 yards from the Trail. There were the usual random bits of common trash, but no substantial clues were found that could be associated with Gerry. The same was true in previous searches conducted by literally hundreds of individuals, search dogs, airplanes and wardens on horseback.
Mike repeatedly and passionately expressed his opinion, "She's not there!" At the very least, if Gerry Largay is to be found in that vicinity, "it won't be within 40 yards of the Trail." That's much farther than any hikers would travel to relieve themselves, for example, especially in a thick wilderness.
As I tell myself each day as I search for missing glasses, keys, papers and/or my wallet, "If you don't know where it is ... you don't know where it isn't." Not terribly profound but the point is we only have clues as to where Gerry Largay isn't. We're no closer to knowing where she is.
Less than three weeks after his wife's disappearance, George Largay was quoted in an August 12, 2013, interview posted at CentralMaine.com, an online newspaper, about his wife's disappearance.
Mr. Largay, according to the story, had left Maine to return home to Tennessee during the week of August 5th, less than two weeks after his wife of 42 years vanished.
That interview, held at the offices of a prominent public relations firm in Nashville, also stated "While Largay is not giving up hope, his family is ready to move on. In October, they plan to have a memorial service for his wife, just outside of Atlanta, where they lived for many years."
Those statements, after fewer than 20 days, about not giving up hope in conjunction with making plans for a memorial service might seem contradictory, but shock and grief can cause odd behavior.
In October of 2013, Mr. Largay offered a $15,000 reward in the enigmatic case.
Gerry began walking the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, WV, on April 23, 2013, on her way to Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park.
Inchworm had planned her hike for a year and a half. She had a tent and was well supplied. At the time she went missing, Gerry had been on the Trail for three months. A previous Trail companion had to end her hike with Inchworm, due to a family emergency, while they were in Vermont roughly a month earlier.
George Largay was resupplying her at predetermined spots along the Trail.
Her plan was to summit Mount Katahdin -- still 210 miles to the north of Popular Ridge Lean-to -- by the end of July. Afterward, she expected to drive to Harpers Ferry once again, and head south to Springer Mountain in Georgia to complete her thru-hike of the AT.
Lt. Kevin Adam of the Maine Warden Service and scores of searchers began looking for Gerry in a remote 81-square-mile search area, on Thursday, July 25, 2013.
The search area was reduced to a 4.2 square mile section near the AT on Sunday, August 4th, when Lt. Adams said, "What we are trying to do today is get in between linear features that we have already searched. Things like trails, drainages, roads -- she's obviously not on those, which indicates to us she must be in between one of those and that is obviously much more difficult in this terrain."
Searchers on foot and horseback, and nine dogs trained to pick up human scents, did not find any clues about Gerry's disappearance in that first search, nor in any of the dozens of others.
The final official search was concluded on Sunday, August 4th. That was the largest such effort ever conducted in Maine, with hundreds of trained, skilled rescuers and ordinary concerned citizens literally beating the bushes for two weeks.
We are thankful for the Civil Air Patrol, ground searchers, the Mahoosuc Search & Rescue teams, Franklin County SAR, Maine Warden Service, the Acadia National Park SAR, and Maine Search and Rescue canine teams -- along with many dedicated volunteers and others not mentioned -- for their heroic and dedicated efforts.
Getting lost in the woods is easy. Finding lost people in the woods isn't easy, but almost all are located within 24 hours and virtually all are found -- even in this remote wilderness in Maine -- within 48 hours. Only a fraction of 1% of lost hikers remain missing.
Authorities say, on and off the record, that people "simply don't disappear."
Maybe someone, somewhere, knows what happened to Inchworm. If so, they've kept the secret to her location to themselves.
But the search for Gerry Largay will never end. We will discover the truth. Sooner or Later.
A few individuals abandoned the search surprisingly quickly. Most gave up months later, after valiant efforts. Some folks won't quit until the puzzle is solved and we finally put the search for Inchworm to rest. One way or another.
To quote George Largay, "The uncertainty is the toughest part. Until they find Gerry, there's always the unknown, and that's almost tougher than the known."
Again, if you have information to share about Gerry Largay, please call the Maine Warden Service Public Safety Dispatch Center in Augusta at (207) 624-7076. There is a toll-free number when calling within Maine: 800-452-4664.
Tags: Attractions, Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, News, Accidents, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Rescues, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
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