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A Story Of Hiking, Determination And Giving Others Hope...

Nothing could have been more breathtaking than the view of Sharp Top and Round Top on a recent April morning.

It was worth a stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where a story was unfolding that easily could have been missed.

Willing to share her tale was Elizabeth Pearch, a 56-year-old grandmother from Eagle River, Alaska who was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

She had taken a break to adjust her equipment at the Taylor Mountain overlook, where the elevation on the east side is 2,340 feet, high enough to view the Peaks of Otter to the east in nearby Bedford County.

Her trek had started in the fall, when she flew across the country from Alaska to Raleigh, N.C., where her daughter, Josie, lives.

Josie subsequently joined her mom and they hope to arrive in Waynesboro in the near future.

After that, mom Elizabeth has plans to hike the remainder of the way to Maine.

"Southern Virginia is no joke," said Elizabeth, whose voice was muffled by Taylor Mountain's whirling wind during an impromptu interview. "There are a lot of 4,000-[foot] peaks there. It's kind of nice being in central Virginia."

She had started out in March at Massie Gap in Grayson County.

"When I first started out, I was lucky to go four miles a day," continued Pearch, who says she was 100 pounds overweight when she started her journey and subsequently has lost 20 pounds. "Now, I can do between eight and 11 miles [a day]. I'm really progressing well."

Her biggest challenge was Sinking Creek Mountain in Craig County.

"I was on the ledges of the eastern Continental Divide," she said. "It was just rocks on a 45-degree angle".

The temperature was 85.

" It was so hot ," she said, "and I was thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' I'm a grandmother. I have children and grandchildren. Why am I risking my life? I have no business being here.'

"And then, coming down the back side of Dragon's Tooth, I thought, 'Surely, this is where they're going to find my body … at the bottom of these rocks.' "

Dragon's Tooth is a 4.1-mile trail near Catawba in Virginia's Craig County.

"Coming off of Dragon's Tooth is the hardest thing -- beside childbirth -- that I've ever done physically," Pearch said. "It's surprising how really hard that it is,"

There were comparable challenges ahead in Three Ridges and Priest, two peaks listed at 4,000 feet or more in Nelson County to the east of Waynesboro.

"Three Ridges was pretty hard, really hard actually," she said. "When you get to Chimney Rock, which is sort of a landmark on the way up, it's sort of a 30-foot, hand-over-fist rock scramble."

That was a surprise?:

On a typical day, Pearch starts hiking between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and finishes between 5-6 p.m. to set up camp and relax before going to sleep around 8 p.m.

Somewhat unexpectedly, she returned to family in Raleigh at one point but it wasn't long before she was back on the trail and is expected to reach Waynesboro any day now.

Elizabeth had hiked 340 miles to this point, with the goal of losing a total of 100 pounds by the time she reaches Maine. Her hopes are to get to Maine by mid-August.

"My [mission] is to be an example of what is possible," she said.

Her husband, Bill, has not been physically involved in the hikes but has found a way to furnish his wife with 50 some made-to-order meals.

"He is very much a champion," said Elizabeth, who has hiked with her husband in Alaska.

Elizabeth Pearch, has 500 subscribers on her YouTube site and describes herself as "an adventurer, life coach, manual therapist, competition shooter,, grandmommy, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I teach people how to figure out what's holding them back from getting everything they want."

"I'm not sure who I'm going to be at the end of this," continued Pearch, whose trail name is Spun Candy. "There's the fun of it, but I'll certainly be someone different. I'll be totally remade. I'm really going to know who I am.

"I've met tons of people, great people like trail angels who would cover my pack six miles down a mountain. I fell on my face a couple of times and almost cracked my head open, so there's a lot of drama. I think they appreciate a women who's not some fitness superstar and gives them hope."



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