The following is the first of several profiles of folks who have discovered their adventurous side in our GetHiking!, GetBackpacking! and GetExploring! programs.

When Susan Levy’s thoughts turned to hiking, she had reservations about venturing into the “scary woods.”
Those reservations were threefold: 1. snakes, 2. ticks, 3. getting lost. “Especially getting lost,” she says.
Susan hasn’t necessarily conquered those fears, but the joy she’s gotten out of hiking over the past three years has more than overridden them.

Susan Levy (green shirt) with her GetBackpacking! class.
Susan Levy (green shirt) with her GetBackpacking! class.

“My level of activity has gone through the roof,” says Susan, an empty-nester who lives in Cary with her husband, Mike. “Now, I’m always looking for a new place to hike and wondering, ‘Just how far can I hike?’”
A variation of that question — Just how far can I hike? — first attracted her to hiking in 2012.
“I heard about this Ultimate Hike and wondered if I could hike 28.3 miles in one day,” says Susan. Ultimate Hike is a fundraiser for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, which battles pediatric cancer on various fronts. Hikers go through a 12-week training program designed to build them up to 28.3 miles on the western end of the Foothills Trail, which straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina line. Most Ultimate Hikers are like Susan: the farthest she had hiked previously?
“A couple miles, maybe,” she says.
Susan completed the hike in 14 hours despite a stomach ravaged by “too much trail mix, too much sugar. At the finish, I thought, ‘Well, that was good, I’m glad I did that. But once is enough.’”
Six months later she signed up to do it again.
Drawn into the woods by the physical and mental challenge of hiking more than 28 miles in one day, Susan became smitten by hiking itself.
“I loved the quiet. I liked being in the woods. I also liked the fact it wasn’t competitive,” adds, Susan, a longtime golfer. “You’re not a good hiker, you’re not a bad hiker. You’re just a hiker.”
Susan wanted to be more confident in the woods, to not be concerned about snakes, or ticks or getting lost. She wanted to be able to enjoy the quiet of the woods alone. To do all that, she knew she needed help.
When the GetHiking! program formed its first chapter in the Triangle in the fall of 2013, Susan was one of the first to sign up. She became a regular, typically hiking at the front of the pack. Her confidence grew: picking off ticks at the end of a hike became de rigueur, on a night hike she danced on a copperhead, and though the GetHiking! management declines to admit to getting lost, the occasional misplacement does occur.
Last fall, Susan was ready to elevate her game. Despite having never camped out, despite never sleeping in a tent, she signed up for the GetBackpacking! program.
Wouldn’t car camping have been a better way to ease into the process?
“I’d never heard of car camping until I was in the backpacking program,” she says.
At the trailhead for the three-day GetBackpacking! graduation trip at South Mountains State Park, Susan was like a kid on Christmas Eve.
“I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to get into my tent.”
Did the experience live up to expectation?
The trip was in October. In November, she started telling her inner circle about a goal she was contemplating for 2015: thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Just before Christmas she made it official by launching her Appalachian Trail journal on, where she proclaimed, “The fire was lit.”
On March 30, husband Mike and one of her two daughters will join her on the 1.9-mile hike on FS 42 in Gilmer County, Ga., to the summit of Springer Mountain, where she will begin her 2,180-mile walk north to Katahdin, Maine.
From two miles to nearly 2,200 in less than three years. Susan doesn’t think it’s any big deal. In fact, she thinks just about anyone could do it.
“If it’s something that keeps burning in your heart, do it. Do it, you won’t regret it.”