The Courageous Life and Death of Gerry Largay

By Doug Williams
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© Maine Warden service
© Maine Warden service
 
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Gerry Largay was a sixty-six-year-old hiker who had disappeared from the Appalachian Trail in July of 2013. Since her disappearance, the sheriff had received hundreds of tips on the hotline and several alleged sightings, all of which came to nothing. He did not want to give up hope and wanted to continue the search for this hiker.

 

In October of 2015, a forester from a private company had begun the task of taking an inventory of trees on land used by the Navy’s remote survival school in Maine. He started this task in the forest at a point that had been generated by a computer. He walked along straight lines and would count the trees that he passed in the process. As he continued throughout this process, he stumbled upon more than just some trees to count. He found an old campsite with a collapsed tent and a backpack; unfortunately, not far beyond there he saw some human remains in a sleeping bag. He quickly called his headquarters; they got into contact with the Navy, who then made Maine law enforcement aware of the situation.

The sheriff, after receiving the call and pictures take at the site, felt as though his search was finally over – this campsite had to have belonged to the hiker, Gerry Largay.

 

He joined the forester who originally discovered the site, along with about ten wardens, several members of the State Police Evidence Response Team, agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, people from the office of Maine’s chief medical examiner, and a film crew for the series North Woods Law. This crew began their hike to the site at a fairly slow,somber pace .

Two hours later the crew arrived at the site. There they found Gerry Largay’s body inside of her sleeping bag. Her driver’s license was packaged in a zip-lock bag. All the signs pointed to the fact that Gerry tried hard to survive and be rescued. There were many signs of fires, and there were remnants of emergency blankets. It was a very disheartening sight for all the people who had been searching tirelessly for Gerry, they all held on to the hope that they would be able to eventually rescue her and bring her home.

Gerry Largay was a beautiful woman inside and out. She lived her life in the pursuit of helping others, her career as a nurse, a family woman through and through and a close friend to many for whom she was always available. In her free time, she went into the woods exploring and just experiencing nature all around her. For years she attended a hiking camp and instilled a love of hiking into her family, particularly her grandson. When she was not outside, she was working on creating elaborate quilts.

Eventually, Gerry settled on the goal of hiking the Appalachian trail, something that is certainly no easy feat as it is more than 2100 miles long. She had set her sights on this goal and was training to get prepared for the hike in November 2012.

She began taking long practice hikes and was not even deterred by a back injury which made is nearly impossible for her to carry a fully-equipped backpack. To help out, her husband George supported her by meeting her at trailheads and road crossings with more supplies, and then picking her up at the end of the day and bringing her back the next morning so that she could continue. Throughout the training, she also began keeping a trail journal so that she could document her experiences and her feelings throughout the training process.

The first few practice hikes that she took certainly came with their fair share of obstacles as it was sometimes hard to find George. There was limited cell phone reception and often times Gerry worried that she would have to stay out in the wilderness without a tent or sleeping bag. As time went on and the practices became more frequent, Gerry and George had perfected their routine, and training really picked up as a result.

Finally Gerry and her long time hiking partner Jane Lee decided to do the hike. They were going to a do flip-flop hike, which meant that they would start in the middle of the trail and get to a mountain in Maine and then drive back to Harpers Ferry and hike to a mountain in Georgia. George would scout the area and have motels or campgrounds for them to stay in at night. Gerry was fully immersed in the experience and loved the scenery and the wildlife all around her.

It was finally time for Gerry to do what she had trained for and she had finished almost 900 miles of it; she was excited and committed – the cardinal rule is to leave no trace, and she was doing just that. When she had to relieve herself she went a little ways off the trail; she got lost, and there was no cell reception to text her husband. George became worried when she did not return and then a search party was sent out, everyone looking for this amazing woman hoping to find her.

Hikers on the trail thought they had seen her, but it would have placed her a long way off from where she was supposed to be, the trail went cold.

Even with death imminent Gerry was thinking not of herself but of her loved ones, she wrote down in letters of her gratitude and love for her family.

 
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