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  • Writer's pictureCatherine White

Melanie Wood: A Woman in Search of Freedom

Finding Strength and Solitude Training to Trek the Appalachian Trail

There are those among us who set lofty goals that may intimidate the faint of heart. Melanie Wood, owner and founder of Soul Ease Medical Massage and Mind Body Therapies, decided to take on a life-changing challenge that will push her physical and mental capabilities to the limit.

In June, the Corning business owner and podcaster publicly (and boldly) stated her intention on social media to hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia in 2024. She started Onward: An Ongoing Hiking Story, a video blog of her training exercises to help her achieve this ambitious goal.

This summer, Melanie has spent much of her free time hiking a variety of mountains throughout the region, and beyond, to prepare for the six-month adventure in her relatively near future.

In the first video, Melanie explains how and why she decided to make hiking the Appalachian Trail her goal, explaining how she’s always been curious to see how far she could push herself, as well as her excitement at having made the conscious choice to be an adventurer and storyteller. Both are evident in the videos she’s posted thus far, documenting her journey. So far, that’s four videos (one is a two-parter) of hikes she’s recently completed, including treks on the Finger Lakes Trail and in the Catskill Mountains.

First episode of the video podcast "Onward: An Ongoing Hiking Story," which documents Elmiran Melanie Wood's journey to prepare to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2024.

Melanie shares the sights, sounds and smells of the northern woods with viewers in a soothing, yet spirited, voice that immediately makes one want to pull on their hiking boots and hit the trails for the exquisite beauty as well as the challenge.

“I hike to remind myself that I am sturdy and determined to grow in my own unique way despite the twists and turns and challenges that Life casually tosses at me,” Melanie explains in the first episode of her new video series.

When you begin watching Onward, you realize that she’s not only training for the physical challenges of her journey, but also for the mental and emotional toll that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail may, at times, take. There will most certainly be moments of loneliness and danger during this solitary excursion. However, the videos also provide a sense of what a breathtakingly beautiful journey Melanie’s undertaking. No matter who you are, pledging to hike the incredibly daunting Appalachian Trail solo is an empowering and enlightening aspiration.

“I’ve dabbled with many, many miles of the Finger Lakes Trails in Upstate N.Y. and in the Adirondacks,” she says in the first episode. “I’ve completed the Lake George 12 and the Catskills 3500. I’ve spent hours and hours on mountains. Going up. Going down. Going up, going down … and, do you know what I’ve learned? Sometimes this beauty that nature provides is the ONLY thing that I can trust is real and consistent. Sometimes more than my own heart.”

Photos and logo provided by Melanie Wood. (Photos left to right) Onward's host stumbles across hotel ruins on a training hike in the Catskill Mountains, the logo for the video podcast Onward: An Ongoing Hiking Story, and Wood posing on the peak of one of the mountains she's conquered as she trains to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2024.

On one excursion in the Catskills, Melanie stumbles upon the remains of an abandoned hotel, Overlook Mountain House, resting spookily in shaded wood. One learns after watching just one of her videos that opportunities to encounter the magical and mysterious, in addition to a variety of interesting and colorful nature and wildlife, are endless. She also sprinkles some history and education throughout her videos, with interesting tidbits of information, meditations, tips and suggestions.

“It’s not just about going on a hike to feel happy. It’s about feeling it all,” Melanie says, explaining her acceptance of the difficulties she’s sure to encounter “spending hours and hours daily in nature.”

While Onward may not inspire you to sacrifice six to eight months of your life tackling the 2,190+-mile Appalachian Trail, it will surely have you itching to check out some of the scenic natural surroundings enveloping the Southern Tier.

Whether you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast or you’d rather appreciate nature from afar, Melanie’s Onward video series can scratch your itch. She’s also started Pace of Peace, which will be a series of short videos of peaceful natural settings that will lower your blood pressure and bring a bit of nature’s tranquility to you wherever you may be.

“Whether I’m alone or not, this is my respite.”

Melanie is happy to share her expertise and knowledge to help hiking adventurers get started with three hikes of varying degrees of difficulty in the Southern Tier. You can check them out here.

Keep up with Melanie's journey by subscribing to the Onward: An Ongoing Hiking Story channel on YouTube, and following the podcast on Facebook.


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