August 13, 2013

Missing hiker's husband clings to hope, memories

By JOSH BROWN The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The last morning that George Largay saw his wife, they bid farewell as she set out for a three-day hike on a treacherous stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

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George Largay talks Monday about his wife Gerry, who vanished in July while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Largay as well as his daughter Kerry Bauchiero spoke at the offices of McNeely Piggott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn.

Steven S. Harman / The Tennessean

click image to enlarge

George Largay talks Monday about his wife Gerry, who vanished in July while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Largay as well as his daughter Kerry Bauchiero spoke at the offices of McNeely Piggott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn.

Steven S. Harman / The Tennessean

The goodbyes had become routine for the Brentwood, Tenn., couple. Geraldine Largay, known as Gerry, was in the final weeks of a 1,165-mile trek along the northern half of the trail. Since she began the journey in April, he had followed her along the way, meeting her at crossroads to replenish his wife's supplies.

Hiking the trail was a lifelong dream for the 66-year-old retired nurse, and when she set out that Sunday morning, July 21, for 32-mile hike, she was a little more than 200 miles away from fulfilling it.

"She loved camping. She loved outdoors," George Largay said in an interview Monday. "The ultimate hike for someone who really loves hiking as she does is the Appalachian Trail."

Gerry carried her cellphone along, and throughout the trip she often sent text messages to her husband to let him know about her progress. Later that day, she messaged as she reached the peak of one of the first of several mountains on her three-day hike. The next day, July 22, she messaged again, this time saying she was heading toward her next stop, eight miles away.

Largay was last seen at the Spaulding Mountain lean-to on July 23.

George Largay never heard from her again. When she didn't arrive at their meeting point on Tuesday evening, July 23, he figured she must have stopped because of the rain. By Wednesday, he contacted the authorities.

Nearly three weeks have passed, during which a massive search effort across the area where she was last seen turned up no trace of evidence. After more than a week of searching, the Maine Warden Service scaled back its search to 4.2 square miles of rough, mountainous terrain, but found no new evidence or information.

Searches on Aug. 4 by 115 volunteers -- including wardens, dog teams, trained foot searchers and searchers on horseback -- were concentrated in the area between Lone Mountain and Mount Abram.

The rugged, steep terrain, just off the trail in Franklin County, is rife with treacherous basins.

Lt. Kevin Adam of the Maine Warden Service called the search for Largay mystifying, saying almost all hikers who disappear from the trail in Maine are found within a day.

Last week, George Largay returned to Tennessee to try to figure out what to do next.

"The uncertainty is the toughest part," he said. "Until they find Gerry, there's always the unknown, and that's almost tougher than the known."

On Monday, he met with reporters at the Nashville offices of McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations to talk about his experience and his wife's legacy.

"The more information that we can get out there that might help to an ultimate resolution to the whole situation, that's our main reason for being here today," he said. "If it helps in the whole process of finding her, that's great."

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.

"I'm trying to do two things -- one is to focus on the positives, reminding myself that she was absolutely where she wanted to be, doing absolutely what she wanted to be doing with every fiber of her being," he said.

Despite the tragedy, Largay wants his wife's life to serve as an inspiration for others.

"She would want this to help inspire somebody who's maybe on the sidelines, and never thought about doing something like this at age 66, almost 67, to not hold back, just really to go for it," he said. "Because she embraced life, and she would want anyone who reads about this to -- that this would serve as a reason to do it, or to do something else that they were thinking about, versus to sit on the sidelines and play safe."

Largay, too, finds inspiration in his wife's memory, and wants to find ways to keep her always in his thoughts.

"She was where she wanted to be," he said. "That's easier said than done when you've been happily married for 42 years, and had visions of it being a lot longer than that. But she was following the dream, and I have to go with that."

 

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