A Testament of Resilience and Adaptation on the Trail

Throughout Year of the Trail, we’ve heard multiple stories of triumph, resilience, and adaptation surface, weaving a rich tapestry of experiences and achievements. One such story that particularly resonates with September’s theme of setting and achieving goals comes from Mary Stewart, a fellow trail enthusiast who has graciously shared her personal journey.

For everyone, a trail adventure begins with a decision, a commitment to step into nature and embrace the journey ahead. Mary’s initial commitment to the MST ignited a flame of passion and connection to the trail that would prove unyielding in the face of obstacles and challenges. Follow along as Mary tells her incredibly inspiring story.

“Back in 2016, I decided to section hike the MST over a 2-year period, and that’s where my love for this trail began. Sometimes goals can be met head-on, and sometimes you have to modify them to reach them. 

After I finished the MST, I had started my section hike of the AT and then the pandemic hit which meant no shuttles were available. In order to still be able to get trail time, I switched back to the MST and did the 40 Great Day Hikes on the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail challenge since this could be done socially distanced.

When COVID was over, I continued my section hike of the AT and had just hit my 1000-mile mark when health issues arose. I had to get off trail and was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had to have my kidney removed. 

MST Birthday Hikes – Year after Year!

My recovery falls during September, which is the MST’s birthday month and they have a challenge every year to celebrate. Since the trail is 46 years old this year, the challenge is to hike 46 miles. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get that many miles in on my own steam this year, so I set the goal of doing what miles I could on mine own and then having friends and family push me in a wheelchair on the greenway portions of the trail to make up the rest of the miles. It has helped my recovery go exceptionally well.

The actual birthday day of the MST is September 9th, and every year since I completed the trail in 2018, I have had some type of birthday celebration all somewhere on the MST, except one year from afar on the AT. Fortunately, my modified goal allowed me to do that again this year.


Nature is so good for the soul, and we are lucky to live in such a beautiful state with many outdoor activity options. I encourage you to set your own goals, big or small, and get outside on an adventure of your own soon.”

In Mary’s experience and that of so many others, we see that The Great Trails State and Year of the Trail is not just a theme or a celebration but a living, breathing entity woven together by the stories, challenges, triumphs, and unyielding spirit of every individual who steps upon its paths.

Trailside finds on the MST

UPDATE: As of Friday, September 29th, Mary has walked all 46 birthday miles on the MST without any assistance. She’s also completed an additional 19 by wheelchair as well.