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Appalachian Trail is woman's passion

December 06, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ...

Lou Murray



Age: 62

Occupation: Shift manager at Quiznos at North Village Shopping Center on Longmeadow Road.

Hometown: Hammond, La. Now lives in Washington County.

Where would you see Murray? When she's not hiking the Appalachian Trail, Murray either is at work, or enjoying one of her creative pursuits - making music, painting or writing. In fact, it was the trail that brought Murray to Washington County in October 2005.

Murray's connection to the trail began in 1988, about a year before her almost 30-year marriage ended in divorce. She was living in Knoxville, Tenn., at the time, and decided to drive the 50 miles to Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a beautiful fall day.

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Even though Murray never had done any hiking before, she said she fell in love with the trail.

"It just sort of drew me," said Murray, who also goes by the nickname "Louisiana Lou."

Murray is a section hiker - which means she hikes a portion of it at a time - as opposed to a through hiker, who hikes it from end to end at one time.

When she began hiking it, Murray was in her 40s and in condition to complete 20-mile day hikes. She said she is increasingly afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, but is determined not to let that interfere with her goal of hiking the majority of the trail in sections.

Murray said her original goal was to hike the entire trail, but last fall, she "got real" with herself and decided she didn't have to hike "every inch of it." Her new goal is to complete 2,000 miles of the 2,160-mile trail that extends from Georgia to Maine. Murray said she has hiked more than 1,900 miles on the trail, 175 miles since moving to Hagerstown.

She day-hiked all of the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains in three to four years, and established the 900 Miler Association to honor hikers who had completed all of the trails in that park. One of her three sons, Andy, was the youngest person to earn the honor at age 14.

Having hiked most of the southern and northern sections of the trail, Murray decided she would need to move north to complete the middle sections in northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

She hadn't belonged to a church in 30 years, but after arriving in Hagerstown, Murray became a member of the Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, where she attends church on Sunday. In search of a midweek service, she started attending the Wednesday evening services at St. John's Lutheran Church, where she now is a member of the New Spirit Praise Band.

"It doesn't make any sense to be a live wire if you're not connected to anything," Murray said.

A writer all her life, Murray has completed a manuscript detailing her experiences on the trail. She said most of the books published about trail hikers glorify the through hikers, and she wanted to present the perspective of the section hiker, which she said makes up the majority of hikers on the trail.

Titled "Blue Blazes and a Pickup Truck - Slow-Hiking the Appalachian Trail," Murray shares the lessons she has learned from hiking the trail. She met with members of the National Appalachian Trail Conservancy at Harpers Ferry in October about having the book published, but hasn't heard back from them.

Murray's dream is to travel as a representative for the conservancy, sharing stories from the trail and showing her paintings of scenes along the way.

"I want to return something to the Appalachian Trail that has given so much to me," Murray said.

Hobbies: Working six days a week leaves little time for hobbies. Murray, who was born on Mozart's birthday in Seattle, said she has had about 10 careers, from typesetter and art director for a newspaper to secondhand shop owner to food service worker.

Music was a hobby in her teens when she was in a rock 'n' roll band, and became a career for about seven years in the 1960s.

She said she started taking piano lessons at age 4, composing music at age 6, and while a senior at a Catholic girls' high school, she won a piano concerto contest and debuted with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, then played in a student concert with the New Orleans Symphony.

Murray, who plays piano, alto saxophone, guitar, drums and trumpet, studied music composition at Louisiana State University for 3 1/2 years and dropped out just short of graduating when she became pregnant with her first child. She felt not having a degree wouldn't prevent her from pursuing music as a career.

What does Murray like best about Washington County? Murray didn't know where she would settle as she headed north, but when she drove through Hagerstown, she said she liked the energy of the town, where there was new construction in a city that seemed rooted in its history.

"I liked the mix of new and old," Murray said. "It's not a sleepy little town."

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, call Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024, or send an e-mail to janeth@herald-mail.com.

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