Jumper: Heather Housekeeper

Town: Milford, Pennsylvania

Quote: “We live in all we seek.” – Annie Dillard

About Heather: Hi! My name is Heather, but on the trail I go by The Botanical Hiker. I am an herbalist, a writer, and long-distance hiker. I have always been drawn to the woods, the heart-lifting beauty and heart-pounding challenge hiking through them can afford. Nearly a decade ago I set out to fulfill my dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine. I had backpacked before but never for more than a few days at a time. I had never been south of North Carolina nor north of New York. I trained with day-long hikes through the mountains of North Carolina where I lived and read every guidebook I could get my hands on about preparing for the trail. Then I jumped on the trail.

I suffered blisters, knees so swollen I could barely walk, malfunctioning gear, hiked through pouring rain and a snowstorm and winds that literally knocked me down. I experienced homesickness like I had never known. After 1,000 miles of struggling, I got off the trail. I told myself I’d finish the following year but I doubted my ability to do it.

That winter, my grandmother, an incredibly strong-willed woman, passed away. She had read my journals I’d written while hiking those 1,000 miles. “My granddaughter is hiking the Appalachian Trail, I read her journals.” she proudly said to me days before she died, not well enough to know that she was talking to her granddaughter. Her passing reminded me how important it was each day to live life to its fullest. To continue jumping even if we didn’t know where the next jump would land us.

The following year, 1,000 miles the wiser, I jumped again. I began back at the beginning of the trail and didn’t get a blister until 1,400 miles in. My father joined me for nearly 700 miles simply because he wanted to experience the beauty and hardships I had told him about. My mother typed up my written journal entries I sent home. I no longer feared what was around the next bend, over the next mountain, or what wild animal lurked outside my tent. I finished in Maine exactly 5 ½ months later…2 weeks ahead of schedule. My mother presented me with volumes of my writing.

Heather Housekeeper 2

This jump turned out to lay the groundwork for my career. After the AT, I completed my certification in Herbal Medicine. My wheels started turning. How could I combine my love for writing with my education and my passion for long-distance hiking? I decided I’d hike the Mountains to Sea Trail, a little known trail, 1,000 miles across the state of North Carolina. I would be 1 of 25 people and 1 of 5 women to hike this trail. I would study the edible and medicinal plants I encountered along the way, learning how to incorporate them into my back-country meals. To share my writing with a larger audience I would keep a blog detailing my adventure.

Upon completion I published a book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. With my book, I jumped again…back onto the MST for not only a long distance hike but a book tour. I stopped in towns along the way and talked about my experience, I invited townspeople to hike with me. I learned how valuable it was to share experiences.

Since that last hike, I have given talks throughout the eastern United States, meeting other incredible women, getting inspired and inspiring. Most recently I hiked another 1,000 mile trail called the Finger Lakes Trail across the state of New York. I was the first person to hike the entire trail continuously. I am now working on my second book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Finger Lakes Trail. To dream big and take the jumps to fulfill them is one of the greatest gifts you can give to not only yourself but your community. Why stand still when you can jump!