As I ambled over the Bridge of the Gods, canned latte in hand and cars swooping inches away from me as they thudded the steel lattice, I hugged the rail and thought about how odd I must’ve looked to these bypassers. Some understood. These were the ones that beeped and waved, I assumed. To the others, I supposed I was some misfit, an intrepid kid who thought he could prove a point by lumbering across this cantilever bridge with an overstuffed backpack and shabby trekking poles. I didn’t care much for what they thought, but the cogitations were there, overborne by the mystery of what lay ahead.
I knew what it was. A forest. A real forest. The word had been used to describe the landscape on trail before, but only for areas of scattered ponderosa pines sprouting from parched earth, their fallen branches filling the spaces between. This one would have moss-shrouded alders, canvas-white birches, sap-seeping maples, and prolific thicket to fill its voids. I stepped off the bridge and followed the placards to the woods.
Berry foraging slowed me down, but not enough to miss Kristy, Annette, and Lynn at a canopied creek. They were sitting by the creek, patiently squeezing its water through their filters. We exchanged pleasantries, and when I approached the creek, my back now to them, I realized something. They were not strangers. I wasn’t sure how I knew them. But I did.
“Are we connected on social media or something?” I asked.
I was, after all, connected with many like-minded strangers on the platforms. It was possible, they said, and when I told them my name, Annette said it rang a bell. Then I remembered a documentary, one I had seen many times. It was on Robert Bird, a dear friend and trail angel. In the video, a trio of middle-aged women speak about their hike enthusiastically before sending back off into the woods.
“Were you in—a documentary about Robert Bird?” I asked. They were.
I leapfrogged them for five days. We even camped together the night before heading into Trout Lake, where we carpooled into town. I didn’t know much about them, or anything at all about their YouTube channel. What I did know was they had an unwavering camaraderie. Long-distance trails have a reputation for putting dampers in friendships. For these women, it only seemed to strengthen their bond.
I found out when I came home that they had quite the name for themselves in the hiking community. I saw that their YouTube channel, The Wander Women, had vlogs of their hikes spanning back to 2018. They had 11,000 subscribers, and their videos averaged 5 to 10,000 views a pop.
These ladies were bigger than I thought.
The Wander Women
When Colorado Springs residents Kristy Burns, Annette Demel, and Lynn Edmiston retired in 2015, sold everything they owned, and bought RVs, there was no question as to what was next: they would travel the country.
The long-time friends adopted a nomadic lifestyle, meandering from one place to the next in their RVs. They biked, kayaked, and hiked whenever and wherever they could. In the same year they retired, they hiked all five hundred miles of the Colorado Trail. This may seem like quite the feat, but it was merely a precursor for thousands of miles to come.
In the time since, Kristy and Annette have thru-hiked, or traversed every walkable mile of the 425-mile Oregon Coast Trail, the 300-mile Superior Trail in Minnesota, the 100-mile Lone Star Trail in Texas, the 160-mile Collegiate Loop in Colorado, and all three of the America’s major long-distance trails: the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Lynn has done all this except for two thirds of the CDT.
On November 26th of this year, they reached the PCT’s southern terminus. The completion of these major trails, a 7,000-mile accomplishment, awards them with the most prestigious title of American hiking: the Triple Crown. Altogether in their retirement they have visited forty-seven states and fifty national parks.
At 57, Kristy is the youngest of the three. She is a former mental health therapist. Annette and Lynn, both retired from the Colorado Springs School District 11, are 64 years old. This trio of friends is better known by fans as “The Wander Women,” and their YouTube vlogs, which they film on trail, are addicting. With senior status right around the corner, their exuberance, inquisitiveness, and indefatigable spirits set a vibrant example for Baby Boomers.
“Our mission is to get people outside,” as they have said time in and time out.
While they hiked the Appalachian Trail in the traditional manner, south to north, Covid-19 and permitting systems threw them in for a loop on the PCT and CDT, and they chose to “flip-flop,” or start in the middle, go north, then go back to their starting point before heading south to the finish. While all this hiking may sound overwhelming, for the Colorado residents it’s simple: they hike for two hours at a time, take a break, then get back to it. So far, this method brought them almost 9,000 miles on foot.
- Your Youtube Channel is successful compared to other hiking vlogs. In Reno Gazette Journal’s article from this past June, they mentioned you do not monetize from the channel. It seems you could make a few extra dollars by doing this. Is this still true? If so, what persuades you to opt out of monetizing?
It’s true. We don’t monetize our YouTube channel. The videos give us a chance to share our love of the outdoors. For us, it’s creative and fun — a way to give a gift to others.
- What advice do you have for me, if any, as someone who wants to hike the Continental Divide Trail but doesn’t know much about it?
Don’t listen to the rumors about it being too difficult. We loved it. It might be our favorite of the three. It’s remoteness, wild beauty, and diverse terrain, showcase the grandeur of the West. Plus, the opportunity to hike in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and experience the wildlife sets the CDT apart from the other two trails. Carry bear spray when you’re in grizzly country and follow all the recommended food safety protocols.
- I’ve noticed most Triple Crowners finish their feats on the Continental Divide Trail. You three have chosen to finish on the Pacific Crest Trail. Is there a reason for this? Would you recommend this to other Triple Crown prospects?
Our decision of when to hike what was impacted by Covid 19. However, we don’t think it matters what order you choose. Each trail presents its own unique challenges no matter what.
- My parents are in their early sixties. They feel they can’t do a long-distance backpacking trip because of their age. What do you have to say, if anything, to them and others who may hold this same view?
Part of the message that we try to put out there with the videos is that it’s important to be active as we age. If your parents trained, got the right equipment, and got themselves out there, they just might surprise themselves.
- I flip-flopped the Appalachian Trail and loved it. You ladies flip-flopped the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. What motivated you to do these trails this way? Are you glad you chose to flip-flop?
Because of Covid we flip-flopped the CDT and loved how we experienced the seasons on that trail so much that we decided to use the same approach on the PCT. We highly recommend the flip-flop approach.
- When my friend and I hiked the Appalachian Trail, we often got up on our own terms, hiked solo for the day, and regrouped at camp. When I was crossing you three in southern Washington, it appeared you stuck close together. Is this how you normally hike? If so, why?
Yes, we hiked all three trails together. All three of us hike at basically the same pace so it’s kind of effortless. As you know, when you’re on trail you spend the vast majority of time in your own headspace no matter if you’re hiking in near proximity to someone else or not.
- I lived vicariously through you guys as you contended with the wrath of the West Coast fires. Backpacking has been a precarious endeavor for wayfarers heading south on the Pacific Crest Trail this late summer. Can you tell readers briefly about your experience with this and how it affected your hike?
For the last many years in the West, wildfires and smoke have become major obstacles for hikers trying to complete a thru hike. The fires wreak havoc with the idea of a continuous footpath. In our PCT hike we missed about 350 miles of the trail due to fires. At times, the smoke interfered with our enjoyment of a section. Nowadays, hikers pay as much attention to the Air Quality Index (AQI) report as they do the weather reports. It’s part of the adventure to stay flexible, make safe decisions, and be able to change plans on the fly.
- Who hikes the fastest?
We’re all about the same.
- You have some experience with the nomad life. What is your favorite form of nomadic travel, and why?
When we’re not on a thru-hike we travel in our RVs across the country. There are a lot of similarities between thru-hike backpacking and full-time RV travel. Both lifestyles provide rewards: be outside, explore nature, meet new people, have new experiences, and travel light. And challenges: deal with physical discomfort, sometimes you don’t know where you’ll be spending the night, new environments require focused attention, and a lot of unpredictability. Nomadic life requires that one be present and in the moment.
- My tent is shown in one of your videos. Does this make it an invaluable artifact? If so, how much do you think it’s worth now? Thank you for taking the time to do this, and congratulations on your uncanny accomplishment, Kristy, Annette, and Lynn! It was a privilege to share the Pacific Crest Trail with you.
Although we don’t place a high value on the image of your tent, we did truly value the energy and joy of life you shared with us when we met you on trail.
Kristy, Annette, and Lynn’s inaction to monetize may be my favorite aspect of what these ladies do. It shows where their intentions lie. Their contentment in life is overt. Thru-hiking is somewhat about the accomplishment for me, but I don’t think it’s about this at all for The Wander Women. Their desire to be active in nature is eminent, and if they can inspire and entertain others along the way, they’ll do it.
This is not to suggest that outing vloggers who monetize have ulterior motives, but rather this lack of monetizing is part of who The Wander Women are. If they don’t need to monetize, why should they? If they valued money in this way, I imagine they’d be squandering away their time in a cozy, sedentary retirement.
I’ll be sure to carry bear spray in grizzly territory on the CDT. Their advice on this matter has brought me great relief and new excitement. If the CDT is the most grand and divine of the three major trails, I’m glad I saved it for last. My plan for some time was to hike the CDT second, but prospects of hiking the PCT with friends convinced me to switch this plan. Spoiler: I hiked the trail without them.
A longtime sedentary lifestyle (I define this as a life that entails sitting for most of the day on most days) can convince us we’re worse off than we are. I know this because before I hiked the AT I convinced myself I would never be able to run again. Whenever I tried, a twinge struck my lower back, precluding the activity’s continuance. Now, I run fifteen to twenty miles a week, and seldom do these miles take more than eight minutes.
What’s different about me now than before? I’m loose (I don’t think I ever stretched back then), I’m thirty pounds lighter, and I have adapted into a more agile version of myself. The first few weeks of the AT were physical hell, but the transition that occurred in this time was life changing.
I don’t care how you feel now. If you’ve been thinking about doing a thru-hike, you can walk a few miles, and you have the security in life, you must try. If you do, and can prevail through the initial bodily adaptation, there’s a good chance you’ll find you’re stronger than you thought. If you don’t try, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.
There are many perks to flip-flopping, especially if you want to beat the bad weather. The grim stipulation is you won’t be with the crowds, and if you are, it will only be in passing.
Seeing as The Wander Women hike together all day, it’s hard to believe they never get sick of each other. They seem to have found a system that works.
I always enjoyed, and most of the time preferred, to hike with my friend on the AT, but due to varying hiking styles, we did it less than half the time. We would wake up at different times and hike in different time blocks. To keep the camaraderie alive, we hiked most of the trail on our own schedule and regrouped at camp. My best guess as to how The Wander Women can stick so close together is that they have similar styles. Still, their consistent amicability is admirable.
This isn’t the first blog where I’ve mused over the West Coast fires. The increase in burn rates in the twenty-first century is remarkable and grim. With increasing temperatures and decreased water retention on the earth’s surface, we’re going to be in real trouble if we can’t reconstruct society to deal with these issues. The prospect of doing a continuous footpath on the PCT, something that was the norm for decades, is now both a precarious and unrealistic aspiration.
If I ever retire, you can be sure to find me in an RV or some form of mobile living. I am repulsed by the idea of being tethered to one location, but I do understand this is the only option many have. I am grateful for the upbringing I had and the opportunities it’s given me. I can’t stress enough how important it is to think outside of the box, especially for millennials like me in an uncertain world. Financial security is not tantamount to happiness, and I don’t think society values the emulation of our ancestor’s lives enough (i.e. an active, mobile, and insecure living).
Lastly, I have officially removed the tent from eBay. No buyers. Dang it. To see the clip, watch the video below (the tent at 17:12):
Thank you, Kirsty, Annette, and Lynn for making this article possible. I am much obliged, and I hope we cross paths again.
If you like fun, informative, and entertaining hiking vlogs, be sure to check out The Wander Women’s YouTube channel. Link Below:
To see The Wander Women in Maximilian Armstrong’s award-winning documentary, click the link below and skip to 3:15:
If you like The Wander Women, be sure to follow them on Instagram:
To read more on The Wander Women, check out the stories below:
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