Lifelong Lawrencian to share experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail

Lawrencian Joanne Renfro hiked the Appalachian trail from March to August 2014. In this photo, Renfro climbs rocks in Palmerton, Pa.

Lawrencian Joanne Renfro crosses a river in Maine.

Lawrencian Joanne Renfro atop a sign when she summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Next week, lifelong Lawrencian Joanne Renfro, 55, will relive “the most amazing experience” of her life.

As part of the Lawrence Public Library’s Physical Fitness Month, Renfro will detail her experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 at the library, 707 Vermont St.

From March to August this year, the Lawrence mural artist hiked the 2,185-mile trail from Georgia to Maine, learning about nature — and herself — along the way.

“The strangeness becomes normal. Everything you need is strapped to your back,” Renfro said. “It really gives perspective on what you really need.”

Renfro made the trip with just two sets of clothing and minimal provisions stuffed inside her 30-pound backpack. At night, she’d sleep beneath the stars and at times would be awakened by unwelcome visitors.

“My first night sleeping alone a bear came through my camp,” Renfro said. “But they are ‘chicken’ bears, so I just made noise and it ran away.”

An avid runner, Renfro said she got into the best shape of her life while hiking the challenging terrain. Renfro had done a few daylong hikes at the Grand Canyon, Mount Whitney and the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, but this was her first time to go backpacking.

“The trail gets more difficult the further north you go with rocks and rivers, but by that time you’re in great shape,” Renfro said. “You normally don’t have 10 hours a day to go work out.”

In order to have five free months to spend climbing through the wilderness, Renfro had to wait until the right time in her life. Before she could take the trip she said she had been dreaming of for 10 years, she wanted her three grown children to be completely independent.

“It was the right time. Everyone was out of college and nobody was getting married,” Renfro said. “This was my life goal.”

Since accomplishing her goal, Renfro said she encourages others to do the same.

“If you have something you want to do, do it,” Renfro said. “You can’t use life as an excuse. If you’ve got a big goal, go for it.”

Renfro’s Jan. 8 talk is one of seven events the library will host as part of Physical Fitness Month. Other programs are: Lawrence Parks and Recreation sampler exercise class at 9:15 a.m. Saturday; family sports movie day at 2 p.m. Saturday; health and wellness 101 class at 1 p.m. Jan. 14, 21, 28 and Feb. 4 and 11; yoga class at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14; power biking class at 7 p.m. Jan. 22; chair exercising class with Independence, Inc. and LPR at 7 p.m. Jan. 26.

All events are free and open to the public.