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Extensive history with Maine

Through exploration, education, Raymond takes to great outdoors

For 35-year-old, trail always returns to hiking, running, exercising in nature
By Holly Vanorse Spicer | May 14, 2020
Courtesy of: Hannah Raymond Hannah Raymond hikes the Continental Divide Trail.

Searsmont — When Hannah Raymond was growing up she never would have told anyone nature was her calling.

It was not until after her college career, in which she held the idea of a more indoor-type of future in mind, did the now Searsmont resident realize the great wide open suited her heart's desire the most.

Raymond, 35, spent many summers with her family in Maine, but the decision to call the Pine Tree State home did not come until six years ago.

“I grew up in a lot of places, and my parents are actually from Maine, but I moved here about six years ago,” she said.

Before settling in Maine with a career as a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) professional, before trekking thousands of miles of trail hikes, and even before traveling around the country in a seasonal educator role, Raymond’s life looked a little differently.

Through an environmental education job, Raymond, before making the move, had done considerable traveling. Each season, her job took her to a new area.

"I had a very traditional undergraduate experience, and even a somewhat traditional high school experience," she said.

Discovering new passions

Raymond attended college at Barnard College in New York City with the goal of becoming a screen writer.

“I discovered that New York City living was probably not the right choice for me,” she said.

After graduating with a degree in philosophy, she came to Maine to work with the Maine Conservation Corps. During the six months she worked for the organization, she helped the process of building and maintaining trails.

“That was a pretty formative experience for me. Really highlighted where I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do,” she said.

When she wrapped her time with the MCC, she spent the next six years working at environmental education centers as a seasonal educator across the United States.

She said in the midst of that, she began to think that there was more that she could learn, professionally, outside of her seasonal positions.

From there, she enrolled in what was then the Audubon Expedition Institute (now the Expedition Education Institute), also known as “The Bus.”

“That’s when I hopped on the bus,” she said.

The experience taught her about living in community, and the impact small communities can make as they travel.

Since wrapping her education on "The Bus," Raymond’s passion, as well as career path, has become learning from communities, and being centered in play-space education.

“I’ve been lucky to land a position, full-time, for it at Tanglewood 4H Camp and Learning Center in Lincolnville,” she said.

Most days of the week, Raymond interacts with teachers and students. Her job is to get them into their outdoor classrooms, and to figure out the best way to create that sense of learning community, and sustainability within rural schools.

“It’s definitely been a long journey, and I think that more and more, students are realizing it early on that that’s what they want to do, which is great,” she said.

She added she wishes it was something she had realized, and had, when she was 16 years old.

“I never went to summer camp. I just came to Maine, and played during the summers with my family,” she said.

Her job, she said, allows her to address the needs that a lot of people have for being outdoors, getting exercise, and engaging with people on a daily basis.

On run

Getting outside, and getting exercise, is something else Raymond discovered she enjoyed while at at college.

As a stress reliever, she said she took up running.

“We had this track, and it was 1/16th of a mile. I remember being so proud when I got around that indoor track 16 times,” she said.

It led her to her first race in Van Courtlandt Park, in the Bronx.

“It was pretty different from most races in New York City,” she said.

Different in the aspect that New York City is commonly known for its road races, and the Van Courtlandt race was a trail running race.

“It was super hard,” Raymond said.

She added that, reflecting back on that race, is why she got into trail racing.

Since tackling that first race, Raymond has gone on to complete marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, several trail races, and smaller distance road races.

“I was on the debate team, and the forensics team in high school,” said Raymond.

She said she thinks a lot of people assume she has been running since middle school track.

Her longest solo run distance, in a straight run, has been marathon distance, or 26.2 miles. She has, however, run 34 miles for a Ragnar Race series she participated in.

“That was almost worse though,” Raymond said.

In the race series, over the course of a 36-hour period, runners race a certain distance, then stop to rest for a certain amount of time before they continue.

“Your legs tense up, and it’s bad,” she said.

While Raymond said she almost exclusively trail runs, she is a familiar face at area 5-kilometer road races.

“I try to do as many as I can, just because there are such good causes,” she said.

“I’m not a 5K runner. It’s not that impressive for me to go and run a 5K. I’m classic middle of the pack, I never see anyone, I’m just plodding along,” she said.

Raymond likes the pace of the trail, how it slows the mind and body, and how she can take the time to notice what is going on around her.

One of the reasons she loves Maine, especially where she lives in Searsmont, so much, she said, is because she has a trail outside her backdoor.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s a really neat spot. It’s technical in ways trails out west are not,” she said.

The trail does not have much elevation, she said, but the tread itself is a challenge.

Five years ago, she competed in her first triathlon and discovered a passion for the swim, bike and run.

The swim portion was the hardest part in the beginning. After setting to work on her swimming ability over the past few years, Raymond said her swim is better than her run.

Branching out from road and trail races has proven to be beneficial for Raymond.

“I find, at least running and biking use complementary muscles, so that’s been great. Swimming is upper body, core, and cardiovascular,” she said.

She added biking has been a positive for her mentally, as she does not have a lot of what is called fast-twitch muscles naturally, so she really has to push herself through that.

Raymond considers herself fortunate not to have suffered running injuries, and she credits the approach she takes.

“It’s not something I feel like I have to do, but something I feel like I want to do, always,” she said.

If there is a day that she does not feel like running, she opts out.

“I’m very conservative in my training,” she said.

Her passion for running, and physical fitness, is how she found her way to the program, Girls on the Run, as a coach.

Girls on the Run was established by Molly Barker in 1996 to help young girls develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles, and build confidence through dynamic, and interactive physical games. The sessions culminate in a celebratory 5K run.

Raymond said she got involved after going on runs with a friend, who is the Midcoast Regional Coordinator for GOTR. The need for coaches for the program was brought up during conversations as they ran.

“She knew that I had a background in facilitating activities with youth, and that I also enjoyed being physically active,” Raymond said.

Raymond said she has been involved in the program for about three years, having officially coached two spring sessions, a fall session, and worked with the summer programs.

The coronavirus pandemic canceled the spring 2020 session, and in 2019, Raymond said she missed the 2019 programs as she was hiking the Continental Divide Trail.

Taking scenic route

In April of 2019, Raymond, and her hiking partner, Erik Ludwig, began to hike a part of the Continental Divide Trail.

The trail is 3,100 miles, stretching between Mexico and Canada. The CDT, along with the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail, form what is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking in the United States.

“We only did a few thousand miles, due to tough weather,” Raymond said.

The poor weather also made it hard to total the number of hiking days they had. After around five weeks of hiking, they reached a point of snow on the trail.

“A lot of people just kinda slogged through, but we chose not to, because we actually wanted to be up in the mountains. A lot of people were taking some of the low routes,” she said.

It was then they opted to leave the trail and return later.

“We hopped off in early June, maybe, and hopped back on, July 5 or July 6. Then we hopped off the first week of September,” she said.

The total miles they hiked were 2,200-2,300 miles. Just a few hundred miles less than a hike that Raymond did in 2012, the Pacific Coast Trail.

Beginning in May of 2012, Raymond did what is called a through-hike of the PCT. The PCT is 2,650-miles long, extending from Campo, on the United States and Mexico border, to Manning Park, British Columbia.

It took Raymond, and her hiking partner, 113 days to hike the trail.

She had wanted to explore the west, however, because of the water issues, Raymond said she had an issue with living there. She added that was why she chose to live on the East Coast.

“I thought, what better way to hike it,” she said.

With her work as a seasonal educator, it was easy for Raymond to tackle the hike.

“We hiked it on the cusp of not many people using their phones to navigate yet,” she said.

Raymond, and her hiking partner, brought a map, compass and left their phones behind.

“We were really just kind of out there. It was definitely a learning experience,” she said.

She said the most difficult part of hiking with another person was reconciling the differences between needs, wants, and the paces of two different human beings.

“When you’re tired, and hungry, and potentially lost, communication can be hard. Those challenges are definitely amplified,” Raymond said.

Anyone can do it, she said. There is no commitment to a route, pace, or even gear, because all of those things can change along the way.

“That flexibility is something we really learned was important,” she said.

She added it was humbling to see how you react, and to examine your own character under stress.

Comparing the two hikes, Raymond said the CDT was considerably different.

“I was older, obviously, and maybe just driven by different motives. I wasn’t necessarily pushing through a lot of things that I would have done on the Pacific Crest,” she said.

Unlike the PCT hike, she and her hiking partner used technology to guide their hike. However, despite feeling less limited by that, they felt more limited by the terrain and route.

With leaving the trail when they did in September, Raymond said she and Ludwig got to a point where they were okay with leaving the trail and were satisfied with what they had accomplished during the hike.

“So that’s what we did, and I don’t think either of us regret it,” she said.

As to getting back on the trail at some point to hike what they did not in 2019, Raymond said they saved the trail in the mountains of Northern New Mexico for a later time.

Raymond also would like to, at some point, hike the Appalachian trail. She said she would section hike that trail, unlike a full hike as she did with the PCT, or a near-full hike with the CDT.

“I don’t think we’re gonna do a hike of more than a couple hundred miles again at this point,” she said.

Time also factors in to the decision to section hike the Appalachian if they get the chance.

For the CDT hike, Raymond said she was fortunate to have gotten a six-month leave from her job. She also said she knows that is something that most likely will not happen again for awhile.

“Really, time is a barrier,” she said.

“That trail is crowded. It’s obviously been around, gotten a lot of publicity, and it’s relatively accessible. I think we choose the season, and we would section hike it for sure,” she said.

Having an access point to the trail in Maine can make parts of hiking the trail easier.

In regards to her long hikes, Raymond said it is something one never really does alone, or with a partner. It is something one really needs the support of the surrounding communities.

“Countless people have picked us up hitchhiking on the side of the road, have left food at trailheads, have sent letters, and emails of encouragement,” she said.

She said she never could have gotten through those experiences without the people who she, and her hiking partner, knew were rooting for them at home, and helping from along the trail.

“One of my goals is to get back to the trails at some point,” she said.

After she left the Maine Conservation Corp., Raymond did volunteer trail work with the Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail crew, also known as the SWEAT Crew.

Based near Gatlinburg, Tenn., the SWEAT Crew is considered to be one of the most challenging crews to work on. It addresses trail maintenance issues in the most remote backcountry areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Crew are required to be able to backpack six to 11 miles with packs weighing 55 pounds or more to the sites they will stay for six days at a time. Hikes to and from the worksites can be up to eight miles.

“I would love to go back and do more of that,” Raymond said.

“That’s a way to get out there, and know a place, and give back, but not commit to weeks and weeks,” she said.

Until that time comes, Raymond plans to focus on her work at Tanglewood, and shorter hiking plans.

Hannah Raymond hiking the Continental Divide Trail in 2019. (Courtesy of: Hannah Raymond)
Hannah Raymond hiking the Continental Divide Trail in 2019. (Courtesy of: Hannah Raymond)
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