Deep in the woods of Maine, a camera crew are combing through one of the state’s most remote regions when they come across a lonely tent. They investigate further and, shifting aside the other possessions sealed inside, soon discover a journal filled with heartbreaking entries. It’s not, however, until they notice who owned the journal that they realize they’ve just uncovered the fate of a hiker who has been missing for two years.
Geralidine Largay was 66 years old when she disappeared, and she had always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. It is one of the world’s most famous hiking trails, after all, and it extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
In 2013, then, the mother-of-one from Brentwood, Tennessee finally decided to make her dream come true. She set off with a traveling companion and the aim of conquering the mighty trail.
Some time after they had begun the hike, however, Largay’s companion received news of a family emergency and was forced to leave the trail, and Largay, behind. It was at this vital juncture that made her first bad decision: she determined to continue on alone.
Then, on July 22, she left the trail in search of a secluded space in which to relieve herself. Unfortunately, the trail is unforgiving, and Largay soon became lost in the dense forest.
That day, Largay texted her husband George to say that she was in trouble. She told him that she was somewhere north of Woods Road and asked him to contact the Appalachian Mountain Club for help.
Sadly, a lack of cell phone service in the area meant that George never received his wife’s text. The same problem persisted the next day, when she attempted to send him a message reiterating that she was lost and asking him to call the police.
Despite never having received her texts, though, George reported his wife missing when she failed to check in with him on July 24. It was the start of one the largest search and rescue operations the Maine Warden Service would ever conduct.
Teams of hundreds of volunteers and wardens began scouring the countryside around the trail for any sign of Largay. They eventually covered an area of 23 square miles, including some of the region’s most remote terrain.
However, officials called off the search on July 30 with no trace of Largay having been found. Her disappearance would remain a mystery for more than two years.
In October 2015, however, a crew filming an episode of North Woods Law for Animal Planet finally stumbled upon evidence of Largay’s fate. Indeed, they came across the remains of a makeshift camp on raised ground above the trail.
They called it in, and a warden made a grisly discovery as he pulled back a tarpaulin covering the abandoned tent. There – nestled inside a sleeping bag – were Largay’s remains.
For those who had been a part of the hunt for the lost hiker, it was a distressing find. “There’s nobody that wanted to bring her home more than we did,” Warden Kris Maccabe told the Animal Planet network. “I really feel for the family.”
Alongside Largay’s body, they also found her personal effects, including her cellphone. The messages that she had attempted to send to her husband remained unsent.
Most heartrending of all, however, was the journal that she left behind. In it, Largay had left a message that indicated that she had known that she was going to die in the woods.
“When you find my body please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” it read. “It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you find me – no matter how many years from now.”
The last entry in the journal was dated August 18, a full 27 days after Largay had wandered from the trail and 18 days after the search had been called off. It is thought that she had sought out higher ground with the hope of getting a signal on her cellphone before making camp.
Eventually, though, Largay succumbed to the elements, perishing from exposure and starvation. She was found just 3,000 feet – or half a mile – from the trail.
Her final request had been for her eventual rescuers to send her journal to her surviving relatives. “Please find it in your hearts to mail the contents of this bag to one of them,” she wrote.
While Largay’s family mourn her death, they remain full of praise for those who dedicated huge amounts of time and energy in an attempt to bring her home. “Gerry was doing exactly what she wanted to do,” they said in a statement. “As the warden’s report indicates, she was lucid and thinking of others – as always – until the end.”