Book Review: When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail, by D. Dauphinee

A whodunit where the “who” turns out to be nature and decisions could be anti-climactic. The title and an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book foretell the tragic ending in When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail, by D. Dauphinee (DownEast Books 2019), but the story in between remains taut and meaningful. Geraldine Largay, a sixty-six year old Appalachian Trail (AT) hiker, trail name “Inchworm,” disappeared in July 2013 on a section of the AT in western Maine, and despite a wide search, her remains were found inside a sleeping bag by surveyors in October 2015, less than eight hundred yards from the AT.

As Largay cannot bear witness anymore (besides e-mails, text messages, and notes from the hike), Dauphinee largely focuses on the searchers from the Maine Warden Service and other agencies, the friends, and the fellow hikers to tell Largay’s story. The misinformation, inaccurate tips, and rumors are seen in split-screen with the actual timeline created from digital and physical artifacts of Largay. As Dauphinee concludes at the end of a chapter, “The behavior of lost people is a challenging study.”

Woven throughout the narrative on Largay’s disappearance is a broader examination of the AT’s history, its lore, terminology, and culture, and the reasons each hiker has for tackling all or part of the trail. Dauphinee also devotes a fair amount of time to the concepts of Search And Rescue and the mindset of the lost person. The irony that Largay became disoriented and eventually died on lands used for training by the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school could have been played up for effect, and indeed, Dauphinee references sensational Bollard news articles which insinuated that this Navy “torture school” was responsible for Largay’s disappearance, and other theories about prescription drugs. But this conspiracy-type thinking is quickly neutralized by Dauphinee’s interviews and interactions, including with a retired SERE instructor who participated in the search, and who was emotionally affected by the failed effort. Dauphinee eventually returns with the SERE instructor for a somber visit to the site at which Largay’s remains were found. Dauphinee’s book ends with an epilogue in which he discusses the practical lessons that may be learned from Largay’s tragedy.

It is the mark of good writing that, even when the end is never in doubt, the reader still feels compelled to turn each page, to explore the broader story. In this case, human nature and years of evolution make it a story that sticks with us beyond the closing of the book, a survival lesson learned. And the care taken by Daupinee to be respectful, to make the kind, gregarious Largay more than a statistic, builds a character that the reader roots for, even knowing the outcome.

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Wadleigh Mountain

Fading light on Wadleigh Brook Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine

Wadleigh Mountain (1,259 ft) is a short hike just inside the Scientific Forest Management Area (SFMA) in the north of Maine’s Baxter State Park. The hike, described in the Maine Mountain Guide, begins at the trailhead for Wadleigh Brook (parking in a small area across the Park Tote Road) just west of the SFMA kiosk. Baxter State Park’s downloadable trail map of the SFMA covers this area. This flat, fast trail moves initially through a pine forest above Wadleigh Brook. Moose and bear scat were frequently visible, but the only animals I saw were squirrels and birds.

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Howe Brook Falls

Lower South Branch Pond from Pogy Notch Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine

Howe Brook Falls is a spectacular four mile total out-and-back waterfall hike from South Branch Pond Campground in the northern half of Baxter State Park. I tacked this hike on to a South Branch Pond Loop hike, which is covered separately in another post, but the Howe Brook hike itself can be done in about three hours or less. A detailed description and map of this hike is found in the books Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park and Hiking Waterfalls Maine, and a Baxter State Park downloadable map of South Branch Pond is available on BSP’s website.

Howe Brook Trail, Baxter State Park, Maine
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Albany Mountain

Beaver pond, Albany Mountain Trail, WMNF, Maine

For the best foliage hikes, I often return to the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), which has the perfect mix of pine and deciduous forest, displayed in sunny tiers, to boost the powerful colors of fall in New England. Albany Mountain (1,930 ft) in south Oxford county, near Bethel, on the eastern edge of WMNF, is a relatively easy climb for the quality of its views, which include a variety of fall colors spread across the forests, lakes, and hills leading to the White Mountains to the west. The hike is fully described in the Maine Mountain Guide, and downloadable maps are available from the site of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the WMNF. A small parking area with a trail map and information kiosk is located off Crocker Pond Road in WMNF. From here, the yellow-blazed trail led through a yellow, green and orange October forest. Strategically placed rocks bridged small streams, and cut swaths on the margins let light into the surrounding forest.

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Mt. Pisgah

Kennebec Land Trust kiosk at parking area, Mt. Pisgah, Winthrop, Maine

The Mt. Pisgah Community Conservation Area in Winthrop, Maine, is part of over 1,000 acres managed by the Kennebec Land Trust (KLT) and the Town of Winthrop. A trail map is available on the KLT website. The structure of the trails, all marked with blue blazes, makes a full loop impossible without re-tracing steps, but on a mid-October day, we chose to use the Tower Trail, Ledges Trail, and an easy .3 mile up and back on the Blueberry Trail to complete a satisfying 4-mile clockwise exploration of Mt. Pisgah in a little under two hours.

Twisted sugar maple on Tower Trail, Mt. Pisgah Conservation Area, Winthrop, Maine
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South Branch Pond Loop

Lower South Branch Pond in the morning from trailhead, Baxter State Park, ME

The South Branch Pond Campground in Maine’s Baxter State Park overlooks two pristine ponds in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. The South Branch Pond Loop hike is a 6.6 mile loop that leaves from the southwest corner of the campground and includes South Branch Mountain (2630 ft) and Black Cat Mountain (2611 ft) in its counterclockwise circuit of these lower and upper ponds. A full description of the hike can be found in the Maine Mountain Guide, or as an out-and-back to Black Cat Mountain in Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park. A map of the South Branch Pond area is available for download from BSP’s website. Leaving early from behind the ranger station, I started the hike with wet shoes, as South Branch Pond Brook, the outlet from Lower South Branch Pond, stands between the trailhead kiosk and the remaining trail, and was running high after the night’s rains. The trail was marked in intervals by fresh moose droppings. Less than a mile in, the first overlook faced the wilds to the north.

View of The Traveler from near peak of South Branch Mountain, Baxter State Park, ME
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Sawtelle Falls

Sawtelle Falls Trail, T6R7 WELS, Maine

Sawtelle Falls, on Sawtelle Brook in unnamed township T6R7 WELS, northern Penobscot County, is at the end of an out-and-back trail departing from Scraggly Lake Road, a narrow woods road off the north side of Grand Lake Road. Remember: WELS just means “West of the Easterly Line of the State,” the straight north-south line of the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Maine that extends from Hamlin to Amity, and is a reference for unorganized territory. The trailhead, east of Baxter State Park’s north gate, is a short drive from both Shin Falls and the Seboeis River Trails, and the three waterfall hikes can easily be completed in an afternoon. Following the falls, Sawtelle Brook flows south to meet with the Seboeis River, which is then joined by Shin Brook as it flows further south.

Step ledges above Sawtelle Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine
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Seboeis River Trails

Picnic area at trailhead, Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME

I had first passed the sign for the Seboeis River Trails a year or so ago on the way through northern Penobscot County to Baxter State Park’s north entrance, and made a mental note to check them out. Not much exists online regarding this riverside hike from Grand Lake Road, part of the Seboeis River Gorge Preserve in T6R7 WELS, except the description of a 1.1 mile out-and-back trail along the Seboeis River, ending at the Grand Pitch. I had seen the sign, then saw that it was in the guide book Hiking Waterfalls Maine for the section of ledges at the Grand Pitch. So imagine my surprise to find that this trail now extends 6.75 miles, crossing Shin Brook and following the Seboeis downstream to Grondin Road.

Seboeis River Trails, T6R7 WELS, ME
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Shin Falls

Shin Falls, T6R7 WELS, Maine

The bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain rises above the dirt Shin Brook Falls Road (marked with a handwritten wooden sign), a left turn from the Patten area off Grand Lake Road just before the Seboeis River. Parking is available in an open area at the first hard right turn (1/3 mile) in the road, with the trail marked in the same way. These handwritten “Trail” or “To Falls” boards are the signage on this 3/4 mile total hike near Shin Pond Village (actual location is T6R7 WELS), and were vaguely reminiscent of internet memes with a sign scrawled “Candy” next to an abandoned building. A map and full description (along with many other Maine waterfall hikes) are found in the book Hiking Waterfalls Maine.

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Carter Meadow Trail (Sunkhaze Meadows NWR)

Rain-swollen Little Birch Stream near the trailhead, Carter Meadow Trail, Sunkhaze Meadows NWR, Milford, ME

Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is tucked away in the town of Milford, Maine, between Orono/Old Town and the remote Downeast Lakes area. This 11,485 acre refuge protects the Sunkhaze Meadows peat bog, and is unique for its concentration of birds, including a large population of neotropical migratory warblers, which typically arrive in May and June. The Carter Meadow Trail, marked by a small brown rectangular sign and a gate, is the first of three volunteer-maintained trails you will come to if accessing the NWR from the west (direction of Old Town and Milford). Parking is limited – there is one small spot in a clearing next to the gate, but space on the shoulder of Old County Road, which is a dirt road at this point. The best map and description is available from the Friends of Sunkhaze Meadows site. Blaze orange is suggested, as hunting is permitted here. The trailhead is right next to Little Birch Stream, which on this September day was overflowing with recent (and current) rain.

Carter Meadow Trail, Sunkhaze Meadows NWR, Milford, ME
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