It’s the Challenge

For a Trails Hero

Story and Photos by Diana Hooley

When Carolyn Calomeni hikes, she dons her superhero costume, a floppy hat and sneakers. At sixty-two, mild-mannered Carolyn may seem more Clark Kent than Superman. Her appearance is unassuming, yet this past summer she solo-hiked across Idaho’s 85.7-mile Weiser River National Recreation Trail. Given its distance and a gain in elevation of almost four thousand feet, the trail is rated by AllTrails.com as difficult. It took Carolyn seven days of hiking and backpacking to trek from Weiser north to the mountains near New Meadows. I was in awe of my friend’s endurance and physical stamina. I wanted to get a real-time, on-site account of her big adventure, so I asked if she’d like to take a fall road trip that would stop in on parts of the trail.

Some of the way, U.S. 95 parallels the river trail, which is not open to motorized traffic except for emergencies. The highway is a main passageway in western Idaho between Hells Canyon and the mountains of the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. The trail, which lies on an abandoned rail bed, can sometimes be seen from the road. Mostly though, it meanders along with the Weiser River, through farm fields and remote canyons. As we drove to the trailhead, Carolyn commented how autumn had changed the view since her mid-summer hike. Many of the farm fields now lay brown and barren, and the blue skies of summer were gone, replaced by a smear of biscuit-colored clouds. 

“Was this some sort of Cheryl Strayed Wild journey?” I asked Carolyn, referring to the 2012 bestselling book about a woman who solo-hiked eleven hundred miles on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). In her book, Strayed portrays herself as a woman coming to terms with loss, particularly her mother’s death.

She laughed. “Well, I did read Wild, and yeah, it’d be great to hike part of the PCT someday, but no, my Weiser River hike was different. For me, it was all about confidence.”

This surprised me. I knew the previous year she’d made rigorous climbs up the Grand Slam peaks, four rugged and steep Boise-area mountains. Carolyn, who’s a nurse with a couple of advanced degrees, rose to the rank of captain in the Navy Reserves before she retired. Each winter she and her husband Bud, who’s also a nurse, give time and energy volunteering in medical clinics in poor, politically unstable areas of Central America. She appears to be the very definition of confidence.

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