Sneak Peek: Trail Magic

They say love can move mountains. Kit’s a free spirit and Raven’s a lone wolf. When opposites attract on the Appalachian Trail, the result is magical. My latest novel, TRAIL MAGIC, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Raven Cross was standing alone in a Georgia hotel room.

On the twin bed in front of her, there was an array of expensive camping equipment – her one-man tent, a mummy-style sleeping bag, a camp stove and compact cooking pot, her trekking poles, a pair of pink Spandex pants and a loose-fitting tank top, a pair of expensive trail-running shoes, several pairs of socks, a couple pounds of food packed neatly in a waterproof, bear-proof bag, and the slim hiking pack that she’d use to carry it all on her back for the next six months.

Additionally, there were a few dozen cardboard boxes in her parents’ guest room back in Illinois – drop boxes containing all the food, section maps, clean socks and underwear Raven would need along the way, and there were a couple of maps spread across the hotel desk. She’d spent the last hour checking and re-checking her travel plans. Her family thought the idea was more than a little nuts, but Raven was ready for the journey.

She needed it.

She was just opening her food bag to double-check the meals that would sustain her during the first week of the trip when she heard a gentle knock on the door.

“Come in,” she called, and her sister, Annabel, entered. She was just a few years younger than Raven – her fortieth birthday was earlier in the month and the whole family had ordered slices of cake from the hotel restaurant tonight as a belated celebration – but she looked decades younger than Raven’s battle-worn, graying hair and premature wrinkles. “Hey, Anna.”

“Hi,” she said, coming in and closing the door again behind her. “What are you doing?”

“Just going over my supplies one last time,” Raven said. Her parents and sister had accompanied her on the eleven-hour drive from Chicago to Gainesville, Georgia, today, and Raven knew that Annabel was still anxious about the whole thing.

“So this is all you need for six months on the Appalachian Trail, huh?” she asked as she came over to the bed to inspect Raven’s equipment. She picked up a compact Swiss Army knife and flipped open the small blade with a frown.

Raven knew what she was thinking – that the trail was dangerous for a single woman to hike alone, and moreover, it was too much for a fragile cancer survivor like herself to handle. That was exactly why Raven needed to go on this journey, and she wasn’t in the mood to be coddled on the night before she set out. She ignored Annabel’s concerned look and pointed to the drop boxes stacked along the wall, saying, “This, and all the resupply boxes Mom and Dad are going to ship to me along the way.”

It had taken her two whole weeks to calculate how much food she’d need and when, and another week to shop for all her equipment and food. She’d labeled each drop box with her name and the address of a post office located at strategic points along the 2,190-mile trail. There was half a year’s worth of freeze-dried vegetables, dried fruit, trail mix, rice, and just-add-water pasta dishes in those boxes.

Raven had put sticky notes on the side of each box, telling her parents when to send each one to meet her at the right point on the trail, and all of it would require her to follow a finely orchestrated trail itinerary. That was not to mention the fact that she’d been lucky to take a semester-long sabbatical from her teaching job at the university, but she’d need to time her trip carefully to be back in time for the winter semester.

She took the Swiss Army knife out of Annabel’s hand, closing it and setting it carefully back down on the bed with the rest of her supplies. Everything that went into her pack had been intentionally chosen and Anna had a habit of picking things up in one place and then setting them down somewhere else – she’d done it since they were kids, and since they were kids it had driven Raven up the wall.

With her hands empty, Annabel plopped down on the other bed – hers for the night – and asked,

“Raven, are you sure this trip is a good idea?”

Here it comes – the concerned look. After three years of trying to come to terms with her new identity as a breast cancer survivor, Raven knew the signs when someone was about to express sympathy for her battle, or worry over her physical capability.

Sure enough, Annabel’s brow furrowed and she looked sick with worry.

Raven slumped down on the bed beside her, wrapping her arms around her sister’s shoulders. Annabel lived all the way across the country in Seattle, and Raven knew she felt bad that she wasn’t here when Raven and her parents were struggling through her treatment. Annabel still thought of Raven as sick and vulnerable, even though she’d been cancer-free for two years, because she’d been frozen in her mind at that ugly point in their lives.

That was one very big reason why she needed to conquer the Appalachian Trail – to prove that she could.

“It’s not as dangerous as most people think,” Raven said. “Did you know there have only been eleven murders on the Appalachian Trail since the 1970s? That’s an insanely low crime rate – I’d have better odds on the AT than I do staying in Chicago for the same time period.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about you out there all by yourself,” Annabel said, putting her head on Raven’s shoulder.

“I won’t be by myself,” Raven tried to comfort her. “Thousands of people hike the trail every year. A lot of them are solo hikers, and plenty of them are women. I’ll be running into other hikers all the time, and it’s not like I’m dropping off the face of the earth for the next six months. I’ll call you every time I get to a trail town to pick up one of my drop boxes.”

“Which you’re going to hitchhike into,” Annabel said. “Lord only knows what happens to female hitchhikers in the mountains…”

“Nothing happens to them,” Raven said. “Look, I promise I won’t hitchhike alone if you promise not to tell Mom that I’m planning to hitch rides.”

That was one detail that Raven had left out when she was telling her parents about the trip. They’d been

skeptical like Annabel at first, but when Raven explained why hiking the trail was so important to her, they made an effort to suppress their concerns and be supportive instead. Raven, in turn, had chosen to gloss over a couple of the more worrying details – she knew that she’d be fine, but after everything they’d gone through since her diagnosis just over three years ago, her mom had turned into a bit of a worrier.

“What about…” Annabel sighed and looked down at her lap, and Raven felt her dinner growing dense in her stomach. Here it comes. “What about your health?”

“No more of a concern than any other hiker’s,” Raven said confidently, straightening her posture for effect. “Tomorrow is my two-year anniversary and the perfect day to start a new adventure. Anna, I feel like I’ve been walking around with a flashing neon sign over my head that says Breast Cancer Survivor. That’s me, but it’s not all of me. I’m forty-five years old, in good health, I’ve got a good job and a wonderful, supportive family. I don’t want to be defined by that label anymore.”

“I know,” Annabel said. “I just worry about you.”

“And that’s exactly why I need to go,” Raven said. “Anna, listen to me. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” her sister said. She still looked worried, but she did her best to put on a brave face. “I’m going to go see what Mom and Dad are up to.”

“Probably raiding the mini-bar in their room,” Raven joked. “You know how wild they get on vacation.”

Annabel smirked, then said, “Come join us when you’re ready. I don’t get to visit very often and I’d like to hang out before you disappear for six months.”

“I’m not disappearing,” Raven reassured her. “But I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

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