Ladybug Hikes With A Purpose

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I got a letter in the mail a few weeks back (I’ve gotten a little behind on my blog posts – sometimes work gets in the way) from a friend. Denise ‘Ladybug’ Hill was off on another trek, an 800+ journey.

“Second only to the love of my family, I am most content when I am alone in the wilderness,” the note began. “In 2004, at 48 years of age, I took my first hiking steps on the famed 2,174 Appalachian Trail to fulfill two promises I made to my sister, Cheryl Rose Walden. I promised Cheryl, during her final stage of a ten year battle with breast cancer that her memory would last forever. I fulfilled that promise by planting hundreds of packets of forget-me-not seeds in 25 states and 3 countries during my treks. I also promised my sister that I would renew my faith and become closer to understanding God.”

A Little History

I think I first met Denise when she was training for her first trek, walking the Appalachian Trail in 2004. She wore a heavy backpack as she walked distances in training. I knew back then she called her journey ‘Walking for Walden’ and she was raising money for Hospice of Cincinnati in memory of her sister, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

Since then I’ve heard her stories…like when she was working to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009 and found herself surrounded by a swarm of rattlesnakes. Her cell phone didn’t work in many places…but it did there.

“I had spoken to Bruce (her husband) earlier that morning and a ladybug crawled into my lap. When I mentioned my ladybug friend, he said, ‘That means you’re going to have good luck today.’ Little did he know, I would be SO lucky,” she told me. (which by the way is, you guessed it, why her nickname is now ‘Ladybug.’)

There are not that many people I know who get rescued from a den of deadly snakes in an emergency helicopter. But I know one.

Denise and I and another friend spent a weekend last fall hiking through Ohio’s scenic Hocking Hills State Park. That Saturday, Denise and I spent the day together walking more than 8 miles. When you spend so many hours alone with someone you get to know her pretty well. At one point she stopped and wanted me to continue. She wanted me to experience the peaceful solitude of walking amidst natural wonders, of being in my own thoughts and just appreciating what I don’t always take the time to see. This, she told me, is what it is like for her every time she is on one of her treks – and she has done a lot of them.

This Time Was Different

So this time, when Denise took to the trails with hopes of raising money and awareness for Hospice, I had a deeper understanding of why she left. This time I felt the desire to read her story that she has posted online.

Cheryl Rose Counts Walden whose spirit is Denise’s rock was a loving mother, daughter and sister to four younger siblings. Her ferocious fight against a disease the ultimately won the battle was testament to the strength of her inner core. Denise described her sister as ‘living a simple, yet full life, graced with peaceful and loving energy.’

As Denise raced to the hospital one last time memories of their childhood together kept her going. ‘Mental images of me with my sister, Cheryl, playing, laughing , scheming, cooking, crying, singing, dancing, and praying  were reeling at fast forward speed in my head and as vividly as those actual moments in time.  Tepid tears flowed freely down my face as I tightly gripped the steering wheel with both hands replaying the images of my youth,” Denise wrote.

Five years after her sister’s death Denise kept her sister close by sharing memories, raising money for breast cancer awareness, burning a candle in prayer every Christmas, and visiting Cheryl’s gravesite in a beautiful Tennessee setting overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. Hiking became Denise’s choice for honoring her sister.

After trekking close to 4,400 miles on the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail on a hike dedicated to Hospice of Cincinnati in her sister’s memory, this is Ladybug’s emotional finish.

I just heard from my friend. Her 800 mile hike that was originally taking her from Mexico to the ends of Utah had to be diverted, and she is completing her remaining 675 miles in our region. I’ll more than likely be joining her along some of that journey.

If you’d like to read more about Ladybug’s former hiking adventures: please visit www.walkingforwalden.com

If you would like to support Ladybug and her Hikes for Hospice
please send your donation to:
Hospice of Cincinnati, Inc.
C/O Bethesda Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 633597
Cincinnati, OH 45263-3597

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