One woman hopes to realize a personal dream and professional goal on the trail
For over 40 years, Faith Lane has lived with an unfulfilled dream. As a child growing up in Wilton, Lane watched pack-laden hikers cross Route 2, heading southbound on the Appalachian Trail from Mount Katahdin. Lane wanted to be one of them. Her plan was to hike the AT as soon as she turned 18. “I’ve always regretted not following that dream,” she says.
She’s following it now and with an unusual twist. Just shy of 60, she’s preparing to hike, but with a fundraising goal, raising money for her community and her workplace, the library in Gouldsboro.
Lane and her husband, Craig Pursell, hiked wherever they lived, which included his years in the military, years that took them to 14 states and to Germany. When they relocated to Maine five years ago, they both faced health challenges, but fortunately, ones that could be controlled with lifestyle changes. Their doctors recommended walking five miles daily, preferably in the woods to further reduce stress. Around the same time, Lane was taking classes for a master’s degree in Information and Library Science with a focus on rural public libraries. In March 2015 she was hired as the director—and first paid employee—of the Dorcas Library in Gouldsboro. The library was ready to grow and had a strategic plan that included a new learning center, advanced technologies, expanded open hours and two paid staff members. One of Lane’s first orders of business was figuring out how to fund the expansion. She knew that would be difficult in the small town, even with an enthusiastically supportive community cheering her on.
Finding money for overhead costs proved challenging. “Donors and grantors often want their funds to be put to immediate and visible use,” Lane says. The library raises its entire operating budget through individual and local business donations and town funding. It also withdraws around $10,000 annually in interest from investments. But it wasn’t enough.
The library board and staff had been brainstorming ways to grow the investment account (and the resulting withdrawable interest) for a year, but no ideas seemed promising. Then one day when the Lanes were in Baxter State Park, they passed a woman starting out on her southbound AT journey. Lane’s dream of hiking the trail was suddenly renewed, and she drafted a proposal for the Dorcas Library board to consider: She would take an unpaid leave of absence starting January 1, 2020, to train for and hike the trail as a dynamic fundraising effort. “Most of the board was very positive, which surprised me,” Lane says. Ultimately her proposal was approved.
The couple will pay their own way along the hike (between food and the occasional hotel or hostel, it’s not cheap to hike the AT). That means any and all donations can go directly to the library’s investment account. “My goal to raise operational funds is not intended to line my own pockets later,” Lane explains. She plans to pay the staff librarian a living wage with benefits, hire a person to maintain and teach new technologies, and offer the community more open hours.
Preparing for the hike is no small undertaking. Since May, Lane and Pursell have been steadily increasing their daily mileage. They’re averaging three miles a day with at least one longer hike each week, and their goal is 10 miles per day by the end of January. They carry packs weighted with 12 pounds, about a third of what they will carry on the trail, and will continue to add weight as the weeks go on. During the winter months, they’ll continue to walk on Schoodic Point trails using ice claws and snowshoes, scramble over obstacles, walk on treadmills and climb stairs. They’ll hike and walk in rain, sleet and snow, try out different gear, and get used to sleeping on the ground and floor. The intense prep work is about readying them for the challenges of the trail, but has already paid off in health benefits. “I’ve lost 20 pounds and my blood pressure is in the normal range for the first time since I was 40 years old,” Lane, 59, says.
Upside of philanthropy?
“I’ve lost 20 pounds and my blood pressure is in the normal range for the first time since I was 40 years old,”
Lane is also working hard to spread the word about her ambitious fundraiser. She posts training updates and trail commentaries on her personal blog (freshlibrarian.org) and on the Dorcas Library’s website and social media pages. Donations are being handled by DonateKindly. The couple is already handing out informational cards referring people to the various donation methods and will do so along the trail. Lane plans to update her blog whenever they stop in a town. She hopes all this effort will pay off, ideally in a sum exceeding $1 million. The AT is 2,200 miles long, and the library’s goal is to secure as many donations as miles. Donations of $454 from 2,200 individuals would get them there.
They plan to set out from Mount Katahdin in late May or early June 2020, ending at Springer Mountain in Georgia next December. While Lane is away, the Dorcas Library staff librarian, Yumi Young, will hold the reins. The organization is still primarily run by volunteers and a very active board, and they foresee no changes in programming or event offerings during the hike. The community has been curious and interested in the fundraiser. “I think this is a campaign that will build over time as people engage with our story,” Lane says.
And all of this, she says, is about securing a better future for the Dorcas Library. “My focus before, during and after the trail will continue to be the future of the library and learning center, fundraising, grant-writing and library advocacy.”
Fulfilling her lifelong dream will be the cherry on top.
Correction: This story and its captions were updated December 8, 2019 to correct the last name of Faith Lane’s husband, Craig Pursell.
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving. Find her online at storiesandsidebars.com.