TAMPA — Friends and family thought that Bonnie Elozory was crazy when she told them that she planned to take her daughters, ages 12 and 17, on a hike from Georgia to Maine.
But Elozory, a nurse at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa, had endured a series of economic and emotional challenges in recent years. So as her 50th birthday approached, she decided the time was right to hit the trail.
"It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision," Elozory said of her recent 2,185-mile trip along the Appalachian Trail. "We only had a few weeks to get ready. I just knew I needed to do this hike right now. There was no point in waiting."
Elozory had backpacked years earlier with her husband. She thought the wilderness would help heal her and her family.
"Everyone we talked to was negative and said we would never be able to finish," she said. "All we heard was a bunch of 'What ifs.' "
What if they were attacked by a bear? What if they ran out of food? What if they got lost?
The negative comments only fueled Elozory's desire to succeed. She read quotes from naturalist John Muir and the ultimate outdoorsman, Teddy Roosevelt. Elozory was determined to prove the critics wrong.
When Elozory asked her youngest daughter, Diana, if she wanted to hike the trail with her and Ruth, 17, the response was: "Wait, no baths and I get a knife. … I am in!"
Diana broke her arm on the trail in Virginia and only cried when the doctor said she might not be able to finish the hike. So Elozory got a second opinion from another physician, one who straightened the girl's broken bone in his office, put on a cast and told her to carry on.
Her girls, both of whom were adopted in China, kept up with their school work while hiking. "But the things they learned on the trail they will remember for a lifetime," Elozory said. "I believe what they learn on the trail is more important than what they would learn in school."
Instead of going south to north, as most hikers do, the Elozorys started at the midpoint, in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, in May 2013, and traveled north to Maine. They then caught a ride back to their starting point and headed south to their end point in Georgia.
"We are what they call flip-floppers," she said, referring to the name given to those who reverse the direction of their hike. "It worked out great because we got to see the leaves begin to change in New England."
The Elozorys had several friends and family members, including an older son and daughter, join them on the trail at various times.
"Some hiked with us and some brought us food," she said. "We met people all over this country who supported and helped us. Everyone came together and helped us facilitate this dream."
Elozory believes her daughters might be the first Chinese-born hikers to complete the trail. "They were definitely the only kosher-eating Chinese Jews hiking the trail," she joked.
The "Florida Flip Floppers," as they came to be known, made regular blog entries on the website trailjournals.com. Elozory wrote under the pseudonym "CoMOMdo" and Diana wrote under the trail name "Cub."
"Our blog on trailjournals had over 100,000 hits," Elozory said. "Many parents, especially women, have written to me about how I managed to plan and execute this adventure.
"Our reputation on the AT was that we played a lot, ate a lot and looked healthier and happier than any hiker out there," she added. "We had an absolute blast!"
The Elozorys finished their trek a week before Thanksgiving, and since, Bonnie, Diana and Ruth have been making appearances everywhere from local Boy Scout troop meetings to elementary schools.
"It was the best thing that I've ever done," the proud mother said. "Now my girls know they can do anything they want to with their lives."