As Heather Bolint trudged down a portion of the Appalachian Trail south, from Maine to Georgia, she picked up the trail name “Mama Duck,” after telling a friend during the hike that it would be fun to pretend to be a mother mallard, with a line of ducklings behind her.
Then Bolint, who grew up on a farm in Maine before moving to Seattle, found a wayward rooster near the Mason-Dixon line this month. She proceeded to lug the bird along on her journey and bring it to an animal sanctuary more than 40 miles away. That’s when the name quickly changed: Now, it’s “Mama Cluck.”
“It certainly became fitting,” Bolint said by phone last week from Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, as she continued to explore the wilderness trail on her way to her final destination.
Bolint, 31, set out on her trek from Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine, on June 26, after leaving her job at The Humane League in Seattle.
Hikers who attempt to take on the Appalachian Trail in its entirety know they’re bound to come across an array of odd scenarios and a few quirky characters.
On Oct. 10, while in Pennsylvania, Bolint had a run-in that she never expected. As she came down the path, listening to an audio book and trying to distract herself from the long miles ahead, she spotted a flurry of feathers.
“At first I said to myself, ‘Oh yeah, a wild chicken,’ ” she said. “Then I was like, ‘No, this is not natural to see.’”
There in the woods was what she later identified as a Polish crested rooster, a confident-looking animal with a crown of wild feathers sticking out in all directions.
“I thought it was too funny,” Bolint said. “I sat there for a while and observed him to see if he was going to go anywhere, and he just kind of hung out.”
After cornering the bird and picking him up, Bolint stepped off the trail onto a nearby road to look for a possible owner.
She said it’s likely that someone dropped the rooster on the side of the road, trying to get rid of him. With no houses or farms in sight, Bolint followed her instincts: She packed up the feathered creature and brought him along.
For almost two days, or about 42 miles, Bolint carried the bird under her arm or held him against her body, a somewhat uncomfortable situation though she managed to get used to it.
“He wasn’t heavy on his own but when you are hiking that many miles, and going up and down mountains and it’s that hot out, any extra ounces feels like it’s much heavier,” she said.
The bird didn’t struggle. And she even slept for a few hours in a tent with the rooster before hitting the trails again, on her way to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where she met up with her boyfriend so they could take the bird to Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, in nearby Maryland.
“I had never hiked that many miles before, it was probably more than double my typical daily mileage,” she said of the expedited leg of the trail. “I was really just concerned getting him to where he needed to be safely, so I wasn’t thinking about how much my feet were hurting.”
When she finally got the bird to the animal farm, experts determined it hadn’t been properly cared for.
“It is a real mystery where he came from, and a miracle he survived in that wild place with so many predators,” sanctuary officials said on Facebook. “He will now have a great life with lots of rescued chicken friends.”
While Bolint said she was reluctant to say goodbye, she was happy to see him in a better place.
“This was very unexpected, but my favorite part of the hike so far,” she said.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.