Cancer survivor, retired attorney finds life lessons on hiking trails

After Charli Fulton, 72, was diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer in January 2021, she had six months of grueling chemotherapy and a complex Whipple procedure surgery at UW Health that rearranged her digestive system.

This summer, she hiked more than 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain.

It was the most recent of several long-distance hikes for Fulton, who in 2019 moved to Madison from West Virginia to be closer to her sister, Diane Fulton, of Middleton. Charli Fulton, who spent her high school years in Brookfield, worked for 32 years as an attorney in West Virginia, retiring in 2012 as senior assistant attorney general for the state.

In 2017, two years after her husband died from kidney cancer, Fulton hiked all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In 2019, at age 69, she hiked the 1,142 miles of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin; she remains the trail’s oldest female thru-hiker, according to Ice Age Trail Alliance records. She also hiked nearly 300 miles of the Allegheny Trail, in 2018.

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Fulton also likes quilting, for which she uses Japanese shibori techniques.

What draws you to long-distance hiking?

I really have no idea, but I know what made me want to hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s such an amazing, grand idea, to have a trail that goes from Georgia all the way to Maine. I met two people who had done it. I started reading people’s journals and got more drawn to it. I always liked to walk. My husband had been a hiker, but his knees were really bad. When he died, I thought, this is my chance. It changed my entire life, to hike that trail.

Charli with Camino map

The Camino de Santiago

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