on the Trail
finish the Appalachian Trail with a lifetime's worth of memories
and experiences. While most of these are looked back on fondly,
there are some that would best be forgotten. For the most part,
the Appalachian Trail is safe. When on the Trail or in town, just
remember to use common sense and follow your instincts.
Never Happen to Me...
upon a time there was a thru-hiker named Footslogger. In a prior
life he had been a paramedic and knew a lot about first aid in the
great outdoors. During his thru-hike he dealt with a lot of abdominal
pain, which he refused to accept as being sufficient enough to see
a doctor. As the miles wore on, the pain got worse. But the stubborn
Footslogger pressed on, being true to his former paratrooper training
and code. Lo and behold though, when he reached the White Mountains
in New Hampshire, Footslogger hit the wall. One morning, while ascending
the trail towards Franconia Ridge, he got the worst abdominal pain
and cramps he had ever felt. The breakfast that he had eaten a few
hours earlier found its way up and out of his system. Now without
any nourishment and being somewhat dehydrated, Footslogger finally
gave in to the pain and decided to sit down along side the trail,
hoping that this would all pass. The air was cool and the ground
was still cold from a chilly night. Footslogger was sweating a lot
as he first sat and then dropped to the ground. Within a few minutes
the world around seemed to get a bit fuzzy and unclear. Footslogger
knew that he was dropping into hypothermia, but by this point there
was little he could do to help himself. Fortunately, there were
two other hikers who had started out with him that day. They knew
he wasn't feeling very well and when he didn't catch up with them
on the trail they stopped for a rest. Footslogger called for them
and they backtracked down the trail, finding him coiled on the ground
in a state of total disorientation. Smartly, they dumped Footslogger's
backpack and found some dry clothes. After getting him into a warm
and dry shirt, they zipped old Footslogger into his sleeping bag
and stayed with him as he started to get his bearings and say things
that made any sense. After around 45 minutes, Footslogger was able
to climb to his feet, collect his clothing and gear and make his
way back down the trail for a much needed rest back in North Woodstock.
like "just" a story or a tale designed to get peoples
attention? Well, it's not "just" a story but it is something
that will hopefully ring a bell with some distance hikers out there.
Actually, it is a totally true story and one that it worth sharing.
This is Footslogger telling the story and that's about as close
to the source as you can get. Yes, I am an old paramedic and a stubborn
old paratrooper who rarely admits to being under the weather or
in pain. But on that day in September 2003, I met my match. The
lessons learned that day are among the most prominent hiking memories
in my mind and most likely always will be.
all those who may choose to undertake a long distance hike, regardless
of your physical condition and prior medical training, take notice
of what happened in this little anecdotal tale. First and foremost,
remember that it's not enough to know what is happening to you;
you need to know your limitations and listen to your body. I KNEW
what was happening but by the time I decided to react to the situation
I was in too bad of shape to help myself. I needed help. Bottom
line is that if you don't feel good the best bet is to push back
and either cancel the hike for that day or go VERY slowly. Second,
and maybe even more important, if you're hiking in an area where
a physical problem could possibly lead to an emergency, make sure
that you're not alone!
here's a little post-log on this story. After returning home from
completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was still having
some abdominal problems. I went to the doctor and was ultimately
diagnosed as having serious kidney stone disease. Two surgeries
and 8 months later, I am back on my feet and feeling great. But
the memory of that day in September is as clear as yesterday.
thanks to Footslogger, a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, for
submitting this article about his experiences on the Trail.
became some of our most vivid memories of hiking the Appalachian
Trail last year. Up until then, most hiking and camping consisted
of nearby shelters, whether car or cabin, or a carefully planned
weekend based on the weather forecast.
our six months hiking the trail, there were a few heart pounding
storms that I can remember like they were yesterday. Our first severe
storm blew down on us near High Rocks, with an elevation of 4,100
feet, but not without warning. It was our own denial, and the fact
that we thought we could make it to the campsite before she poured
down upon us, that caused to us to be stuck in this situation.
before the peak we quickly learned what would soon become our best
known defensive measure to remaining calm. With the thunder and
lightning now upon us and pea size hail pelting our skin, we proceeded
back into the western or northern side of Whistling Gap. Because
of the severity of the lightning we sat up on our backpacks to isolate
ourselves from the ground. I've read about these situations, but
until that moment never had to rely on it. I kept thinking to myself,
"How much difference does this make and will this prevent us
from getting struck down?" Well, we're both here today, and
that's good enough for me. Meanwhile, I had pulled the ground cloth
for the tent from my wife's backpack, and we covered ourselves,
shielding the wind and hail. It became evident that keeping the
ground cloth easily accessible was a necessity. Not only did it
protect us from the elements but more importantly it helped calm
our nerves. Was it the best idea to blind ourselves from the situation?
I don't know.
calm was put on trial once again when we were hit by a storm while
on top of Bear Mountain, just before the Connecticut / Massachusetts
border. The trail proceeded down a steep ridge with slippery loose
rocks and tree roots protruding above the ground and across our path,
making for very dangerous terrain. With the constant distraction of
lightning and deafening thunder, we hiked with caution and remained
patient with each step we took. As I think back, once again we had
plenty of warning that this storm was coming. Haven't we learned anything
yet? Was it that important to make it to the next campsite? Not really...
were lucky it wasn't like the storm we encountered a couple of days
after. I believe it was about a mile from the Mount Wilcox South Lean-to,
just beyond the ledges. This time we were in a valley but it wasn't
any less dangerous. In fact, in turned out to be quite the opposite.
It became so loud. The wind, thunder, and nearby lightning
strikes all made the sounds of hell. We found ourselves once again
on our backpacks covering our heads with the ground cloth. I remained
peering out from under the tarp, watching the trees in a silent panic
- watching them twist and turn, with sounds of branches breaking.
It was unsettling at the very least. This only lasted for about fifteen
minutes before the worst had past, leaving us with a long exhale.
were thankful to have made it to the shelter that evening without
injury and so very thankful that a few other hikers made room for
us to stay.
was learned on our journey, so I'll leave with a few words of SvenSaw
wisdom. Never try to out hike a storm if you have the option to
stop before it hits. You'll never beat it. Remain calm and think
before you hike more.
a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, is co-editor of the HikeMore