It’ll Never Happen to Me

Once 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.

Sound 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.

To 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!

And 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.

Our thanks to Footslogger, a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, for submitting this article about his experiences on the Trail.