Hiker Fun

October 19, 2017

There can be a sense of mischievous power in the opportunity to wake up a friend. This morning, we rose early as usual, getting on the trail at 7:30 a.m. An hour later, we passed a hammock and tarp strung between two trees, with gear neatly stored nearby.

“Hey, isn’t that Gator’s hammock?” I asked. At the sound of my voice, convulsive movements set the hammock swinging, bulges rippling across the surface.

“Maybe it’s a chrysalis,” Jay teased. Then, as a foot and ankle appeared, “Lookout, something is emerging!”

A couple more spasmodic lurches set Gator free. The three of us were delighted to see each other, and immediately began talking like old friends, topics ranging from the state of the trail to favorite books.

We first met Gator, an 18 year old southbound thru-hiker, in the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. We were impressed by his obvious youth, mixed with an amazing air of competence, and a hiking pace at opposite ends of the spectrum from ours. We rise early, hike slowly and steadily all day, and stop as evening falls. Gator rises late, hikes and runs along the trail at an incredible rate, and stops whenever the whim hits him. Thus, in the last 1,000 miles, our paths have crossed unpredictably, but always happily.

After a good twenty minutes of lighthearted conversation, Jay and I tore ourselves away, continuing down the trail as Gator began his morning routines. “See you when you pass us!” I called as we left.

Gator, a fascinating conversationalist!

It’s been seven days since we crossed into Pennsylvania, and I am just beginning to get a feel for this state’s infamous rocks. The AT follows the tops of many ridges, with a mixture of flat, level path and crazy rocks which show little semblance to a trail. White blazes upon rocks and trees are sometimes the only reassurance that we are, indeed, still on track. More protruding rock jumbles are graced with names … Bake Oven Knob, Bear Rocks, the Knife Edge, Dan’s Pulpit, the Pinnacle.

Some of the trail looks as if a dump truck spilled a pile of boulders down the mountainside, causing me to slowly step up, walk across, step down, step around, step up, step down, etc. Today, I took my courage in hand and began to step from pointy top to pointy top, hopping, leaping, balancing. It took a bit of nerve, a good bit of inner core muscles, and incredible focus to negotiate a spill of boulders in this fashion. I couldn’t keep up my momentum for more than 20 yards or so, but for those few seconds, I felt like Super Woman, flying through the forest!

We continued hiking, enjoying a warm autumn day with blue sky above and insects humming in the forest understory. I was about to try my new Super Woman powers again when suddenly a sharp electric shock ripped across my ankle. “Aaah!” I cried out, looking down to see a yellow jacket stinging me through my sock! “Oh, oh, OUCH!” I screamed, flailing wildly at the ferocious insect. Fearful that one insect meant a whole hive, Jay and I ran for a few yards, leaving the menacing hum behind.

When we stopped to take stock, my ankle throbbed with savage pain spreading quickly through my foot and up my leg. Jay handed me a Benadryl tablet while I sniffled and moaned. That stupid ankle hurt the rest of the day, burning and feeling as if it was covered with blisters. Fortunately, the Benadryl stopped the spread of pain, and that evening in the tent, I was pleased to see no swelling at all! Hurray for modern medicine!

In the late afternoon, we came to a side trail to The Pinnacle, a set of rocks with a panoramic view. Most side trails off the AT are marked with blue blazes and small signs. The side trail to The Pinnacle is also marked with a cairn. But not just a cairn. More like a mountain of a cairn, reaching at least 20 feet high, engulfing the trunks of a couple of nearby trees. The amount of time and energy needed to build such a monument boggled my mind! Later, a local hiker told us a school used to be responsible for trail maintenance there, and the school children started a tradition that it was good luck to put a rock on the cairn. What fun, turning work into play!

We walked down the short trail, and suddenly found ourselves upon the edge of the world! I was reminded of McAfee Knob in Virginia. The ledge simply summoned one to its brink, the better to absorb the view! Of course, knowing my relationship with heights, I have to admit – I scooted to the edge on my rear! But however one gets there, The Pinnacle puts the crown of fun on a very pleasurable day of hiking!


Pennsylvania at my feet!

The Sting!

September 14, 2017

It’s another beautiful day on the trail!  We hike past a pond, with brush overgrowing the path.IMG_20170908_105601606


Jay is slightly ahead, and suddenly I hear him cry out.

“What’s wrong?” I’m immediately concerned.

“I think I’ve been stung on the hand,” Jay exclaims.  “My hand just brushed the underside of a leaf, and I felt something like an electric shock.  It hurts like crazy!  Can you see if the stinger is still there?”

I peer at his hand.  I can’t tell if I’m looking at a stinger or some hairs on the back of Jay’s finger.  “Maybe it was a stinging nettle,”  I suggest.  “Here, let me give you an antiseptic wipe.  Maybe if you sponge it off, it will feel better.”

Jay wipes his hand, but his expression says he’s still in pain.  We continue on, as the trail begins to climb.

Ten minutes later, Jay tells me, “Something’s wrong.  My eyes feel as if they’re about to pop out of my head.  I can tell my heart rate is elevated.”

“Well, sit down!”  I exclaim.

“There’s no comfortable place to sit,” Jay objects.  I look around.  He’s right, the ground is steeply sloped, and covered in the ubiquitous underbrush.  But he shouldn’t keep walking if he’s having an allergic reaction.

We reach a slightly cleared place next to the trail, and Jay suddenly stops and sits, leaning up against his pack.  His face is bright cherry red, with eyes completely bloodshot.  I look at him, and my reactions go from concerned to outright scared.  What is happening?

Jay takes his pulse.  “My heart rate is 120,” he tells me.  This is bad.  His normal heart rate is in the 40s!

I don’t know what to do.  Maybe if I could cool down his head, he would feel better?  We just passed a spring a few moments ago.  “I’m going to get you some cold water,” I tell him.  “I’ll be right back.”

When I come back, Jay is still bright red.  I hand him a wet buff.  “Here, wipe off your face,”  I order.

“Why?  Jay asks.

“You look terrible.  Maybe a cold cloth will help you feel better,” I tell him.  (A reassuring bedside manner is not my strong point!)

Jay dutifully wipes his face and head, then takes his pulse again.  It has gone down to 98.  I’m glad to hear this, but still scared.  “What do you think we should do?”  I ask.  “Maybe I should get more water?”

“Instead of running back for water, how about if you check to see whether you have any service on your phone?  And how far away are we from the nearest road?” Jay asks reasonably.

Oh, duh.  Why didn’t I think of that?  I dig out my phone and look.  No service, but I’m thinking the phone would probably work at the top of the hill.  The nearest road is about two miles away, with a campground another half mile from that.  I tell Jay this.

“I don’t think I should go anywhere with my heart racing like this,” Jay observes.  “Maybe you should go see if your phone will work.  Or go see if the campground has any Benadryl.”

“I don’t want to leave you just sitting by the trail,”  I protest.  “The next shelter is just one mile away.  Maybe we should try to get you there.  Or I could find a place to put up the tent.  That would be better for you than just sitting here.”

“Is it cold this morning?  I’m feeling chilled,” Jay asks.

I look at the thermometer on the back of my pack.  “It’s 68 degrees.  Not cold.”  Nevertheless, Jay sits up and pulls out his sweater, jacket, and rain pants from his pack.

I now feel even more panicky.  I’ve got to DO something!  “Look, I’ll walk up the trail for just a couple of minutes, and see if I can spot a piece of ground flat enough to pitch the tent.  I’ll be back in five minutes.”

I begin walking.  Just as I see a bit of flat ground, I also see a hiker approaching.  I greet him abruptly.  “Oh, hi!  Do you by any chance have any Benadryl with you?  My husband just got stung.”

The hiker is a little taken aback by my obvious distress, but follows me to where Jay is still sitting.  “Hey, how are you?  Are you having any trouble breathing?” he asks in a deliberately calm voice.  “When did this happen?”

The hiker’s unflustered manner helps to quiet my panic.  His logical questions make my brain begin to work again.  He confirms that we are a mile or less from the shelter, and suggests that it might be a more comfortable place to recover.  He then continues down the trail.  We never even learn his name, but I’m very grateful for his help.

Jay’s pulse has now receded into the 80s, and he thinks he might be able to try walking.  I tell him about the flat piece of ground just a couple minutes ahead.  Then I take his food and the tent to lighten his pack, and we walk very slowly onward.  We pass the flat ground, and Jay says he thinks he can continue.

We get to the top of the hill, and sure enough, I have cell phone service.  Jay sits on a rock as we try to decide the best course of action.  Jay’s hand and forearm are swelling, the skin stretching tightly.  I know that I want to be in a town right now, preferably with medicine for Jay.  He echoes my thoughts as he says, “It would be good to be able to go to a walk-in clinic and see a doctor about this.”  I look in our trail guide, and see a phone number for a local shuttle service.  I call, and after explaining the situation, the shuttle driver agrees to meet us at the nearest paved road, about two miles from our location.  We continue walking slowly, relieved to have made a decision and be progressing toward civilization!

We do make it to the town of Great Barrington, MA.  The shuttle driver, appropriately named Trail Angel, drops us off at the emergency room of the hospital.  The doctor tells Jay he is having a localized reaction, and prescribes Prednisone.  The rest of the day is a denouement, as we go to the pharmacy, then ensconce ourselves in the comforts of the excellent Monument Mountain Motel.

We’ll take two days off, sitting out a rainy spell and watching Jay’s hand regain its normal shape.  By Sunday, we’ll probably have recovered our enthusiasm for the trail.

Jay’s swollen hand!