Friday, February 5, 2016

Day 139: Nobody knows the troubles he's seen....

July 24: I decided to do a relatively short 10.4 miles today. Partly, I blame it on my lack of distance yesterday which put me at an awkward place between shelters where I could hike either 10.4 miles or 20.9 miles. I'd like to do more than 10.4, but over this terrain, I held little hope that I'd make it 20.9. And since rain and thunderstorms were expected in the afternoon, I really wanted to be in a shelter for the night. So I picked the shelter 10.4 miles away.

The morning started with fog which later burned off as the morning progressed. The trail was bad, but not nearly as bad as the day before. Views above tree line were, once again, spectacular. And for the most part, the day was pleasant. Still hard, but much easier than the previous few days had been.

As I neared the shelter, I could hear thunder rolling in from distant clouds and could even see rain falling from them. It wasn't raining on me at the moment, but it would if I didn't get in the shelter quickly! The rock was a bit slick in places, as if it had already rained there earlier in the day. Maybe it had, but if so, it missed me. Woo-who!

I arrived at the shelter fairly early in the afternoon, and about ten minutes later the stormed lashed out and poured buckets. I was glad to have made it in time! Safe and dry!

There was one other person in the shelter when I arrived, an interesting fellow named Nobody. I thought Bionic Woman had it hard hiking the trail with one leg, but this guy was a true wreck. He told me that he'd been in the military his whole life, doing several tours of duty including action in Africa. I scratched my head about that--we had troops in fighting in Africa? Well, okay, Black Hawk Down--I know, but was he there? I didn't want to ask for details--I wasn't sure how much he really wanted to talk about the details.

He carried a small American flag on his pack which he set up in the shelter.

No views from this lookout tower this morning!

But somewhere along the way, he suffered some serious injuries that left him in a wheelchair for two years. He said the military considers him 100% crippled. We wore a brace on one leg because he couldn't walk without it. One had appeared to be missing, but he had a prosthetic that make it look like he had two. It didn't appear to actually do anything, though. It almost seemed cosmetic in nature. The fingers didn't move and it would just hang at the end of his arm. Apparently his injuries had broken his jaw and knocked all of his teeth out because he had none. Well, he had some fake teeth which he showed me, but no real ones anymore. He suffers from chronic pains that for years was taking prescription drugs which screwed him up even more. Later, someone suggested he try pot for the pain and he proudly boasted that he no longer needs any of the prescription drugs anymore or any of their side effects.

He was kind of funny describing the pot use. "I don't take it for the high," he told me, "although it does give me one!"

His other hand didn't work all that well either, although this, he told me, wasn't because of his military injuries. No, he injured his other hand when he started hiking south from Katahdin months earlier when there was still snow on the ground. He slipped somewhere in the 100-Mile Wilderness and broke a finger. Alone and with no way to call for help, it took him several days to walk out into civilization where he went to the hospital. During the days he hiked with the broken finger, it had become infected and wound up in the intensive care unit. He was in the hospital for 2 1/2 months! Now he was back on the trail, determined to be a thru-hiker. His finger hadn't healed completely and his hand no longer worked as well as it did before his injury. He showed it to me and it looks swollen and seriously #*@&# up. How could he hike with that?! One hand missing and the other not working properly?

He had done this section of trail before, he told me, the year before, but again he had injured himself so badly that it sent him into intensive care. He's been in there three times since he started his thru-hiking attempts.

I'll give him props for not giving up, but I kept thinking, this guy is going to get himself killed out here! He wouldn't give up, though, because he had a daughter and he didn't want her to see him as a quitter.

I kind of doubt she'd want to see him die on the trail either, but I didn't say that out loud. When I asked him why he was repeating this section of trail that he'd already done, he told me that he wanted to be a thru-hiker, not a section hiker.

Oh, good Lord. *shaking head* Given his stunning and crippling injuries, I think it's okay if he does the whole trail as a section hiker. There's no shame in being a section hiker! The fact that he was out there at all is something of a miracle. And frankly, I severely doubted that he could do the entire trail in a single year. He started hiking in March, if I remember correctly. It was four months later, and he'd completed less than 300 miles. He also skipped a 100-mile section, trying to get to an area that he remembered as being slightly easier to get back into the game so the actual miles he'd hiked was probably less than 200. And he took a zero day today because of the chance of rain. "I can barely walk when the trail is dry. I definitely can't do it when it's wet!"

I admired him enormously for getting out on the trail and doing this. But at the same time, I couldn't help but think everyone has their limitations and thru-hiking this trail was a pipe-dream for him. Section hiking.... maybe. It wouldn't be easy for him, but one step at a time and with enough persistence, maybe he can make it. And while I didn't want to discourage him, I genuinely feared for his safety on the trail. Bionic Woman I wasn't worried about, but this guy.... I strongly urged him to consider section hiking the trail and skip ahead south to where he got off the trail last year. The mountains of Maine and New Hampshire are absolutely brutal, and there was absolutely no reason he should have to do them a second time around.

I'd never heard of anyone so "broken" trying to hike the trail. He was a nice guy, but I couldn't help but want him to get off the trail. For his own safety! I never saw him again after the night in the shelter with him. I continued hiking northbound and he continued southbound. I don't know what happened to him although I feel pretty confident that he won't be standing on Springer Mountain this year. I hope he does make it there eventually, though. But wow, even just finishing the state of Maine last year is astounding! I wouldn't have thought he had it in him. What an inspiration!

I felt kind of petty for all my complaining and whining about how hard the trail was the last several days....

My home for the night at the Frye Notch Lean-to.


Mary said...

The trail looks hard enough for an able-bodied person but for someone with so many disabilities - I can't imagine! How can he climb all those ladders and scale/descend the rocks? However, it's people like that who make us feel small for complaining about our lot in life when it's nothing compared to what they deal with on a daily basis!

Mary said...

From the Internet: "In recent years, the United States has been involved in a variety of multinational interventions in Africa, including one in Libya that involved both a secret war and a conventional campaign of missiles and air strikes, assistance to French forces in the Central African Republic and Mali, and the training and funding of African proxies to do battle against militant groups like Boko Haram as well as Somalia’s al-Shabab and Mali’s Ansar al-Dine. In 2014, the United States carried out 674 military activities across Africa, nearly two missions per day, an almost 300% jump in the number of annual operations, exercises, and military-to-military training activities since US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2008."