A Tale of “Patient Zero” – A Mile Marker Update

“Finally a rare trail update from Mile Marker !” – is what I’m imagining those of you who are trying to follow my journey are thinking. To be honest, blogging from an iPhone in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve finally gotten to a computer at a motel I’m currently at in Daleville, VA (Mile 727), and I can tell you I’m extremely appreciative of this full-size keyboard in front of me.

Since I don’t keep a daily journal or anything, I won’t be walking you through a chronological timeline of what I’ve done and where I’ve walked since my last update. Instead I’ll be talking about a few other things…

I remember a few choice quotes from the past month or so, all essentially getting at the same thing: “Last one to Katahdin wins” (the lovely Ms. Janet, trail angel extraordinaire); “Focus on the mischief, not the miles” (unknown, commonly quoted); “Hike your own hike” (also commonly quoted, essentially the AT thru hiker version of “YOLO”) and “Wow, the Appalachian Trail really isn’t a race or an event, it’s a lifestyle”. All of these are getting at a point I’ve been slowly realizing – most of us aren’t out here to race through this thing to say we’ve walked over 2000 miles. We aren’t out here because we want to see the views (which are usually few and far between anyways) or because we enjoy walking places with excessive weight on our shoulders.

We’re out here to enjoy ourselves.

Obviously, this means something different for everyone. Heck, maybe you really do have the best time when you hike 25 miles every single day. I was on a pace similar to this, hiking with a buddy Remedy for a few weeks after we broke off from a bigger group, or “tramily” as people tend to refer to it. My shoes were falling apart, shins and feet getting worse by the day, I was getting Christmas toe (nerve damage brought on by repeated abuse – i.e. hiking 20 miles in the mountains every day – and so named because thru-hikers usually get the sensation in their toes all the way back around the following holiday season), but we were putting our heads down and hiking through anyways. Getting excited that the possibility of finishing by my Peace Corps friends’ wedding in late July was finally becoming a reality, I was having fun doing big days even though my body was showing more and more signs of wear.

Then I got norovirus – which is essentially just a wicked stomach bug – on the top of a mountain, the worse symptoms showing up at midnight. Apparently I’m somewhat of a “Patient Zero”, as I was one of the first in the area to get it. I was not the last, as we’ll soon find out.

Luckily, I had my good friend and hiking buddy Loon with me (we’ve been together since around Mile 300). When I rolled over at 6am and asked her if she had heard me darting to the privy all night and she replied no, I gave her a grave look and said “I’m in a really bad spot”. Without going into too much detail, I couldn’t keep water in my system at all and was about 5 miles away from any road. We ended up calling Ms. Janet to ask her advice (great service at that shelter, whudda thunk it?) and decided to backtrack south five miles back to Four Pines Hostel. After the most excruciatingly tiring and dehydrated miles of my life, we finally made it to the road and were picked up via shuttle, the driver with electrolyte popsicle in hand (thanks Eddy!). Immediately feeling better at having a bed and a toilet at my unlimited disposal (literally), I knew I was past the worst of it.

Cue the next morning – I feel much better. Drained, but much more alive and with some appetite. I look over to where Loon is sleeping and get a shake of the head from another hiker, “She’s not doing well”. My 24 hour bug was now someone else’s, and Loon went through it just as I did, although with much less hiking and way more electrolyte popsicles. Although we were warning other hikers not to share food/drink and to wash their hands, Loon ended up passing it to Skipper, another friend and hiker, and then Cliffhanger got it, and then Rise…and so on. It’s pretty difficult to stop the spread of  a contagious stomach bug when we are all in close quarters at hostels or shelters, all use the same bathroom, and are generally extremely dirty and unsanitary.

Anyways, it seems like the NoroVortex has swept through this contingent of hikers and is elsewhere. In other news, I finally got new shoes, upgraded running shorts, dropped another two pounds of base weight (goodbye sleeping bag!), and decided that I will be making a photo book (think something you’d have on the coffee table) of pictures from my time on the AT when I’m done. I’ll be crowdsourcing funds to make it a reality in the fall, so if you are interested let me know. Many pictures have been posted on my Instagram (@andrewcrepp), and that will continue to be the primary way I share this experience with friends and family following along from home.

Other random thoughts that I forgot to work into the bulk of this post.

1. My legs are huge and muscular, and I’ve still lost 10 pounds. The dreaded T-Rex effect is just around the corner…but it’s better than the Peace Corps, I get to pound pizza, Dr. Pepper, and Gatorade every 5 days or so.

2. The people and community out here are truly what makes this experience special. There is such camaraderie, honesty, openness, and kindness shared among the hiker community that it really makes me think “why can’t more people behave like this in everyday life?”. It’s a question I’m sure I’ll be mulling over a bunch more as I hike.

3. Virginia is not flat.

4. You can tell a non-thru hiker because you can smell their detergent on their clothes as they walk by. Not exaggerating, a crowd of Virginia Tech students came by the other day and I could literally smell them before I even knew they were there.

5. On a related note, we all stink. Even after doing laundry.


Happy hiking everyone!


Mile Marker

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