Everybody Needs a Rescue Buddy
When we told our close friends that Bodhi, our 3-year-old Goldendoodle, was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail with us, Dan didn’t hesitate. “If Bodhi needs to leave the trail for any reason, I’ll come get him.”
Dan and Bodhi have been friends and hiking buddies for a long time. Tell Bodhi that he’s going to see his Uncle Dan and watch his tail whip back and forth like a windshield wiper set on high.
You might notice that Dan didn’t offer to come get me and Chris, just the dog. Of course, I’m kidding. I’m sure that Dan would also pick us up if necessary. But it made me think deeper about the qualities of a good ‘rescue buddy.’ If you have to leave the trail, who do you want to pick you up? Who is available, able, and supportive?
First of all, think about who in your life can actually take the time to come get you. Your best friend might not be the best choice if they have a job that makes it difficult for them to leave, have midterms or finals to consider or has childcare/eldercare responsibilities.
Reconsider choosing your brother, or anyone, driving an old clunker. At its closest point, we live at least a six hour drive from the AT, not to mention elevation changes that might tax an unreliable vehicle. Your rescue buddy also needs rudimentary map skills; some trailheads might not have a cell signal so they might to consult a paper map. (Another tip: make sure they have a map!)
The last person you want as a rescue buddy is someone who explicitly or implicitly says “I told you so.” Abandoning your thru-hike for any reason can be devastating. The last thing you need is someone to rubbing salt into the wound.
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, while thousands of people attempt an AT thru-hike each year, only about one in four makes it all the way. There are many good reasons you might have to quit the trail, both mental and physical. Making sure you have someone to pick you up if you must stop is a reasonable precaution.
This is what is important for me. When I climb into my rescue buddy’s vehicle, disheartened and hurting, there are two things I want them to say:
1) I’m glad you called me.
2) What do you want to eat?
Who do you want as your rescue buddy?
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