Faceplant – Your Trail Ended Too Soon
Yesterday, I got a note from the wife of a man named Alan Stuart whom I met on trail back in Georgia. She was worried because she had not heard from him in the four days since he had left Damascus. She wondered if the lack of communication might be due to a lack of cell service. I called her because this worried me too. It was unlike Alan to not call, and I knew that there was at least sporadic service in that area, having walked through it a week ago myself. When I reached her she told me that she had just been informed by the police in Washington County, VA that some hikers had found Alan deceased in his tent. She did not have more information other than that he had seemed at peace.
Alan and I became friends over a pizza and a free ride to town offered by some caring section hikers. They had heard me calling various shuttle drivers with no success. Alan was offering suggestions when the group invited us both to hop in their extended cab pick up for a ride to Blairsville. We gladly accepted and ended up sharing a room when we discovered that only one was left at the hotel.
This was my first week on the trail and I had never really contemplated sharing a hotel room with a male hiker before. Alan was a perfect gentleman and he made me feel at ease as we figured out what needed to get done. Showers, laundry, and a trip to the nearby CVS for some supplies. Both of us had blister issues, but mine were nothing compared to Alan’s raw feet, so I volunteered to run the errands. He stayed behind to get our clothes in the single washing machine the hotel provided (there is another story here as the machine refused to open and laundry became a four hour ordeal) and I went in search of blister first aid. I arrived back at the hotel with my purchases and some Kentucky Fried Chicken only to realize that I forgot to buy the tape Alan really needed.
Alan was nice about my mistake and joked about using some of the tape that was holding his broken glasses together. He had fallen the first day out, and broken the frames of his glasses. I told him his trail name should be either Harry Potter or Faceplant. He loved Faceplant and adopted that as his trail moniker. I suggested that he keep adding tape to the frames so that by the time he reached Katahdin, his glasses would be covered in duct tape. A few weeks later he sent me a picture of his glasses with some extra tape. He was going all in as Faceplant.
I left him at Mountain Crossings waiting for them to open so he could get some KT tape. He hiked slower than my pace, so I did not see him again until Hiawassee when he appeared at the Budget Inn on the day I was leaving. He was taking a zero to let his feet heal, but he was smiling and spoke of his desire to press on. We promised to see each other up the trail.
I followed Alan’s Facebook postings and we shared a few messages. I was looking forward to him catching up with me after I go off trail for my daughter’s wedding. Sadly, Alan will not be on trail anymore. He will be missed by the many hikers he befriended. His wife said that she was certain Alan would want us to hike on to Katahdin. I will certainly keep putting one foot in front of the other towards that distant goal. I walk on carrying my pack and the added burden of losing a member of my trail family. I will take thoughts of Faceplant with me to Maine. I know he will be there when I arrive.
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I often wonder where my internal hard drive will run for it’s final time. This man, while dead, left this world in grand style on my favorite path. I’m sure he enjoyed the ride, and, you were fortunate to be blessed to share some of it with him.
Vince aka The Dude
A/T SOBO ’16,’17,’18, ’22
Oh wow, how wonderful he got to go while doing something he enjoyed and wanted to do. We all hope for the same. Thank you for sharing your memories of what a good man he was. Not many men would have been the gentleman in the same circumstances. Blessings to his tramily and family.
Thank you for your Beautiful description of my longtime high school friend, Alan Stuart. You brought him to life with your words and eased my mind to know that ALAN slipped away peacefully.If your hiking brings you past the Hoosic river in western Massachusetts please think of him as he and I were going to meet and fly fish there on his journey. When you see him at Katahdin give him a hug and tell him he has missed.
VERY nice write up.
Lots of thru hikers post on reddit, so I posted a link out there as well, in case some met him.
I pray that you will have a good day as you celebrate your 61st birthday. Great post about one of your fellow travelers.
Very touching words. He passed in his tent on the AT – a wonderful way to go! Hopefully he’s at peace and watching over all of you. Be safe and happy trails!
Oh no. I was there, he was right behind me. I showed him the tent spot, it was only me and him camping there, he wished me a good night. When I woke up he was still in his tent I just thought he was sleeping in, I had breakfast and left camp, he seemed perfectly fine the evening before. I’m the last person he talked to before he passed.
I’m the guy who gave y’all a ride to Blairsville. So sorry to hear about Alan!! We have told our friends the story of his trail name. Y’all were a pleasure to meet.
Heartbreaking. To those who met him, y’all showed Faceplant the redemption that the trail provides to those like me, weary of modern and cynical society. What a perfect way to go out. Peaceful and reminded how good humanity can be. Bon Voyages!
Alan went out doing what he seemed to enjoy, which is all any of us could really ask for. His body may be gone, but his spirit is there on the trails and with anyone he touched through his journeys.
Thank you for the heartfelt note about Al….we were buddies in college. He was an outstanding college swimmer and one heck of a nice guy. Rest in peace my friend.