Half Naked And Afraid

As a female hiker…

… You get pretty good at scouting out a sturdy-looking tree to hang off of as you pop a squat to go Number One.

On the trail we can talk about things like bodily functions with reckless abandon, but I feel as though I may have to be a little more PG for the readers back home.

I’ve gotten the whole process down to a somewhat graceful fluid motion. I can unzip, roll my pants down to my ankles, and on the upswing of my arms grab the tree with both hands as I squat down to do my business.

Fairly standard view from the "toilet"

Fairly standard view from the “toilet”

A few days ago, I was camping in a beautiful spot right outside of Damascus, Virginia. I scouted the grounds to find my faithful tree and found nothing. The only trees around were right on the trail, and it was still the time of day when hikers were passing through. The only real coverage I had was on the other side of my tent but unfortunately, no trees. What I did find were a few boulders on a small hill. I ran my fingers along the top of a particularly promising looking one, found a couple crevices for my fingers, and began my usual routine. As I squatted off the side of the boulder, I started to think about my day and the miles I wanted to hike tomorrow.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted as my center of gravity shifted. I didn’t feel so sturdy in my squat. The boulder was dislodging itself from the hill. To my horror, my eyes watched in slow motion as the boulder completely unearthed itself and started rolling while my fingers, still locked in, pulled it with all of my body weight down the hill and on top of me.

Suddenly, I was completely pinned underneath this large and very heavy rock.

I was in shock. The weight of the boulder pressing me into the dirt was extremely painful. I tried moving, but I was not strong enough to lift the boulder by myself. Every minute that I was pinned became more excruciating for my body and my mind realized that I was trapped. I must have been stuck for ten minutes, although it seemed like twenty. I spotted one lone thin rhododendron trunk to my right side. As I used both hands to pull on the branch, I was able to slowly lift myself and wiggle my hips out. Mostly. My left leg remained stuck. The more I tried to move, the more the rock cut in to the inside of my thigh.

But really, I had no choice.

I knew as soon as I let go of the rhododendron that I would fall back down the hill with the boulder rolling on top of me. I kept moving as the scrapes cut deeper. Finally, I was able to shimmy past the sharpest edges of the rock. This left the boulder resting mostly on the inside of my left knee as I held myself up completely by the thin rhododendron. I was terrified that with the final motion, the boulder would land on my left foot and crush it. I hesitated for a bit, closed my eyes, and did it anyways.

Luckily, I was able to move my entire leg out safely. I watched, still with my pants around my ankles and holding myself up by the tree, as the rock fell a few more feet down the hill before stopping. By that point I was completely rattled. I pulled my pants up as endless chants of, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” spewed from my mouth. I wanted to cry, but my mind was racing too much for tears. I looked down to examine my body. My left leg was bleeding from the scrape, but other than that I felt okay. I washed my pants and went in to my tent immediately.


Honestly, I am really lucky.

Things could have been a lot worse. If I would have landed a few inches differently on either side, the boulder could have fallen in a way that made it almost impossible for me to get up. What if the rhododendron wouldn’t have been there?

The next day was pretty painful. I tried to keep smiling and hiking like normal, but I knew my knee was compromised. About five miles in, I bent over to collect water and my knee gave out. I fell, landing on top of it and scraping both hands. I only made it two more miles that day. Now my ego was bruised too.

I was lucky enough to camp with some amazing hikers that night. A friend of mine, Merlin, gave me his compression sleeve to pull over my knee. Another hiker named Link went down to the spring and filled both his water bladder and mine with cold spring water to keep on top of the compression sleeve. They took really good care of me, and made me feel like a queen.

That night's sunset through the trees

That night’s sunset through the trees

I knew in the morning that I couldn’t keep hiking with my knee in that condition. I pushed to the next road crossing, and tried to figure out where the closest town was. A car eventually pulled up, and I shamelessly went over to introduce myself. The driver was a mother dropping off her newly married daughter and son-in-law on the trail. After hearing what happened, she graciously agreed to drive me to the closest town.

This woman, who goes by Half Pint, turned out to be the best trail magic I’ve received so far.

She drove me down the windy mountain, and we talked the whole way about life on the trail. She thru-hiked in 2007, and instilled a love for the trail in her children as well. It’s truly amazing how you can go from being complete strangers to having all sorts of personal conversations within a matter of minutes. When we made it to town, she insisted on buying lunch and milkshakes for us. I found out that she was driving all the way back to Michigan, that day, ten hours away. And she still made time to help me.

Now, I am taking a couple days to rest my knee. Two zeros are tough, especially after a weekend at Trail Days… but right now I feel happy, I feel incredibly thankful, and I feel blessed.

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Comments 13

  • Slack Packhiker : May 19th

    Wow! The hazards of AT hiking are real and injuries happen. I know of 3 guys injured slipping on the western NC trail after the recent rain. Rocks that appear stable may not be, it’s unnerving.

    So glad you’re okay!

  • BunnyHikes : May 19th

    oh wow Stephanie!!!
    SO glad the rhododendron was there, that helpful hikers were at the next shelter, and that your angel helped you!
    You’re right …. it could have ended much worse!

    Kudos to you !

  • Karyn : May 19th

    I’m glad you are okay but…I did LOL when I got to the third paragraph – envisioning the whole scene in my mind. I’ve never clung to anything while on ‘nature break’ – free squatting is the safest albeit not always the easiest. Take care Stephanie – I’ll look forward to reading more.

  • Aunt Loree : May 19th

    OMG and I was complaining ’cause I had to go to the dentist….(have you picked up gma’s pkg yet?) XO

  • Twila : May 19th

    Why do you have to hang on to something to go? Can’t you just squat with your hands loose in front of you?

  • Jessica Boswell : May 19th

    Hey Steph! Wow that’s pretty scary! I’m so glad you’re ok. You are so brave to be out there hiking the trail!! You go girl! I hope from now on you find a tree every time!

  • TBR : May 19th

    That’s the wildest AT potty story ever. Wow.

  • Brenda : May 19th

    Glad you were not injured more severely … and thank goodness for your “angels.” Here’s hoping the rest will mend your wounds and allow you to return to the trail soon.

  • George Turner : May 20th

    If I automatically read every post with naked in the title does that make me a perv?

  • Hummingbird Ellie : May 20th

    I’m happy to read that you are recovering. May I recommend a “PStyle”? It allows you to stand and pee like a man. Much easier and danger free. No need to drop your pack or your pants.

  • Leslie : May 24th


  • Emma : May 24th

    That’s an awesome story.

  • Kelly Cole : Jun 13th

    The Lord is watching over you!


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