People of the Appalachian Trail: Jennifer “P.A.L.” Ball

A photo of Jennifer Ball.

Jennifer Ball was supposed to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2023.

“I got a frantic call from her daughter at 4 a.m. one night,” her hiking partner Angela said. “She’s crying and says, ‘My mom isn’t gonna be able to hike with you.’”

On Feb. 4, 2023, Jennifer was at a retirement party for a colleague at the paper mill she works at in Idaho, she explained. People had been drinking and having a good time, when one of her coworkers, who was heavily intoxicated, decided he would drive home.

“He was way past the limit,” Jennifer said. “And he was an angry, angry drunk.”

Jennifer told him it was a bad idea and tried to dissuade home from driving under such heavy influence of alcohol. When he got into his vehicle, Jennifer followed him and tried to convince him not to drive while he was sitting in the driver’s seat.

“I told him ‘Don’t do it.” she said. “You just got this great job. (He was being promoted to replace the person who’s retirement party they were attending.) Don’t mess this up.’”

That’s when he angrily grabbed her by face, she fell underneath his full-size pickup truck, and he began driving, running over her torso.

She was rushed to the hospital, and the incident left her with a fractured rib and five fractured vertebrae, forced doctors to remove her spleen and part of her pancreas and caused her to require a feeding tube and a drainage tube for a while.

“I was two days from putting my two weeks in when that happened,” she said. “I remember laying there. I was covering my eyes crying. I was like ‘I’m not gonna be able to hike. I’m not gonna be able to hike.’”

She was in hospital for 12 days, and was able to return home for a week, but had to return to the hospital for four more days for an infection.

“I don’t think I slept in my own bed until probably April or May,” she said.

It wasn’t until May that she was able to get off painkillers. She also did in-home rehabilitation.

However, she was determined to start hiking again. Once she was able to get out of bed and walk, she started slow and worked to build her way back up. It began with short walks outside just from her front door to the mailbox. Then she walked a little farther to the neighbor’s house. Then, a little farther than that, and a even farther than that until June, when she was able to go on her first hike again.

“Then I told (Angela), ‘Next year, I’m gonna be back and we’re gonna hike this next year. I’m going all the way.’”

She went back to work at the end of August, and flash forward several months, she was finally able to start her Appalachian Trail thru-hike in March 2024.

“I’m so fortunate that I am able to hike,” she said. She said it just feels good to be out here and know she can do it despite her injuries.

Her upper back side is still sometimes sore when she breathes due to the fractured rib, but she’s felt completely capable of handling the hike so far.

“It‘s amazing she’s even out here,” Angela said.

The drunk driver was sentenced to fifteen years probation, 100 days in jail with work release and lost his license for five years; he’s also likely going to have to pay restitution for her hospital bills.

Jennifer learned through the court proceedings that this was his fifth DUI conviction and that he’d had previous domestic abuse convictions.

Now that she’s on trail, she’s trying to move past it though.

She was given the trail name “P.A.L.,” an acronym for “pees a lot,” because of how often she needs to stop for a restroom break. Her parents have also joined her for the first chunk of the trail, though they’re not hiking alongside her. They’ve brought a campervan and are driving along the trail, periodically picking her and Angela up for resupplies, to give them a place to sleep and other supports.

“I read about 20 books on the A.T. by various authors, mostly past thru-hikers,” she said. “I had an idea of what to expect, especially with all the P.U.D.s.”

She said being from north central Idaho and having lots of other hiking experience has helped her handle the elevation and the trail with relative ease.

“I may be slow climbing, but I’m making it,” Jennifer said. “My body is getting stronger. It may have been weaker than I thought, but I am beyond grateful for my husband, family, and friends who have been so supportive of me. I also thank God every day I am on the trail.”


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Comments 1

  • Anna : May 11th

    Green Beard, you have your reporter chops. Engaging writing!
    PS Poetry isn’t pretentious, it’s essential. “Deer walk upon our mountains and the quail / whistle about us their spontaneous cries;/ sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; …”
    There are moments of great beauty that pass all understanding. Tell us about them.


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