Vermont has been a trip. Yep, you read that right. Vermont. Sometimes I can’t even comprehend how far I’ve walked. At this point I have less than 500 miles until I summit Katahdin and finish my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. So much has happened in the past couple of months but the other day I had an AT experience I was hoping I never had.
On my first day in Vermud I was hiking down a steep mountain. As I paid close attention to my footing and the podcast playing through my headphones I heard a man scream out in pain. I yelled back to him, “Are you alright?” And received only more screams in response. I quickly began my ascent back up the mountain to see if he was OK. When I reached him I asked him what happened and he explained his fall. We made some jokes about slipping and falling all the time, because I am quite the klutz, and told him I make embarrassing yelling noises 90 percent of the time, too. He tried to stand up and the second he put weight on his left foot he screamed and looked at me and said, “It is broken. My hike is over.”
I tried to crack jokes to lighten the mood but I didn’t even want to imagine being in his shoes. I requested he take ibuprofen and the pain pill he had in his pack and then started creating a plan. We decided that I needed to make a splint for his leg so I gathered his foam seat pad, two knee braces, two sticks, tape, and three bandanas. I did what I could to create a splint that would keep his ankle from moving so we could finish the hike down the mountain to a road. Once I finished that I went to find friends because I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. Unfortunately, there was no service so that meant hiking farther up the mountain I just came down. Luckily, by this point Bob Gnarly, Friend, and Happy Feet weren’t too far behind.
I explained the situation to them and we got to work. We split up the contents of Kibs’ pack (the man who fell) to disperse the weight. To make the situation slightly more difficult Kibs’ left arm was a prosthetic so Friend had to support him on the side that was not hurt. Bob Gnarly double packed it and Happy Feet and I ran farther up the mountain trying to get service to call for a ride for him. After going about a mile up the mountain with no luck we decided to try the other way. We hiked down the mountain again and met up with the crew. Eventually we got service and called some local shuttles who informed us that the nearest road was seven miles away. There was no way Kibs was doing that mileage on a broken ankle. Our only option at this point was to call EMTs to perform a mountain rescue. By this point a bunch of other hikers we know had caught up and were trying to help in any way they could.
It took us two and a half hours but we hiked two miles to a dirt four-wheeler road. We called the EMTs and sat down to wait. We did whatever we could to lighten the mood and make Kibs comfortable. After about an hour and a half of waiting we heard the four-wheelers and people shouting trying to find us. We kept shouting back but the road we made it to was super flooded from all the rain we’ve had recently so they were having a rough time getting to us. When they finally reached us, about an hour later, night had started to fall. We let the EMTs take it from there and the crew of hikers hiked the last two miles to shelter in the dark.
The next day Kibs texted me that he had in fact broken two bones in his ankle. (And that the ER doctor thought I did a good job on the splint). His hike would have to wait until next year. It was a very hectic and scary start to Vermont but it was also a sobering reminder of how easily this hike can come to an end.
It has rejuvenated my spirit to be out here and reminded me how lucky I am to be doing something I love every day. It is easy to become jaded by the rain, bugs, mud, rocks, and lack of views, but then I remember that I am surrounded by a community of people who banded together to help a fellow hiker in need. I remember that soon this adventure will be over and I will want more than anything to be back out here. Thru-hiking is tough but it is the most rewarding experience. And with that, I keep moving forward.
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