Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Seiz(ur)e the Day

5/13: Driving back to Virginia

5/14: 20 miles into Daleville

"We have to pick him up. No one else is going to pick him up."

Standing on the side of the road was a young-ish looking drifter kid wearing a bowler hat and holding a cardboard sign. We were somewhere in Connecticut where we'd pulled off to resupply for the coming week. We figured it would be easier while we still had the car and could get groceries at a store that hadn't been completely gutted by hikers. It was a miracle to walk into a facility that had more than one completely molested Gross Flavor Clif Bar sitting lonely and disheveled on a shelf. 

Dumptruck and I have had relatively good hitch-hiking luck, but have not been able to repay the universe this favor. Mostly because we've been in the woods and have no car. I would like to imagine that hikers could hitch-hike on each other by riding on the top of each other's packs like roving totem poles. Then we could play fun games like Hiker Chicken, Longest Distance Without Serious Injury and, my personal favorite, Ouch! My Spine!

Nattie was a 25-year-old leaf on the wind who had been hopping trains for the last 6 years. He smelled exactly like a thru-hiker and traveled with a small rambunctious black dog named Kaia. He lounged across the backseat, leaning against his pack while wind from the open window ruffled his matted long hair under his bowler hat. He had the voice of a smoker twice his own age but laughed as easily as a ticklish toddler. He made his living playing guitar on street corners or pan handling.

He told us about the train-hopping culture, and it doesn't sound very different from the life of a thru-hiker, though the dangers are different. For example, instead of bears there are giant pieces of heavy machinery hurtling across the landscape at 75mph that you have to jump on. We don't usually have to wait for a passing bear to reach out and grab ahold of in order to get to Maine. Even if you did successfully latch yourself onto a bear without arousing his suspicion and/or murderous rage, you would still have to contend with the fact that you would spend most of your trip up to your neck in river water while your ride catches spawning salmon with its mouth. This is unlike a train.

Nattie was on his way home to see his mother who he has not seen in 3 years. We drove him for 45 minutes to the small Connecticut town, and he grew quieter the closer we got. I can only imagine what was making him nervous, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that he is going to SEE HIS MOTHER for the FIRST TIME in YEARS after RIDING AROUND IN THE BACKS OF TRAINS, for HEAVENS SAKE YOUNG MAN, DO YOU WANT ME TO GO TO AN EARLY GRAVE?! That's not me being judgmental- that's just what I imagine his mother is going to sound like. There will probably also be a couple of "GET A JOB!"s and "WHAT WOULD YOUR GRANDFATHER THINK?!"s thrown in there, for good measure. I personally think his adventure is super cool and Kerouac-ian but I am also in the uniquely privileged position of not being his mother.

We dropped him and Kaia off in a little park on the outskirts of his mother's town. We drove away to the sight of him looking dejectedly down into the bowler hat in his hands, as though maybe he had been hoping to find courage somewhere in the felted folds. 

By 1am, Dumptruck and I were still a few hours outside Roanoke. However, we didn't want to pay for a hotel room because even though we took a break from the AT, we haven't stopped being homeless. We decided the most logical thing was just to sleep in the car somewhere. We pulled into the parking lot of a Super 8 and parked between a dumpster and a maintenance truck. We then settled down to the business of trying to get 2 tall people comfortable sleeping in a compact car. I am 5'7", Dumptruck is 6'2", and our rental car was about as spacious as the inside of a dishwasher. Trying to find a way to lay down and sleep was a little like trying to jam a pair of foam pool noodles into a lady's suitcase. But we persevered!

We woke up to the inside of the car being completely fogged over with our sleep breath. Dumptruck slapped some sense into himself and we rolled down all the windows, revealing a chilly morning. Dumptruck drove us the rest of the way to the Roanoke airport so we could drop off the rental car. At the airport was HAAWWWTTTDAAAWWWWGGGG! I almost exploded out of excitement to see her. She was driving her gigantic blue transformer Autobot truck, which could have fit 3 of our tiny rental cars inside of it, with space leftover for a few German Shephards and a refridgerator.

She drove us to the trailhead so that Dumptruck and I could hike our 20 miles into Daleville. Dumptruck and I loaded up our packs and took a quick glance at the map. The terrain looked tame-ish, and we got to go over McAfee's Knob, one of the prettiest and most photographed overlooks on the trail. There were approximately one zillion day hikers up to see the knob, so getting a photograph on the cliff was like waiting in line for the Dumbo ride at Disney World: worth the boiling hot shuffling wait in line, and not as scary once you're on it as you may have thought it would be when you're a terrified 3-year-old staring up at the underside of a bunch of flying elephants and imagining your own elephantine death. Luckily the knob was only 3 miles into the day, so the rest of the day we saw just a few other thru-hikers.

I had only a liter and a half of water, and the day was turning out to be a lot hotter than we had anticipated. Dumptruck and I met a fantastic, funny and engaging hiker named Reach, who kept a good hiking clip. She and I had hiked a bit ahead of Dumptruck, talking about all manner of fun things. After I'd been hiking with her for a while, I realized I'd run out of water.

"Hey Reach? Can you check the map to see how much farther to water?"

"Sure!" She checked. "There's no more water until Daleville, and that's not for 5 miles."

I goggled at her. We had apparently passed the last water source 2 miles previously. Dumptruck and I, having taken a few days off the trail for the wedding, and thinking we only had one hiking day until a town, had not paid close enough attention to the map. Reach had only a liter left for her and she still had to hike just as far, so we were out of luck. I was already pretty thirsty, so I waited for Dumptruck to catch up. He had 3 liters when we started, so I thought he might have had some water left.

5 minutes later: Dumptruck. He had zero water. We didn't really have a choice but to just keep hiking, and hope to get to the town before the dehydration got too bad. 

At this point I would like to interject the story and remind my mother and friends (I'M LOOKING AT YOU JES) that EVERYTHING IS OKAY. I am writing this blog, which means I'm alive, and at least capable of some degree of mental faculties. I promise that I will never make this mistake again, and that it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. But what good is going through terrible medical maladies if you can't at least serve as a warning to others? No good at all, I say! So, in the interest of posterity, I will finish this story. But in the interest of not leading my mother to an early grave (like Nattie's), I want to be clear again that EVERYTHING IS OKAY.

I started hiking again with Reach. Dumptruck said he would just meet us there because we was pretty tired and wanted to take it slow. Reach is lovely and very engaging, so it was easy to keep my mind off my thirst by chatting with her for the last 5 miles of the 20 mile day. I will remind you that for the entire 20 mile day I had only a liter and a half of water (for the uninitiated, that's like a gatorade and a half, which isn't very much). At about 4 miles in, my vision was getting splotchy, and I was having black and white blurs across my vision. I kept hiking, knowing that the only fix was water, and stopping would not get me any closer to hydration.

With only half a mile left to go, we came across a tiny piddly creek. If you had asked me before I started hiking if I would have willingly guzzled muddy barely flowing water, I would have said no... No wait, that's a lie. I have no standards, as long as it's sterilized. But muddy water full of dead leaves wouldn't be my first choice. However, at that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

I told Reach that I had to stop and get water even though we were almost to the town. She bid me farewell and left me alone, as Dumptruck was still behind us somewhere. I filled my water bottle and got out my chlorine drops. The drops have to sit for 5 minutes once mixed, then after you put them in the water, you have to wait for 15 minutes for it to sterilize the water. So one has to wait 20 minutes before the water can actually be imbibed.

I was sitting in the grass, staring at the chlorine drops and my timer when things started getting weird. My vision began to get seriously wonky and I felt freezing cold, even though it was hot outside. I started losing feeling in my fingers, which was only sort of alarming to me. my thoughts had to go through several layers of molasses-thick dumbness before they could access my frontal lobe. Dumptruck found me when I still had 8 minutes left before I could drink the water. I was rocking back and forth, completely unable to focus and taking strange, ragged breaths.

Dumptruck immediately laid me down and put my feet up on my backpack (the shock position! Yeah wilderness first aid!). The weird numb feeling had spread from my fingers, through my hands and to my arms. My body was twitching a little bit, but I attributed it to my chilliness. I had a minute left before I could drink my water when the seizures started. 

These were muscular seizures, meaning that my brain was okay, but the complete lack of water in my muscles caused them to contract and vibrate spasmodically. All of my fingers and my hands contorted into truly grotesque monster shapes, and my arms clamped against my sides and shook insanely. I've never seen my hands look like that, and I couldn't recreate the shape later when I tried to show people. I had absolutely no control over my body whatsoever- I tried to relax, I tried to exert control, but it didn't matter. The seizure was constant and was in my arms and torso (it didn't get to my legs). With my spine curled forward and my arms cramped and seizing against me, I looked a bit like a TRex that had fallen helplessly onto its back. Dumptruck had me take small, controlled sips of water from my water hose. I could only take tiny little gulps because of the seizing, and I couldn't take bigger sips without choking. 

Dumptruck stayed very calm, and even though I was horrified by my nightmare hands, I actually stayed pretty calm as well. I knew that I just needed to be rehydrated and eventually I'd be fine. Dumptruck called Hot Dog, and she drove to the trail head to meet us. Dumptruck got me to my feet once the worst of the active seizing had stopped (from start to finish it had been about half an hour of constant muscle seizure). 

When I sat up I immediately blacked out.

Dumptruck caught me expertly and apparently held me until I came around, which was just a few seconds later. I was able to get to my feet and shuffle along like an elderly lady in house slippers. My torso, arms and hands were completely rigid and immovable, though no longer actively vibrating. Dumptruck hid our packs in the bushes and then walked me the last half mile to the trail head. 

Hot Dog met us and drove me to the hotel which was about 200 feet away from the trail head. The Urgent Care center was closed, and we didn't think an ER visit was worth the money because we had the ability to rehydrate me (though probably not as efficiently as an IV). I got ushered into our hotel room and put on a drinking regimine, where I had to drink a gulp of gatorade every 5 minutes. I was feeling very goofy and loopy, rather like being drunk. This made my gatorade consumption the exact opposite of a drinking game- every shot made me a little LESS drunk. 

I woke up today feeling like my head had been a melon in a Gallagher show. I've been drinking so much water and gatorade that I've had to take a waz every hour, but I do feel quite a bit better. We are leaving early tomorrow (Thursday) morning to go down to Trail Days, so it wasn't worth it to hike today. Also, it's NINETY DEGREES OUT, so hiking didn't seem smart.

I am now reunited with Apple Butter and Apollo too! The next few days are going to be bonkers because of trail days, and I look forward to the insanity. I promise I will drink more water than a thousand dehydrated camels.

Clever Girl


  1. Well, if Shanty Town’s stated mission is to give parents mild heart attacks, you are very successful! Between sleeping in cars, climbing rock faces, becoming hypothermic, dehydrated, and projectile vomiting you’re hitting all the bases.  The good thing is that you will become parents who have hard data to support their mom-isms. It’s easy to imagine any of you talking to your future progeny saying “you drink that water, young man. Do you want to pass out? Let me tell you a story about that.” Thanks, as always, to all of you for watching out for each other. Dumptruck once again demonstrates calm and fortitude in the face of difficulty. Our hero! Love to all, Mom and Dad

  2. You forgot about the shoulder dislocation and the severe rash that led to 3 days in the hospital! We are getting it DONE injury-wise. Thanks for not freaking out too hard, and for being supportive of us, in spite of our continued efforts to accidentally off ourselves.
    Love you!!

  3. I DID forget those things! The way you all take things in stride and with such a good grace makes it easy to forget that you've been dealing with some major issues. Mom and I decided that you're working your way thru the first aid manual. Our advise is to tear out the pages you really don't want to encounter...we think it's some sort of Harry Potter like magical book that makes things happen. Have fun at Trail Days! Love and kisses, Mom and Dad

  4. Thank you for the disclaimer... Doesn't make me any happier to read it. I'm glad you're ok! Miss you!!! <3