That’s when it happened, she went down hard! I could see by the scared look in her eyes that she was hurt. “Are you OK?” She did not say anything! She did not come down that last slope. “How bad is it?” “Give me a minute” I gave her 10 seconds. “How bad!” “I don’t know!” “Well what do you think!” More tears, more shaking. “Do you think it’s broke!” “I don’t know!” “Well what do you think” “Give me a minute!” “What do you need me to do?" " I don't know" She just stared at me, her eyes filled with tears and she started shaking, holding her left leg. Now I was scared! I was already mad at myself for being distracted and not watching her come down that last slope. What do you want me to do!?” “ I don’t know!” “Can you put weight on it?” “ I don’t know” “Let me help you up!” “Give me a minute!” It went on like this while we both tried to understand what just happened. We then decided to just sit there awhile and see if the pain went away or if it would start to swell. If she could not walk on it we were in trouble being this high up on a ridge with actual climbing, not just walking to get back down to lower elevations. I then noticed that we were sitting right on the border of New York and New Jersey. There nailed to a tree was an AT trail register box. It is a box painted with the AT logo and contains a register log that hikers are supposed to sign into stating their names, number in the hiking party and other information to help trail officials, ridge runners and even police in the case a hiker disappears or to report trail conditions that might be of interest to them. It is also a way communicate to other hikers up and down the trail. I decided to sign in and leave the information that Toesocks had fallen and injured her leg and that we would be “limping out to the nearest road crossing to get help”. I also knew that the hikers behind us at the shelter the previous night would be coming our way and would learn about our situation. They could be counted on to help us if we needed it. Hikers on the AT look out for each other and will help you if there is any sort of emergency. I also checked our data book and learned that we had about five miles of very rugged terrain to get out to the nearest road. After we looked closely at her ankle and saw that the swelling was not too bad we wrapped it tightly in an ace bandage and she tried to get up and put some weight on it. We did not think it was broken, maybe just a bad sprain. Toesocks would not let me carry her pack, though I did lighten it by dumping her water and taking the food she had in it. We started for the road crossing limping slowly and taking it very slow. We knew that the fastest of the hikers from last night would be catching up with us anytime now. Toesocks was limping along with stops to sit down and cry. I started thinking that we would be spending the night in the rocks and not make the road crossing before dark. There was no way we were going to be carried out! In some places we had to climb down sheer rock faces using both hands and feet with Toesocks handing her pack and poles off to me before I had to help her up or down a tough section. In some spots she had to use me as a ladder to step up or down on, my shoulder or knee acting as a step for her to make it through the maze of rocky obstacles. We made it to a tenting area and took a break using the log benches around the fire ring. Soon we heard hikers coming up the trail in our direction. It was Sunny and Share followed by Low Impact who we met in Virginia and a hiker from Italy we had met the day before. They all knew what happened by reading the trail register and offered to carry Toesocks and her pack all the way out to the road crossing. We told them hopefully it was just a sprain and that if we could make it out to the road we would call Anton’s on the Lake, a local motel to come and pick us up. There would be a phone at the Bellvale Creamery near the road crossing according to our data book and there would also be ice cream! After a day or two of rest at the motel we planned to be back on the trail. As the other hikers dumped their packs to take a break with us we learned of the events the night before that had them packing up and moving out of the shelter in the rain. Low Impact told us that after they were settled in the packed shelter a section hiker called Disco Dancer came in and they made room for him. Earlier as Toesocks and I were setting up our tarp we noticed him stagger into the shelter area. He came crashing through the woods and not on the trail. He was overweight and over packed and very over heated! He looked like he had tried to break up a fight between angry porcupines! Scratched and breathing heavily he told us that he was too tired to set up his tent. He said that somehow he had lost the trail and was just relieved to have found the shelter! The last we saw of him was when he headed for the shelter full of thru-hikers. It was now late at night and the rain was pounding on the roof of the shelter. The hikers were all asleep, dry and cozy as the first signs that something was not right started to appear. It began like someone turning over in their sleeping bag, a soft rustling sound. No one awoke. Then began a trashing sound, like someone having a bad dream, moaning and groaning but not waking. A few of the hikers were now stirred awake. They whispered that Disco Dancer was dreaming about being lost on the AT that day and chased by a hungry bear. He seemed to be running from it still as they laughed and tried to go back to sleep. It was not to be. Disco Dancer looked like a newly landed trout flopping around inside his sleeping bag, kicking the wall on one side and the startled hiker on his other side. He was heaving up and down and side to side like if you awoke to find a copperhead sharing your sleeping bag! Groaning loudly now and pounding his feet against the floor and wall of the wooden shelter ,and the hiker sleeping next to him, every hiker was awake and growing angry. The small shelter had everyone lined up tightly side by side to fit in safe from the rain. It has been known on the AT for everyone to have to sleep on their sides to make enough room in the shelter for a hiker in the rain! The thrashing now got more violent and to make it worse he was the only one sleeping! They had enough of this sleeping “disco dancer”! They decided to shake him awake and ask him what was wrong! Was he having a bad dream or did he have some kind of serious sleep disorder? No one had seen anything this strange in 1300 miles of sharing shelters. This had gone way past being funny! Some were concerned for his safety. This could be some kind of seizure! Maybe he was an epileptic? When he was jostled awake and told of his disturbing midnight dancing he said that he did indeed have a “slight” sleep disorder but had been so tired that he failed to take his medication. “Failed to take his medication”? He knew he had this problem and still decided to squeeze into the crowded shelter. This bit of information did not go over well with the tired hikers. Thru-hikers are by nature a very tolerable lot but this was a serious violation of shelter etiquette. Some voted he should be tossed out into the rain. He did have a tent after all! Others said it was a medical condition and not his fault, though he should have known not to use a crowded shelter with this kind of problem. To make matters worse he didn’t even seem aware that he had done anything wrong. The disgusted hikers just got up, packed up their gear and dragged their sleeping bags out into the rain to find a place to tent out. They left him alone on the dance floor! Sitting around the campsite now we told them what he had said about being too tired to set up his tent. This made them angry all over again and they wished they had chewed him out more for being lazy and inconsiderate! Toesocks and I had a good laugh hearing this story because we had slept soundly and dry under our tarp not knowing of their miserable night in and out of the shelter. Then we all had a good laugh about it. It is just the way of the trail, you cannot fight it, you just have to adjust to it. After checking that we would be alright they threw on their packs and hiked north. After all, ice cream was only a few miles away! Ice cream on a long thru-hike can be a big motivator, even with an injured leg. We envied Sunny, Share, Low and the Italian as they hiked out of sight. They would be enjoying ice cream hours before us, that’s if we even made it out to the road before dark. I calculated that we were "hiking" less than one mile per hour, but at least we were out of the high rocks as the trail started winding down to slightly more level terrain.
(to be continued)
The pic above is a sign posted along the AT during part of our 2008 hike by District Rangers. Several people lost their food to bears along the trail but we had no such encounters.