Archive | May, 2013

!Holey Fricking Tonsil!

31 May
Bo Lucie Velcro

Taken yesterday, when my Dad (and Velcro) kidnapped us from the Trail.

Day 65 (5/25) – 5.9 miles

Day 66 (5/26) – urgent care for throat infection (yeah, again, wtf)

Day 67 (5/27) – 19.8 miles

Day 68 (5/28) – reunion with Bojangles and zero day in Dalesville, VA

Day 69 (5/29) – 11.2 miles

Day 70 (5/30) – 8.1 miles and got kidnapped by Dad

Day 71 (5/31) – lovely visit with Dr. ENT in the Washington, DC metro area

AT Mileage to Date – 742.8 miles

The last week has been… eventful.  I’ll work on filling you in on the details, but let’s just start with the biggest news, shall we?


Yeah, so I’ve been battling this throat infection for 5 weeks.  I’ve — painfully — swallowed 4 courses of antibiotics, 1 steroid, and 6 bottles of ibuprofen.  And yet, my tonsils remain red, swollen, full of holes, and coated with white crud.  I went to an urgent care place in Roanoke last Sunday, where the nurse practitioner lady (1) called my throat “nasty,” (2) threw up her hands, and (3) then gave me antibiotic #5 (a 10-day course of Bactrim).

And then I got back on the Trail.  But ya know what, days passed and my throat still freaking hurt, and I felt run-down and generally like crap (5 antibiotics in a month will probably do that to ya).  9 miles into Wednesday, I sat on a log and called my Dad.  “My throat still hurts, and I feel like crap, Dad.”

At which point he freaked out.  Yesterday, he drove to the Trail and kidnapped Bojangles and me.  [Oh yeah, did I mention that Bojangles and I met up in Daleville two days ago?]

And this morning at 9:45 a.m., my butt landed in a cream-colored Washington-DC-metro-area ENT’s chair.  As it turns out, Dr. ENT was – of all things – a freaking hiker.  He’s hiked portions of the AT and dreams of thru-hiking it when he retired.  We talked hiking and gear.  It was cool.

He then told me that my throat looks horrible – the worst he’s seen in 8 months of looking at them every day, all day.  And that I have chronic tonsillitis and that I need to get them removed.  Like right now.

At which point I told him I would just “tough it out.”  But then he laid in with the fear mongering… about how I was a tonsillar abscess waiting to happen, which is a medical emergency and could kill me in the woods (apparently that’s how George Washington went).  And then he started in on the negative effects of having a long-term active infection in your body and living on antibiotics.

Sooooooooooo… I’m getting a tonsillectomy on Wednesday.  Dr. ENT was fully booked but is coming in early to cut ’em out.  (Bless his heart!)

I know – I was stunned, too.  I walked out into the waiting room and sat down in the chair beside Bojangles.  My eyes were wide as saucers.  Words were not forthcoming.  I put my hand over my face and grumbled.  Holey fricking tonsil.

While I’ve yet to figure it all out exactly, I will be back on the Trail soon.  In 3 weeks or so, and I’ll – finally – be feeling good.  And I’ll be a few grams lighter.

Life is good.  Even if it gets sore sometimes.

After hearing the tonsillectomy news, Bo and I had margaritas with lunch with Dad. After not drinking for a

After hearing the tonsillectomy news, Bo and I had frozen margaritas for lunch. My Dad had the fajitas (some people have to work).  After not drinking for over a month, one ‘rita left me stumbling into the pre-operative blood work appointment.

Life in the Army

25 May

On Wednesday morning, I was hiking along blaring a Grateful Dead song (“drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”) when I thought Bigfoot was baring down on me.

It was actually another hiker – an over-fit and over-caffeinated one. He was moving at an incredible pace, displacing foliage, twigs, and rocks as he went. I had met him in passing the day before and knew him to be 24 years old and fresh out of 5 1/2 years in the Army Rangers. He’d lost some of his sight in his right eye after having been shot in Afghanistan and so had recently gotten out of the military, dissatisfied with “pushing papers” after years of “kicking down doors.”

We exchanged pleasantries (about a lost watch and a dead snake, both on the Trail that morning) as I let him pass.

But then I decided I would try to keep up with him. I doubled-timed and then triple-timed my pace. I dug my trekking poles in harder to propel myself forward. I deftly, if perhaps recklessly, hopped from rock to rock. Slowly but surely, he began going faster and faster. My life became a blur. It was like I was in a video game, figuring out each move nanosecond by nanosecond. We’re talking full afterburners here. I began pouring sweat, soaking myself. A steep hill came. I charged ahead, throat burning and gasping for breath.

“Woman,” he finally said after we crested the hill, “what is your name?”
“No, what is your real name?”
I furiously brushed sweat off my face and tried to sound strong (and not hopelessly out of breath) when I said “Lucie Van Damme.”
“Well damn Lucie,” he said, “You are the toughest woman I’ve met. How the hell are you keeping up with me right now?”
I drew in a deep breath in attempt to calm my spasming diaphragm and said, “Well you are the slowest Ranger I’ve met. How is the Army picking ’em these days?”

At this, it was all over. He flung around and saw me in all my glory: chest heaving, face red as a maraschino cherry, massive beads of sweat ski jumping off my nose and cheeks and chin. We broke down laughing.

We hiked together for the rest of the day, literally mowing over other hikers. He told me about his charmed childhood spent playing in the woods. He joked about winning the gene pool with his dark-haired, green-eyed Scottish good looks, with a just a tinge of American Indian thrown in there to tan his skin and chisel his cheekbones.

We took a water break at every 15-minute interval. I felt like I was in the Army.

I asked him why he had a bunch of bananas strapped to his pack. He told me how he’d hiked 27 miles the week before and started peeing blood. Apparently the ER doctor said his kidneys were shutting down and suggested potassium-rich bananas.

I decided against joining the Army.



27 Miles

24 May

Day 58 (5/18) – Trail Days!
Day 59 (5/19) – 11.9 miles
Day 60 (5/20) – 21.4 miles
Day 61 (5/21) – 17.2 miles
Day 62 (5/22) – 16.4 miles
Day 63 (5/23) – 27.0 miles
Day 64 (5/24) – 16.8 miles
Total AT Mileage to Date – 697.8 miles

Yes, folks, you read that right: yesterday I hiked 27 miles – that’s more than a marathon – by myself (I saw 3 people all day, 2 of which were together) – with a 26-pound pack. There were two big mountains in there. It took me 11 hours. I ran most of the non-rocky downhill portions of the last 6 miles due to crackling thunder overhead as dusk set in (and what I was sure were bear prints underfoot).

This was my trail journal entry penned – in shaky, loopy handwriting – moments after finishing:
“27 miles today! Almost croaked. But proud of myself – 2 months ago, I was too scared to walk 100 yards in the woods alone. -Oxy”

[Every shelter on the AT has a trail journal, where people leave notes of all sorts.]

Not 5 minutes later, the heavens opened up and furiously rained down upon God’s wild green wilderness.

And then, as if an encore, two giant bolts of lightning struck the privy (the outhouse, remember) 100 yards away. Pink and orange fireworks erupted off the metal roof. “Holy trucking Shiite!,” I cheered.


The second biggest oak tree on the AT:

Selfie of me with a white blaze, so happy to see it after briefly losing the Trail:



Tragedy at Trail Days

18 May

As previously mentioned, my Dad picked me up from the Trail yesterday and brought me to Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia – an annual festival that celebrates the famed Appalachian Trail and the hikers who hike it.

Well today was an eventful one at Trail Days. My Dad and I were standing across from the Dollar General looking at the head of the annual hiker parade:


When an elderly man had a “medical incident” of some sort and plowed into the back of the parade – right where my 2013 thru-hiking class was walking. (Thank goodness I opted out of walking in the parade, as my Dad of course wanted me to do.)

Various and sundry news outlets from the Wall Street Journal to BBC to the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that 50-60 hikers were injured with 3 being airlifted to the hospital and 12-15 taken via ambulance.

The news from ground zero is a bit brighter. 50-60 is a tad overblown, and none of the injuries are life-threatening. Fortunately, my friend Rainbow Bright only has a broken toe. That is pretty good for getting legit run over – to the point where hikers had to pick up the car to get her out. But here she is tonight (She’s in the middle; Willow – on the left – also got tapped by the car but is good):


[See the CNN article here.]


Of course, my heart goes out – wholly and sincerely – to the driver and the injured hikers.

With that being said, I tread lightly…

For perhaps it is too soon to find even the slightest of smiles in this tragic story, but I could not help but read some of the 1000+ comments on the CNN story. A sampling:

Joan: What happened? Is this another old geeser who should have stopped driving 10 years ago? Or do we need to ban assault vehicles now?

ColossalFart: it’s probably something really stupid like somebody texting

Poopy McNuggets: old people don’t know how to text

Juan Cabrillo: It was an old guy. The car in the picture is a classic old person car. The kind that just needs a prop and rudder and it’s a boat.

AngryChair: How do you hit 50 or 60 people with one car? My car can only run over about 10 people before it gets stuck.

Hans Frypan: CNN, why don’t you try this headline: Fossil Drives Large Assault Car at Hiker Parade.

Alive and Kicking

18 May

Day 52 (5/12) – sick day (butt shots in the AM)
Day 53 (5/13) – sick day
Day 54 (5/14) – 11.6 miles
Day 55 (5/15) – 13.9 miles
Day 56 (5/16) – 19.1 miles
Day 57 (5/17) – 11.9 miles
Total AT Mileage to Date – 587.1 miles

After my little trip to the doctor on Day 52 (that resulted in the butt shots and antibiotic #4), I started – slowly but surely – to feel better. I’m not gonna sugar coat it, though… I didn’t bounce back like Jack in the Box. All the meds wore me out, and I’ve way underestimated the cumulative wearing-out effect of life on the Trail. No matter how you may try to beef up things around the margins, the fact of the matter is that:
– you are living in the woods,
– you are being exposed to new bacteria for which you have little immunity,
– your diet sucks,
– you are perpetually dehydrated,
– you are not getting good sleep, and
– you are spending 8-10 hours a day hiking the spine of a mountain range, loaded down like a pack animal.

So the good ole immune system may be a bit crippled.

Buttttttt not out for the count. After 4 days off in Marion, Virginia (in which I read the entire grocery store magazine rack, watched Ryan Lochte’s new reality show (wtf), and completed my first successful bathroom hair dye job), I was going a little nutty.

So I hit the Trail on Tuesday, going 11.6 miles in a cool 4 hours before I succumbed to exhaustion and checked into the roadside Relax Inn for the night. And I was as happy as a bug in a rug, despite the fact that my Relax Inn motel room smelled like a pack of smoldering cigarettes resting on a plate of Indian food. And had multiple lamps without lampshades. And when you turned the (snowy) TV off, the lights went out, too.

But I slept well, and the next morning I was up and at ’em again.

And so goes this week – I’ve been tooth and nailing myself back onto the Trail. But yesterday (Friday, 5/17) – thanks to some nice terrain – I was rollin’, covering 11.9 miles before 11. At which point I caught a ride into the town of Bland, Virginia and ate a small Dairy Queen cookie dough/PB cup blizzard before my Dad and Velcro pulled in. I hopped in the truck, and we drove back to Damascus (where we spent the last resupply weekend two weeks ago). Why? Because this weekend is “Trail Days” – the biggest and the baddest Appalachian Trail hiking festival and, by all accounts, a quintessential thru-hiking experience. I’ve only soaked in a few hours so far, but I have seen some interesting things:

Other shots…

My Dad picking me up (and Velcro greeting me) at the gas station Dairy Queen in Bland [he told me I smelled like “aged cheese”]:

I like buttercups, and Bojangles requested a “non-dying” photo of me to prove that I was alive:

Oh yeah, and I was thrilled to walk through Bear Town:

Especially after seeing this sign:

What else… oh yes, helpful advice from Oprah magazine:

And a glamour-in-the-throes-of-sickness shot of my new $5 sunglasses from Wal-Mart (after the breaking of my last):

And, of course, that which remains: the Trail:



When It Rains, It Pours

12 May


Day 43 (5/3) – zero day (Bo and I were lazy)
Day 44 (5/4) – zero day with Dad (i.e., pancakes, Iron Man 3, Dairy Queen, etc.)
Day 45 (5/5) – zero day (Bo and I lazy again + meltdown)
Day 46 (5/6) – 7.8 miles (on my own now)
Day 47 (5/7) – 18.6 miles
Day 48 (5/8) – 16.0 miles
Day 49 (5/9) – 19.7 miles
Day 50 (5/10) – throat infection part 2
Day 51 (5/11) – throat infection part 2, cont.
Total AT Mileage to Date – 530.7 miles

Yep, it’s still raining – literally and figuratively.

In the past week, there’s been the incessant rain, the split with Bojangles, the post-split dialogue with Bojangles, and the nasty recurrence of my throat infection (after my amoxicillin ran out).

So then I took a course of azithromycin and spent two nights at the Bates Motel (a.k.a. the Travel Inn in Marion, Virginia).

Last night was my 5th bad night – so I went back to the doctor this morning. And got a steroid shot in my left butt cheek, an antibiotic shot in my right cheek, and a 10-day script for some more antibiotics. Infection be gone already!

I just walked across the street to the America’s Best Value Inn, where I’ll spend two more nights. I plan on taking six showers a day (because they have shampoo here!) and listening to Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall on repeat (thanks Erin and Jan!).

So yeah, it sucks. Sometimes I have pangs where I feel like a worthless bum.

But I can honestly say that life is still good. An hour phone call to a dear friend undergoing chemo put things into perspective pretty quickly for me. He’s got a sore throat that feels like swallowing nails the whole way down. And that’s complaint #7 on his list. If he were complaining, that is…

So now I’m off on a morning stroll to Wal-Mart to fill my prescription, buy a book, and smile at someone.

I’d like to thank all those who have send good thoughts my way – via text, comment, my Dad, or telepathy – and reminded me that every storm runs out of rain.








Trouble in Paradise

8 May

Everyone on the Trail wants to know. So I might as well tell you, too: Bo and I aren’t hiking together anymore.

It wasn’t a romantic breakup; it was way more intimate: it was a hiking partner breakup. For 34 days, we shared – almost without exception – every single minute, every single meal, every single mile. We shared food, water, fuel, my spoon, his knife.

We shared our hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and failures. I’ve heard about his mom, dad, sister, brother… and every one of his aunts and uncles. He’s chilled with my Dad and chatted with Aunt Leslie.

The end – 3 nights ago – was kind of messy and involved him packing up and hiking out into the dark and rain. 12 hours later, I headed out. I hiked a miserable 8 miles up a hill to a shelter. “I want to hike alone, I want to hike alone,” I told myself.

At the shelter, I laid down my piece of Tyvek, blew up my pad, and unstuffed my sleeping bag. And then I sat there in silence. Eventually I collected water and cooked dinner. And ate the Snickers bar that Bo would have never let me eat on the first night out of town.

And then – in search of my toothbrush -I flipped my pack upside down and dumped it out.

An orange and white fishing bobber fell out and rolled across the shelter floor.

We had found that bobber on our favorite day of the Trail – outside of Hampton, TN in a little swampy patch along Lake Wautaga. That night, Bo had so carefully bent the wire back in place around the yellow plastic base and etched “Bojangles” across the front. The next morning, he affixed it to the shoulder strap on his pack and joked about changing his name to “Bob Jangles” and told me about the fish he was going to catch with it.

I twirled the bobber in my fingers for a second before setting it down and reaching for my toothbrush.

Walking alone is not a new page or a new chapter. It’s a whole new book. And the heavens themselves are bawling, dumping truckloads of rain on everything in sight. I’ve been soaked for 3 days. The trail might as well be a stream bed. And I’m lonely.