Hello internet. I just finished thru-hiking a 180-mile loop of the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, and it was incredible. I’m working on those blog posts right now. But in the meantime, I’d like to get something off my chest.
I was rescued in a helicopter while hiking the Hayduke trail last year.
I did not skip a single mile of the Hayduke. In fact, the version of the Hayduke that most people hike these days is anywhere from 50 to 100 miles longer than the original route. (Our hike was 850 miles, so 50 miles longer.) Not that there’s anything wrong with skipping miles, or hiking however the frick you want to hike- but just for the record, I didn’t skip. I was, however, rescued in a helicopter.
You can read about my fever and need for rescue on the Hayduke here, here and here. I’d come down with a fever the night before, and in the morning I was super sick- delirious and weak. I could barely walk. At the time, my chronic illness (which has since been resolved with fecal transplants), was just beginning to make itself known, and I would occasionally get these random flu-like fevers after intense physical exertion. The day I woke up sick on the Hayduke, we were in the middle of a long waterless stretch, so we couldn’t just take a day off on trail. My hiking partner/wonderful human/boyf at the time, Dan, wanted to press the button on his PLB, but I said no.
“Helicopters are for when a boulder falls on your leg, and you have to saw it off with your swiss army knife,” I said.
A few miles back, we’d crossed a rough dirt road where Dan had had reception, so we walked there. We were near a random tentacle of lake Powell, and 28 miles down this rough dirt road was the highway. We would’ve hitched, but we’d walked on this dirt road for hours the day before, and there was no traffic. As far as we knew, it could be days, or longer, before a car drove down this road. Once we reached the road, I curled up in my sleeping bag in the shade of a rock outcropping and lay there, shivering, while Dan called search and rescue- they said they’d send someone out, and we assumed they meant they’d send someone on the road, in a truck. Forty-five minutes later, we heard the sound of the helicopter blades. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, as there is absolutely no shame in getting rescued, but I was humiliated. There are few things that people will tear you down for more, in the long-distance hiking community, than being rescued in a helicopter. Here I was, sick and unable to hike and with limited water, in very legitimate need of rescue, and all I could feel was embarrassment and frustration. Why hadn’t they come out in a truck?
“I didn’t know y’all were going to send a helicopter,” I said, as the extremely stoked flight nurse bro helped Dan and I into our seats.
“It’s only a four minute flight!” he said, beaming. “And the view of lake Powell is incredible! Get your cameras out!” We told him about the route we were doing. “Hayduke lives!” he shouted, as the blades of the helicopter began to spin.
The view WAS incredible. Lake Powell from the air was so otherwordly that I cried. Or maybe it was the fever? Ha. Four minutes later we touched down at the airport in Page, Arizona. A free airport shuttle took us to our motel, where I collapsed. It was 24 hours before I was able to eat, and a few days before I was ready to hike again. Once I felt well, we went to every outdoors-oriented business in Page until we found a local that, for one hundred dollars, was willing to drive us down that very long, very rough dirt road, back to the exact spot where I was rescued. We did not skip. (Not that there would’ve been anything wrong with skipping, but if we had I would’ve told you, in the blog.)
At the time, I only told a few of my hiker friends about my rescue. I told Drop n Roll, Bubs, and Joey, who were on the Hayduke a few days ahead of us, but who we got to hang out with/cross paths with in town a number of times. I told other friends, later, in person. Some stories are better in person anyway- especially because I love impersonating the super-stoked flight nurse bro and his boundless enthusiasm. On my blog, instead of writing about the rescue, I said that we’d hitch-hiked into town. I did this not because I was ashamed- I’d gotten over that once I was in Page, safe in my motel room, feverish in bed- but because I knew that once word got out about my helicopter rescue, I would be bullied and trashed for it within the long-distance hiking community, and I wanted to delay the inevitable. I also felt that, really, it was none of anyone’s business that I was rescued, and the internet was not entitled to judge my decisions, as the internet loves to do, especially when it comes to the people being rescued in the outdoors. And- I hate putting this into words because I would rather focus on the more positive aspects of long-distance hiking and all of the wonderful dear friends I’ve made over the years- but there are some really, really bad apples in the long distance hiking community. There, I said it. There are people who live to bully, troll, and destroy the reputations of others, because of their own guilt/insecurities/I don’t even fucking know/can’t think about it too much or it will surely drive me insane. These are people who would be driven out of many other communities for their shady ways, but simply because they’ve walked a lot of miles, they are held up as heros. Luckily, there are thousands of people in the long distance hiking community, and SO MANY of them are wonderful. But trolls are gonna troll, and I wanted to protect myself, for as long as I could.
The word that I’d been rescued did eventually get out into the larger community, and I was bullied online by two of these awful people, who started a public thread on facebook saying that I was a “fake hiker” because I’d been rescued off the Hayduke, and that I needed to be called out for it. Ever since then, gossip about how I’m a “fake hiker” has been making its way back to me. For the record- I skipped 50 miles of the PCT each year I hiked it. I skipped 100 miles of the CDT when I hiked that trail. I write about all these skips when they happen in my blog posts for those trails. We each make our own “rules” about what thru-hiking is, and I feel that as long as you’re true to yourself, who really gives a fuck. My rule for myself is that if I skip, I write about it in my blog post for that day. And I do my best to skip as little as possible. For the CDT, I allowed myself to skip 50 miles of paved roadwalking, because fuck that, and then I skipped 50 miles to catch up with my friends after I had giardia. Am I a “fake hiker”? No, I’m fucking not. I’m tough and awesome. And neither is anyone else who hikes. Long-distance hiking is really hard, in all sorts of different ways for different people, and calling people “fake hikers” is elitist bullshit at its worst. And it’s not that hard to ignore the gossip that comes back to me, because none of it is coming from people who I respect. And I can only imagine how pathetic these people look, ranting on and on about how I’m a fake hiker, when they could be… hiking? Doing absolutely anything else? My life is awesome and so full of incredible experiences and wonderful kind brilliant honest ethical people who are like shining stars in the dark endless night and I’m so grateful for them I could cry and I’m actually really really happy right now, but I wanted to write this post because-
There is no shame in being rescued.
I legitimately needed rescue, and I’m so so glad that I was. And I’m stoked that I got to see Lake Powell from the air. I hope you never need to be rescued from the wilderness, but if you do, there is absolutely no shame in it. And after you’re rescued, which I hope never happens, you can tell five people, you can tell the whole internet, or you can tell no-one. All of these choices are fine. No-one is entitled to judge the ways you keep yourself safe, and you are welcome to share (or not share) whatever you want. You are allowed to draw the lines where you want them.
Trolls are boring, hiking is awesome.
Be strong, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, either, as vulnerability takes the greatest strength of all.
And Lake Powell is really, really beautiful from the air.