My worst injury on the Appalachian Trail happened when I fell on a road.
Yes, you read that correctly. I’d walked 1500 miles, arrived in Massachusetts, climbed up the relatively impressive Everett and Race, descended to a road, took one step on it, and fell to the ground.
Trigger warning: There will be blood.
I blame a combination of new, t00-small boots and a branch on the road, but fault didn’t matter. What did matter was the fact that I was on my hands and knees in the middle of the road with my full pack on my back, nauseated because of the pain shooting from my knee.
Sitting so that I could look at my knee, I had my first glance of the Barrington Crater, as I came to call it. In falling, I’d taken a sizable amount of flesh out of my knee, and blood was flowing from the resulting crater. At this point, I should explain that I grew up on a little farm; I’ve dealt with all sorts of animal emergencies and am generally calm and tough in such situations. Likewise, I’ve been able to stay calm and think clearly in emergencies involving other people. This was not the case when I looked at my knee and realized that the fluid dripping down my bent leg while I was sitting on the road was my own blood. I grew faint and worked to remain conscious.
Luckily, at that moment, a thru-hiking family came up the trail behind me, and a southbounder arrived just moments later. While I was busy being barely communicative, they helped me to scoot out of the middle of the road, pooled their first aid resources together, and started working to clean me up.
As they were tending to me, an SUV started rumbling down the road toward us and then promptly pulled off the road nearby. The driver, a petite, middle-aged woman, jumped out of the vehicle and came hurrying our way.
Talking to me quietly and asking me simple questions, she worked to help me remain conscious while she bandaged up my knee.
“Where are you staying tonight?” she asked as she finished.
“Not far,” I said. “I’ll camp in the woods around here.”
Without hesitation, she invited not only me but also Palm Tree, who’d been hiking with me for a few days and was just a few minutes behind me when I’d fallen, to her home. I was so relieved at the thought of being able to be off my leg and keep it clean for a couple days. Palm Tree and Mary Kate helped me into the latter’s car.
Regardless of the fact that we were sweaty and dirty and bloody (or, at least, I was), Mary Kate welcomed us into her living room, where she continued to tend to my knee (and other, smaller, wounds). She ordered pizza for us and her teenage and young adult children, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal together.
For the next two days, I felt like part of Mary Kate’s family. Palm Tree and I ate, talked, and shopped with her and her children. We stayed in “the clubhouse,” a shed in the backyard that was cozy and comfortable. And, I served as Palm Tree’s sous chef as he created a delicious Thai meal to thank Mary Kate and her family.
While I’d had no problem escaping the Neels Gap vortex, the Hot Springs vortex, or the Waynesboro vortex, I must confess that I found it rather difficult to leave Mary Kate and keep hiking north — and not just because my knee was tender. Her hospitality, generosity, and kindness made me see her not just as an exemplary trail angel but as an exemplary human being, and I like to think that I became a bit like her because of the time I spent with her. I certainly consider her part of the reason that I stood atop Katahdin.