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View Full Version : "Noro not Nero" A 2013 Thruhike Story



Cro-Mag
07-20-2014, 14:22
Hello everyone,

I thought I would share a story I wrote about a few days on the trail from my 2013 thruhike.

For those with weak stomachs, beware. All others, enjoy!



"Noro not Nero"

I was full of excitement when I started the seven mile, 2,900 foot ascent up to Sassafrass Gap Shelter. I had just left behind the comforts of the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. It was my fifteenth day into an attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. On days thirteen and fourteen, I was hit by a snow storm that slowed my pace down to one mile per hour. With the company of my new friend, Risscuit (pronounced "Risk-It"), we both managed to hike 17 miles on the fifteenth day so we could have a warm meal, shower and bed at the NOC. It was an empowering feeling, having trudged out the miles in knee deep snow, wearing frozen shoes and stiff jackets.
The following day, Risscuit and I ate breakfast, did laundry and then started the hike up to Sassafrass Gap Shelter, where we planned to spend the night. Snow still blanketed the ground, but the sun was out, and the thought of Winter seemed distant once again. The uplifting feeling of conquering the storm still filled my body with adrenaline. We hiked on crunchy snow that had been packed down by our best friends ahead of us. Risscuit and I reached the shelter by 6:30 PM, we cooked dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags around 8:30 PM. The weather report called for temperatures in the low 20's that evening. Everyone in the full shelter let down their personal space barriers and welcomed the extra body heat.
Sassafrass Gap Shelter sleeps fourteen people, seven on the bottom and seven on the loft. We had sixteen people in the shelter that night. Risscuit and I were sleeping on the loft. Suddenly, I hear Risscuit rise up very fast. I see her grab a plastic bag, the one she kept her journal in, and dump the contents onto her sleeping bag. I then hear the splash of beef stew vomit coating the plastic bag. I cowered in my bag, trying not to smell what had just left her body. She called out my name "SaladůSaladů" so I snapped out of my childhood fear of vomit, and went to help her. The bag she tried to throw up in had ripped open, so the contents of her stomach was now on top of her sleeping bag.
I climbed down from the loft and ran to the tree where I had hung our food bags, and where I had wet wipes. In my dead on sprint to the tree, I slipped on some ice and did my best impression of a cartoon character stepping on a banana peel. Ouch! When I came back from fetching the wipes, two other hikers had given her camp towels to help her clean up. Since her sleeping bag was filled with down and was now soaked, it was unusable. The vomit would soon freeze to the outside of her bag.
In a bit of a panicked moment, where I kept on repeating out loud "OkůOkůOků", as to try and think of what to do next, we came upon the idea to share her one person tent (MSR Hubba). I would lend her my sleeping bag for the night and I would sleep in my sleeping bag liner and an emergency blanket. We put her air mattress under us and my air mattress against the wall of her tent, in an attempt to keep the warmth inside.
I had never set up her tent before, and since it was dark as cup of coffee outside, I needed her help. Midway through setting up, she got sick again. I felt so bad. We managed to squeeze into her tent, our heads were at opposite ends to maximize space.
We managed to get comfortable and close our eyes. Not ten minutes later, she unzipped the sleeping bag, unzipped the tent, mashed her feet into her boots and took a few steps away before getting sick. This would soon become her ritual. Every half-hour on the dot.
By the sixth time she got sick, I was feeling a bit worried. It was nearly midnight, and we were on top of a mountain, in freezing temperatures. The closest known civilization was a seven mile hike away. Now was not the time to panic, but the night can seem so frightening when you are wishing for the sun would rise. Risscuit came back into the tent from dry heaving a few times. There was nothing left in her sore stomach. She was left at the mercy of her body's natural process to eliminate whatever it wanted to exhume.
Before starting the AT, Risscuit had shaved off all of her hair. I thought about making a joke to lighten up the mood, "I'd hold your hair, but there would be nothing to grab." I refrained from making the comment, thinking she would not be in the mood for laughter. Instead, I made a comment that I should have kept to myself, "You're really starting to worry me", I said. It was the truth, but I needed to be the one telling her everything would be fine. That we would wake up in the morning, and the warmth of the sun would wash away all the terrible feelings from the emptiness of the night before. Instead, being the brave soul that she is, Risscuit said back "Maybe the sixth time is the charm!" Unfortunately, she was wrong. Number seven, eight and nine were all right around the corner. She finally stopped getting sick around 6:00 AM. She had thrown up nineteen times in a span of ten hours.
The other hikers in the shelter started to wake up around 7:00 AM. They asked how she was doing and if there was anything they could help with. One couple, in particular, noted that I had done a courageous thing, but then added I would probably get sick a few days later. Great, thanks for daunting premonition.
I decided to make some hot water for her. I poured it into my 32oz water bottle and brought it over to her tent. She nestled the bottle like a five year old holding their favorite teddy bear. She would wake up later that afternoon, bearing the resemblance of a zombie, or a thru-hiker nearing Katahdin. I guess they are close to the same thing. She managed to eat and drink without getting sick.
It was now a mystery as to what made her violently ill. Was it food poisoning? A 24 hour bug? Another hiker at the NOC was sick the night we had stayed. Maybe it was the flu? Could she get sick that soon from being in contact with another hiker? Maybe Giardiasis? All we knew though, was that we needed to hike. We had enough food to make it to Fontana Dam, which was a little over 20 miles away. The other option was to hike South, back to the NOC. It was not in our personal interest to backtrack though.
After taking a zero day at the shelter, we planned to hike nine miles the next day. In the morning, we started out late. It was 9:00 AM before Risscuit was packed up. She needed to take breaks from stuffing her pack full of her gear. On her way back to the shelter from fetching water, she sat down on the shelter floor, out of breath. I was now worried. She had not been sick again, but she was zapped of energy. I suggested that we take another zero day at the shelter. She quickly obliged.
Being sick in the woods is nothing like being sick in the comfort of your home. The food you have is what you need to eat. Risscuit's stomach was not craving mac'n'cheese, beef jerky or tuna fish. She needed energy though. She had luckily packed fruit strips and lived off of those.
On the third day, we hiked out. Risscuit wore her lady brawn, as she always did, and hiked her behind off. She dreamed out loud about fresh fruit and vegetables. We joked about trail magic and the possibility of it being at a road crossing. We listed all the foods that we wanted to eat, in hopes someone was listening.
As we approached Stecoah Gap, we could see a tent near the base of the highway. Could it be? Was it trail magic? We sped up our pace, trying not to get too exited at the possibility. As we we turned a corner, two tents were revealed. Two former thru-hikers, Video and Whitewater, had set up the most amazing trail magic. Fresh fruit, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda, chips and medical supplies. Risscuit's dream had come true. She devoured fresh fruit and then packed some to go. This burst of energy would push us up Jacob's Ladder and to the shelter we planned on staying.
The next day, we hiked thirteen miles and stayed at the Fontana Hilton. After setting up inside the shelter, the prophesy that the couple bestowed on me at Sassafrass Gap Shelter started to come true. My stomach began to churn. Not two seconds later, I was down on my knees, covering the dead leaves with the force of a fire hose. Risscuit bounced into action and grabbed the wet wipes so I could wash my thin, pre-pubescent style beard off.
I set up my tent and laid down inside. I did not have the normal "I just got sick and feel much better" feeling. Remembering back to Risscuit's night of nineteen times, I knew I was in for a miserable evening.
I managed to drink some water and relax. Laying on my back, i tried to enjoy the stars through my no-see-um netting. My stomach was rolling though. I decided to get out of my tent to walk around, but as soon as I motioned to do so, I was ready to get sick again. I was barely able to scramble up a short hill, away from our tents, before I got sick.
I was the lucky one, you see, I got sick at the Fontana Hilton, where they have a restrooms with flush toilets and warm showers. I stumbled up to the restrooms with vomit spray stuck in my beard. I cleaned up my face and made my way back down to my tent. As soon as I laid down, I felt sick again. I was at the point of anger now. I just wanted the nightmare to be over. I decided I'd be better off to sit in the restroom for the remainder of the night. There was a bench, there was a light, and it was warm. Dozens of other hikers had showered and washed their dirty clothes in the sinks. The sinks were coated with hair and mud. The walls were permanently dripping from the moisture of the hot showers. It was hell that felt like heaven though.
For two and a half hours I sat in that restroom. No music, no noise for that matter. Just a few bugs and my aching stomach. The first half hour I watched a fly's final moments on this earth. It was on the tile floor, laying on it's back, doing a Michael J Fox impression from Back to the Future when he's performing "Johnny B. Goode". It finally passed on. I then focused my attention to a roll-polly who was doing his errands. He would walk within an inch of an object and his little sensors would tell him to turn away. I watched him for about an hour. Around 5:30 AM, a hiker came into the restroom, so I decided to leave. I crawled back into my tent and slept until 10:30 AM.
Risscuit had filled up my water bottle and made Jell-O (yes, it was cold enough that we could make Jell-O) and put a pack of Tums outside of my tent. I relaxed the whole day, eating and drinking. The following day we would hike eleven miles and enter the Great Smoky Mountains. It would be five days before I felt back to normal.
As the hike continued, other hikers started to fall ill around us. It was now obvious that we were passing a bug around. Little did we know, that the Norovirus was the culprit for all of the sickness though. For the next three weeks, entering a shelter was like stepping foot into a death zone. There would be signs written, torn from the pages of the log books, saying "Feces and vomit everywhere. Do not stay." When we walked into Erwin, TN, we found out that the CDC had made a visit the day before to educate hikers, hostels and motels on how to properly clean to eliminate the virus. We also found out that CNN had done a story on hikers getting sick. Miss Janet, a local trail angel, was making runs 24 hours a day to pick up sick hikers off the mountains.
During the middle of the day, we would see tents set up in random places with a hiker laid out inside. We reached the top of a bald to see a hiker curled over, either praying or getting sick. Probably both. It was like we were passing around the plague.
It seemed like the Norovirus effected about 80% (just a guess) of hikers that started in March. Most hikers that stayed out of shelters seemed to avoid it. Some hikers were not as lucky and got sick multiple times. Risscuit and I stuck to our tents, and stayed away from shelters and hostels. It was not until Virginia when we started to feel comfortable staying with other hikers.
Risscuit and I both hiked the remaining of the Appalachian Trail, almost side by side for it's entirety. We both summited Katahdin on August 26th.
The class of 2013 had their ups and downs. For those of us who started in March, we saw the outbreak of Norovirus, freezing temperatures well into April (I gave up my winter gear in Waynseboro, VA), the 17 year cicadas, record rainfalls in June and frost warnings in early August. 2013 will go into the books as a class to remember and a year to compare future years to. Wear you badge proudly, 2013ers, as we conquered a unique year on the Appalachian Trail.


-Salad Days


27793

illabelle
07-20-2014, 17:14
Wow, Cro-Mag. What a story! Glad the two of you were able to recover and finish your journey.

rocketsocks
07-20-2014, 17:29
Your a good trail mate Cro-Mag, I'm sure she's was glad you were in her corner.

Cro-Mag
07-21-2014, 19:03
Wow, Cro-Mag. What a story! Glad the two of you were able to recover and finish your journey.

Thanks! Those few nights created a very tight bond between us, that is for sure.