I talked about Damselfly awhile ago in and earlier post but left her story unfinished because it’s one that shows Damselfly’s other amazing characteristics: not just smart, funny and happy – but a drive to finish.
A drive to finish against all odds and any obstacles she faced.
When she was coming out of Hanover, NH Damselfly slipped on some lose pine needles, or perhaps a small rock. It doesn’t really matter what it was exactly that she slipped, it only matters when happened when she hit the ground.
She twisted her ankle. Badly. It swelled up. Bruised. Turned odd colors. It was probably more than a strain or a twist. It was at the very least – slightly broken.
Her ankle was busted. Her hike was probably over.
Damselfly was able to limp back to town, slowly with help from other hikers. She rested some, iced it a little and took anti-inflamatory medication. She waited. When I saw her she had fallen three days before hand, and her ankle was still swollen to the size of a grapefruit.
How big is that you ask? Well if you don’t have a grapefruit handy, go find yourself a softball. About that size. Perhaps wrap both hands around your ankle – that might be equivalent, but not quite. It was bad to look at too beyond the swelling – it was yellow and purple and blue – all those disgusting colors you get from bruises as they try valiantly to heal.
“Oh I’m going to hike out of here tomorrow I think” Said Damselfly, casually as if it was no big deal.
“On that? On the ankle that can’t support any weight, that you’re hobbling on and can’t carry a pack with?”
“Sure – I’m going to slackpack, no problem. It’ll help it to heal.” For those who don’t know, a slackpack is when you don’t carry your full pack and instead leave it with someone else who will pick you up at the end of the day.
You couldn’t tell Damselfly no. You couldn’t make her see reason that if she walked on her busted ankle, she might damage it forever. She might not be able to have it heal properly without surgery perhaps. She was determined she was going to get to Katahdin on her own power one way or another.
So she did. She hiked out of town and got a few miles and then had to get picked up because her ankle hurt too much. So she took another two days off. Then tried again. She got a few more miles out – then had to get picked up again. Her friend Splash stayed with her for a lot of it, making sure she got through safely. She was doing it. Slowly but surely.
It took her a lot longer than she wanted. She had to hitch a little to get there. She spent a little more money than she thought she would and had to sacrifice things along the way to get there. But she got there.
I saw Damselfly again in Monson, Maine, the last town stop before the 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin. She was doing some work for stay at the Lake Shore House, and the owner Rebecca was taking care of her (Stop there hikers! It’s the best place in town!) and trying to make sure she stayed off her ankle. I talked with her a little there. Her ankle wasn’t swollen as much, she could put weight on it again. She wasn’t anywhere near 100% – hell she probably wasn’t 60% – but she was leaving soon and was going to walk as much as she could to get to Katahdin. She was going to finish under her own power. Stubborn lady that she is, she knew she had to.
And she did. Damselfly summited Katahdin on October 15, 2013. She walked up there all by herself.
I talked with her a month or so later. It’s always good to talk to your hiker friends – you love them all so dearly. Family.
“You guys were my summit date…. you were my heart-group”
Long distance hikers get so invested in our trail. Our walk. We meet people who become family – better than family even. These are the people you choose to be with in a way that few others ever can understand. Sometimes things happen that makes the people you care about suffer. They fall and bust an ankle, maybe they run out of money and have to go home. Perhaps they just get tired and can’t deal with it anymore. Whatever the reason, when they leave you, you cry a little for them – because they are gone.
When people ask me for stories about truly inspirational people that I’ve met on the trail, Damselfly’s story is the one I use most often.
“Who the hell is so stubborn that they finish a hike like that on a busted ankle, limping the whole way? Why would they put themselves through all that pain? Just to prove something?”
I always say “No. She wasn’t out to prove something, she wasn’t stubborn like you’re thinking. She was in love, and that love let her finish. She loved something so dearly that it hurt too badly to even think about getting off.”
And that is Damselfly. Intelligent. Witty. Happy. Bubbly. Beautiful. Stubborn.
With the trail and all it’s people.
“Oh look at this one! It’s a (long sounding latin name I still never remember.)”
I heard about Damselfly long before I ever met her.
“Did you hear about the new chick that got on the Trail in Harper’s Ferry? She’s pretty hot! Smart too! She’s hiking with Uncle Buck!”
“I thought you said she was smart. Why is she hiking with Uncle Buck….”
When I met Damselfly it was really in passing into Duncannon PA. I had made it to town for the Billville hiker feed and a weekend of fun and zero days. She was stopping in town for 1 day to meet up with her step-dad, who wanted to hike with her for a week or two. He was leaving his car at the Doyle.
I don’t even remember what really sparked the conversation, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with her gear, and how it looked heavy from where I was, drunk and leaning out of the second floor fire escape door.
“No worries! Shakedown in 3 minutes or less guaranteed to lighten you by 5 pounds or an ice cream novelty!”
Her step-dad had all manner of interesting heavy things. His pack was… heavy. More than a little heavy. Possibly very. He had a solid core air mattress that weighed more than my shelter and all my sleeping gear.
Damselfly was a little better off, and she lost a few things there that helped. I tried to convince them to stay another day and enjoy the hikers and the festivities. But she wanted to hike. She wanted to hike a lot.
It was the first person in awhile I had found who was still eager everyday to get up and hike. Maybe it was because she still had fresh legs, she didn’t know what the score was, or how monotonous it had gotten. Or how PA sucked.
She was happy to be there. It was like being in Georgia all over again. For her it was.
I told her I’d catch up to her in a few days. When I did it was 100 degrees, awful bugs and terrible terrain. He step-dad had gotten off the trail already and was headed home.
But you couldn’t keep Damselfly down. Even through all the awfulness of PA when I hiked with her, she was smiling and happy. She never expressed a moment of true despair or negativity. Sure she bitched a bit about the rocks, heat and bugs – but the whole time she did it she was smiling. Happy to be out in the world, in the woods and not at her old job or in school anymore. She was alive and unstressed.
It was like watching a bird fly for the first time. Beautiful.
Damselfly got her name because she’s an entomologist. She’s a bug person. A really really smart bug person. She knew the names of everything that was around – and even gave me the official latin name for the “no-see-ums” and biting gnats that plagued us in PA. Of course I don’t remember what they were, but she knew them. I remember camping with her one night and she knew all sorts of things about the fireflies that came out to play.
Sometimes you hike with someone who has good stories to tell. Someone who provides humor or life lessons through their tales. Other times your find people who have such a vast knowledge and intelligence on a subject(s) that you are awed by them. Others have the positive, always sunny attitudes that just lift your day.
Damselfly was all of that. Every single day I ever spent near her was a good one. She made the day better – instilled knowledge and positive feelings and love with every step and word, despite the pain she had and was dealing with. It left me in awe of her mental and physical fortitude. It made me a little jealous.
I knew she’d get to the end.
She’s a good person to be around. She’s one I miss quite a bit.