Trail Angels

(An edited version of this column appeared in the May 25, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    Jim DeWan and I had hiked for two days along the Finger Lakes Trail near Cortland. We had slogged twenty miles through almost constant rain, the showers slowing only briefly each evening, just long enough for us to unload our packs and set up our tarps at forest bivouacs. What little energy we had left went into cooking our supper and crawling into our sleeping bags. The hiking was strenuous and challenging.

    The problem occurred on the third day.

    The rain stopped that morning as we climbed the two mile upgrade around Paradise Hill in the Mariposa State Forest, our still wet packs and clothing adding to our loads. A half mile downhill took us to Route 12 between the villages of Lincklaen and DeRuyter. After crossing that road and climbing over several fence styles, we started up another hill.

    Suddenly and without warning I found myself on my hands and knees. I had not fallen; I had simply dropped to the ground. My stomach was heaving and I was wracked with chills but I managed to call out, "Jim."

    My hiking partner rushed back and helped me to roll over my pack into a sitting position. He got out my water bottle and I drank but I couldn't hold it down.

    But after several minutes my stomach calmed and I felt well enough to walk slowly back down to the road. Jim set up a tarp and I rested under it with our packs while he hiked off to a farm just down the road. He knew the farmer from his earlier Finger Lakes Trail end-to-end hike through this area. From there Jim called Ed Sidote -- the trail archangel.

    I must have fallen into a feverish sleep because it seemed only minutes before I heard the horn blast of Sidote's truck. We quickly loaded up and drove to Ed's home in Norwich. From there we made arrangements to get back to DeWan's home in Binghamton.

    By the next morning my 24 hour virus had passed and we were back on the trail by mid-afternoon.

    That episode has, however, forced me to rethink some of my own hiking practices. I have done a great deal of solo hiking and this experience made it clear to me that hiking alone is not a good idea.

    The Finger Lakes Trail crosses New York from Allegany State Park to the Catskills. It is a rigorous trail with many steep climbs but along it hikers are rarely more than a half mile from a roadway. And thanks to Ed Sidote, help is only a phone call away.

    I have referred to Ed as trail archangel because he has developed a system of "trail angels" -- people who live near the trail and who contribute their time for assistance to hikers. Anyone who plans to hike any part of the Finger Lakes Trail should obtain Ed's list. Write him at 5 Clinton Street, Norwich, NY 13815 and enclose a self-addressed business envelope stamped for two ounces.

    Nurse Marilyn Breakey, another Finger Lakes Trail hiker, recommends that hikers also carry personal information including name and address, phone number of a family member, physician's name and contact information, hospitalization plan with appropriate numbers and a listing of medical problems or medications. (This information is, of course, important for non-hikers to carry as well.)

    All hikers should leave information with a family member or friend detailing exactly where they will be. And solo hikers should consider carrying a cell phone in their pack.

    Hiking is a great form of outdoor recreation but, like any other sport, it calls for common sense.