Heeding Warnings on the Appalachian Trail

Jesse Bier & Cooper (bottom left with shades and/or bandanna) with Warrior Hikers in Hot Springs, NC in 2013 ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Jesse Bier & Cooper (bottom left with shades and/or bandanna) with Warrior Hikers in Hot Springs, NC in 2013 ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Hot Springs, North Carolina, is an Appalachian Trail Community -- meaning it's known for being hiker friendly.

In April, Hot Springs hosted Trailfest 2013 to treat hikers and wanna-hikers to hot times in the old town. How much fun? I even bought a T-shirt.

That's where I first met Jesse Bier, I think. Jesse had been adopted by the Warrior Hike team.

Jesse would tell you he deals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You would too, if you'd been in his military boots for a year or two. To "walk off the war," Jesse hit the Appalachian Trail with his amazing companion, Cooper the Wonder Dog. (I added that last part, but it's true).

On Wednesday, November 13, 2013 -- two days after Veterans Day -- I read a Facebook post from Jesse about a man he met on the Trail. I asked for his permission to share it with you. Jesse agreed.

Before I let you read it, I want you to understand that this has nothing to do with getting hits for this website, promoting Jesse or dissing anyone for not taking advice. This is ALL about the chance ... merely a chance ... that someone, someday, might read this and take unpleasant advice that might save his or her life.

Yes, that's how important I think this is. Read it and see if you agree. At the risk of launching into a psychobabble rant, I would like to say:

  • We can and should care about other people.
  • We should help those in need.
  • We can give good advice and urge people to accept it.
  • That's all we can do.
  • It's up to others to take or leave our advice.

Jesse Bier's 11-13-13 Facebook Post

"My thoughts recently have been of a friend I met last year while hiking the Appalachian Trail. [name deleted], from Tennessee. We met while trekking through the Smoky Mountains, he was limping along nursing a bad knee injury that had been plaguing him for the last 10 or 15 miles.

See Biscuit, [his] trail name, refused to give up on his goal to hike the entire 2194 miles; his pride was almost as large as that crazy shit eating grin he always wore. Biscuit's mother, early 60's had completed the trail on two occasions, the last one being in 2012 when she summited with a broken pelvis, so he refused to accept his injury.

I passed him the morning we met and after hiking a mile ahead, I got to thinking this man may need help. So Coop and I hiked back to him and found him sitting on a felled log resting. After a long argument about his health and of course the story of his mother's journey the year before I finally talked him into allowing me to call a medivac for him.

After contacting the Rangers we needed to hike 3 miles back down to a gap to his extraction site. I grabbed his pack threw it on top of mine and told him I'd meet him below. I cannot tell you how appreciative Biscuit was for the assistance.

When he arrived at Low Gap, he tried to stuff a wad of bills in my pocket and just kept thanking me, I had 14 more miles to travel that day so after dropping 2 days of food and ensuring he had plenty of water and vitamin "I" I left him. All the while he's trying to pay me, thank me, and tell me he would be back and wasn't quiting. We settled on him buying me a beer when next we met. Other than me feeling good about being able to help someone I thought nothing of the meeting, Cooper and I began jogging to our next point.

I never thought we would meet again but in a bar in Hot Springs NC, I walked in and true to his word Biscuit runs up to me, begins yelling to the other patrons, "This is the man that saved my life," and shoves a beer in my hand with that grin ear-to-ear. That night I payed for not one beer even though I had started a tab. The next three days were the same; bar, biscuit, proclamation to the patrons, free beer. He told me about his sports bar back home, about his little girl, and how determined he was to marry this bar singer with the bluest eyes he had ever seen. We had become friends.

My last day in Hot Springs, Coop and I were hiking out and I ran into Biscuit, his knee was swollen with red stripes spider webbing down his ankles and progressing above the knee as well. A sure sign of cellulitis infection. I expressed my concerns about the infection and told him to go straight to the ER for some antibiotics as this was life threatening and nothing to joke about. He smiled, told me his mom's pelvis story again and assured me he would be to the ER "directly."

I had been having some issues with my PTSD so I was in a hurry to get back on my own journey and turned and walked away. That was the last time I saw Biscuit. I learned a couple of weeks later that he had passed away in Damascus Va. Found without his gear, alone.

I still don't know what caused his passing but when thinking about Biscuit and our time together, I can't help but ask myself, had I not been so into myself and my issues that day in Hot Springs, if I'd taken an extra hour out of my time, gotten him to a doctor would he be here today? If, should have, maybe, these phrases are the hallmark of someone with PTSD, and are familiar echoes between my ears.

I didn't say goodbye the last time I saw [Biscuit] and I didn't get a chance to tell him I appreciated his friendship the last month or so, but Brother I hope your well and I'm sorry for not spending just a few more minutes to make sure you were ok.

I'm sorry that you were alone and I hope you weren't scared my friend.

God bless you and your family Brother.

Goodbye."

~~

Jesse is the kind of person you'll find on the Appalachian Trail. So was Biscuit.

Take care of yourself on the Trail. Take care of others too.

The Appalachian Trail is not worth living for and it's not worth dying for ... it's one of a zillion adventures you'll have the opportunity to accept or decline. Wherever you go, listen to wise counsel ... so that the adventure you're on won't be your last.

Click Here for Trailfest 2013 Pictures


Tags: Events, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Community, News, and Festivals

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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