"Guardian of the Vortex"
SMrAdventurer, Hiker, Photographer, Marine Corps Veteran, Survivor
I am a Marine Corps Veteran, and a former corrections officer, that switched to video and photography in 2008. Between 2012-2014, I survived chronic Lyme Disease, which had confined me to a wheelchair due to nerve pain throughout my leg and body.
Lyme's: A Lurking Infection
I had felt a little off for a month and then one day without warning, I woke up and my foot was swollen and purple. My mind was in a fog. I was depressed, confined and in the worst pain I had ever been in. I was diagnosed with Lyme's Disease.
The sounds of lawnmowers and traffic passing by was a constant reminder that there was a world out there that I could not participate in. My vegetable garden that my neighbor and I had built earlier that spring was left unattended because I could not leave my bed. It would be 2 months before I was able to upgrade from wheelchair to crutches. I had full blown Lyme's Disease and the world became very small. I put the bacon down until further notice- it would take a diet filled with vegetables, gluten-free, and sugar-free foods. My immune system was under attack in the worst way and it needed the healthiest of foods to defeat it.
Lyme's Disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by a parasite called a deer tick. Within the saliva of some ticks, lives a bacteria that transfers when the tick bites you. Symptoms range from depression, muscle spasms, joint pain, nerve pain, memory loss, fatigue, and another 140 other symptoms that commonly get misdiagnosed by doctors. It is a life changing thing for those unlucky enough not to have the education to help themselves.
Learning to Live Again
Battling Lyme's on the Appalachian Trail
In the fall of 2013, while driving from Wisconsin to Maine to pick up my friend who had just finished through-hiking, I discovered the Appalachian Trail and its culture. I returned to New Hampshire the next spring to work at White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, located right on the AT. I would regain my strength and participate in the world again.
That summer, I would learn about hiking: what to carry and how to sleep. I outfitted myself with a ground tent, sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I thought it was great right up until I actually had to sleep in it. I had hiked that fall for over 400 miles using a ground tent and hated every night. I tossed and turned and parts of me would fall asleep or I would get cold spots that would send enough shivers to keep me awake all night. I wasn’t a fan of hiking at that point. I just assumed it was normal to be miserable while hiking.
The following spring I was equipped with a new system. My friend Jim, who recently through-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, used a hammock system and suggested I try out the new Nubé system released by Sierra Madre Research. This would be SMr's first hammock-camping system and I would bring it with me for over 450 miles that spring. I bought the Pares hammock and the Nubé. This long winded build up is so you can understand what it is I am about to tell you. When I crawled into the Pares Hammock and zipped up my bug fly, the instant enjoyment put me back in my early youth. I felt an emotional release. I began to laugh. I laughed so hard it pushed tears out. Then I drifted off to sleep almost immediately and didn’t wake for a solid 8 hours.
It was the best sleep I had in years, suspended between heaven and earth. My Nubé was going to provide a new quality of life for me. What it did for me emotionally was something only a therapist would wish they could achieve for their patients. No doctors, no waiting rooms, no medicine, and certainly nobody around to tell you how to feel. Because I was feeling exactly what I was supposed to be feeling.
Nothing on this earth is better than waking up in my Nubé system next to some epic view, completely dry and bug free. Watching the sunrise and sunset suspended between heaven and earth is, well, awesome.
2016: Finishing the Journey
In 2016, I hiked 1,000 miles to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and on June 12th, I finally finished my journey- officially completing 2,189.1 miles.
It took me two years and 4 separate sections to get it done. The experiences I had, the people I met- finding individuals out there like me was pretty overwhelming at times. It’s almost supernatural how wonderful of an experience it was. Hammocking brought so much to that experience. Really, who can sleep on the ground? Only those who say it didn’t work, or they were too cold. That’s because they didn’t know what they were doing.
Over the last two years, I have hammocked more than I have slept on the ground or in a bed. I continue to work at the White Mountains Lodge and Hostel. I take pride in working on one of the best hostels on the trail. The work we do here is very hard and it’s always great to retire at the end of the day to my hammock. I have even let guests stay in my spare Nubé system so they can experience something as life changing as I have. Visit me here and I’ll show you where to hang!
Photos by Erik Barstow