Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dehydration in Damascus 5/26/2013

Just a handful of miles after reaching the VA border I decided to tent at a small campsite just 2 miles short of Damascus, one of the most hiker-friendly towns on the AT. 

The next morning I packed up to make the short trip down the mountain in to town, arriving at exactly 8am. As I followed the trail through the park and along the main street downtown, I stopped at the Blue Blaze Cafe as recommended for breakfast by some weekend hikers I had met the day before. I sat at a table near the window which had a plug nearby to recharge my phone. After a huge stack of blueberry pancakes and a few cups of coffee I went to Adventure Damascus to book a 3pm bike ride down the Virginia Creeper Trail. I then went to the laundromat and the outfitter before catching the shuttle to the top of the bike trail.

The 14-mile downhill ride was nice and easy along the repurposed rail-to-trail path with great views as picturesque bridges crossed the cascading river.

After my bike ride I walked over to Chuck's house, who I had met two days earlier while hiking the trail. Chuck was a former thru-hiker who had just purchased a house in Damascus which he is planning to turn in to a hostel. He had invited me to stay the night on an extra twin bed he had available. I hadn't yet made plans on where to stay so I accepted his generous invitation. I arrived around 6pm and got a quick tour of the house. We were talking in the kitchen when I began to feel light-headed. I reached for the wall, then lost consciousness and fell to the floor. I opened my eyes to see Chuck frantically trying to get a response from me. I sat up, not realizing what had happened. He asked if he should call an ambulance, but I decided I had just been pushing my body too hard and needed some rest. I took a 3 hour nap on the twin bed before getting up around 9:30. As I walked over to the threshold of the adjacent room, Chuck asked how I was feeling. At that point I started to feel light-headed once again and sat on the floor and leaned against the wall. Chuck went to get his phone to call for help...then I passed out again for a few seconds. I came to, covered in sweat. Chuck called 911 and found out that the nearest medical facility was the hospital in Abingdon, 18 miles away.

Chuck drove me to the hospital and sat in the room the whole time while I was being given fluids and during my CT scan. After a few hours in the ER, the doctor reviewed all of my tests and came to the conclusion that I was dehydrated.

Dehydration never crossed my mind because I had been drinking about 5-6 liters of water, in addition to Gatorade each day. However, that must not have been enough for the amount of activity I was demanding from my body every day.

After being released from the hospital after midnight, we stopped by a convenience store to pick up plenty if Gatorade so I could rehydrate during my day off from the trail.

I rested that day and Chuck made a healthy dinner that night (a luxury from the processed trail food I am used to eating). The next morning we grabbed some breakfast then walked about 1/4 mile before I said farewell to Chuck.

I was quite lucky to have been at Chuck's, instead of on the trail when things went bad. I can't thank him enough for helping me in my time of need, in addition to opening his home to me and his generosity.

I have since throttled back the daily miles a bit and I am keeping an eye on symptoms of dehydration to prevent the same from happening again.


  1. I'm so glad you met Chuck, Ad. Thank goodness. How horrible it would have been to have been so severely dehydrated and ALONE on the trail.
    I'm relieved you are OK.

    lots of love and good wishes to you my wonderful brother....

  2. Yes, God bless Chuck. It's a relief to know you are ok. Stay hydrated! Those waterfall pictures are are so lucky to be there and to witness Mother Nature at her finest. Love you