Karen's  Story

"Unbreakable Bond"

By Karen Rutter

Unbreakable Bond By Karen RutterHiking the Appalachian Trail was never my dream. I just happened to reap the benefits by being the best friend of David, a 2013 thru-hiker. One day as we were chatting in his bedroom, he said, "You know what I want to do?" Just matter-of-factly, cool as a cucumber, and without blinking an eye, he announced, "I want to walk from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. 2,186 miles. And, I want you to go with me."

Well, okay then. I guess we're walking from Georgia to Maine!

Once he made the decision, David started getting all kinds of gear together. He bought a backpack, water filtration system, socks, shoes, cooking gear, hammock, tent, and even bought a backpack for me. He said the backpacks had to fit just right and that our gear had to withstand wind, rain, sleet, snow, storms, and heat. David seemed to know what he was doing so I just listened and went along with it.

Even though he was extremely excited about hiking the A.T., he was a little concerned about my making the journey due to my age. I was 10 years old. David insisted that I get a physical to determine that I was healthy enough to make the trek. After I got clearance from the doctor, David started moving full speed ahead to get everything ready for our departure in March. We took a shake-out hike to make sure that our gear worked as anticipated and then we were off!

We started Northbound in March with gorgeous sunshine and blue skies. A few days later, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. And snow. David was sinking to his thigh with every step he took. After three days of extreme cold and snow, we had had enough. But, David refused to quit. Since we were in this together, I couldn't quit either. So, we blazed a trail through the snow until the sun finally decided to appear again.

Our journey continued from Georgia to North Carolina to Tennessee, to Virginia and I was doing well for a 10-year-old. I made so many new friends! David and I even got trail names. He was Blast and I was Copper. I saw bears. I swam in the ponds and lakes, sunned on the rocks, and slept under the stars. I also got sprayed by a skunk!

Even though I was having fun, the trail was tough. After the snow, North Carolina handed me another set-back. Giardia attacked my intestines and brought me to my knees after drinking infected water. But, Pennsylvania is where things really began to be difficult. The rocks were killing my feet and the heat was searing. There was no relief from either. To make things worse, ticks were everywhere and loved burrowing under my skin. The worst part of the journey is when I contracted Lyme disease somewhere in Connecticut. Too weak to walk, David had to take me off the trail. He took good care of me, and after a week or so, I felt strong enough to move forward. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of my struggles. Climbing the White Mountains was debilitating and I had to be rescued on Mt. Adams by riding down the mountain on David's back. I was too exhausted to put one foot in front of the other. I became sick again in Maine and had to be taken off the trail again. Each time I got sick or weak, David would tell me that we could stop anytime I wanted to. But, I loved the trail! I would plead with him with my eyes to let me finish, even though it was taking its toll on me and my 10-year-old body. After each hardship, I healed and was ready to head out on the trail again.

After 7 months, we finally finished the trail. The difficulties that I encountered set us back two months, but we finished. I felt stronger than I’d ever felt in my life. I was lean and muscular. Most of all, I was happy.

How did the trail change my life? I was lonely, starving, homeless, and friendless. David took me in, adopted me, loved me, healed me, believed in me, and took me on an adventure of a lifetime! A 10- year-old and a 26-year-old. Buddies. Hiking partners. Best Friends.

About a year after our return home, I decided to help author a book about our adventures with the title, Northbounders: 2,186 Miles of Friendship. I want all ages to know that hiking the trail is possible. I want them to understand the struggles and joys of hiking the A.T. I want them to know the history of the trail. I want them to know the etiquette of the trail. I want them to volunteer to maintain the trail. I want them to leave no trace. Most of all, I want them to understand the value of friendship, commitment, and an unbreakable bond between two best friends...a 10 year old Golden Retriever and a 26 year old man. An unlikely thru-hiking duo.

How do I show my appreciation to David for giving me a new life and sharing his epic adventure? With nose kisses, of course!

David and Copper...hiking buddies, roommates, and friends for life!