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Sloetoe remembers, was [at-l] Freedom a thruhiker sighting

Why thanks, suh.  Tell me the tale of your trail name?  JPJ

        Hawk Mountain Shelter, April 10, 1979. It was cold. Wet, windy, and 
        cold. We, the eight of us, all newly met aspiring throughhikers, 
        moved slowly and tentatively, trying out sore bones and new 
        insulation, seeing if the insulation would win out over the wind, 
        and warm the sore bones to moveable temperatures. Some were up 
        earlier than others. I'd frozen all night in my North Face Cat's 
        Meow (20* bag) wrapped inside my tent laid out on the floor of the 
        leanto as a ground cloth / bivy.
        A gray day, low clouds lowing close over the summit on the stiff 
        wind. People huddled with hands thrust deep into pockets, trying to 
        shield whomever was brave enough to work a lighter on unwilling 
        stove. I saw this and decided to adopt permanently my mantra of the 
        previous morning: (With apologies to Paul Masson) "I will see no 
        morning before its time." I could not figure the wisdom of leaving 
        a (halfway) warm sleeping bag in order to stand shivering in the 
        wind doing stove stuff. Nah! Not even my teenage male ego was 
        speaking out; it said instead "Warmth! Do Warmth!" I concurred and 
        slipped back into my bag until sunlight warmed me sufficiently to 
        allow movement with out impeded fine motor skills -- that took an 
        hour or two.

        Eventually, I did the breakfast thing, and then had to confront the 
        "what do I do as part of establishing a morning routine???" 
        question. What I do this morning (I thought at the time) will 
        follow me as a morning routine all the way to Katahdin (which, in 
        my mind's eye, I would probably begin to see in a week's time, two 
        tops). Well, I remembered, along with teeth and hair (ha! that 
        lasted!), I needed to trim my toenails. I'd neglected to do this 
        before I left the motel in Commerce, GA on the morning of the 

        Trimmed the toenails like any other day, like any other person, 
        like any other place, but as I was finishing my right big toe, a 
        tiny little tab on the right side was missed. Stuck up a bit; 
        thought it might catch on a sock; I grabbed it between my thumb and 
        forefinger and gave a quick, sharp pull out and away. Poof, it was 

        But then I noticed in the place where the little tab of toenail had 
        been was a small drop of blood. Oh, no matter -- tish-tish, nothing 
        to it. I smeared it with a nearly thawed hand and put on my socks, 
        trying to tell myself that the sun struggling through the 
        wind-driven clouds really was warming my body, and that if I was 
        truly AT-worthy, I'd be able to feel it. I went unconvinced.

        In any event, time marched on, and so did the toenail. A scab grew 
        into a swollen sore which needed to be drained every morning if it 
        wasn't going to leak green/yellow/red/brown all over my liner 
        socks. Sometimes this draining process elicited howls of pain from 
        me, especially if I thought I was alone as the last to leave 
        "camp." Went through toilet paper, bacitracin, boiled water. Soaked 
        in salt water in Fontana, Epsom salts in Hot Springs, but it was 
        just getting worser and worser. The infected tissue now comprised 
        the upper third/top of my big toe, whilst the nail itself was 
        ingrown so far that fully half of it was buried. The toe throbbed 
        in pain just to be looked at, but once ensconced inside my mountain 
        boots, it was unaffected by even the most deliberate provocations: 
        I could kick a tree with my boot on and not feel it, but to stroll 
        around camp in my moccasins was to chance a stumble and pain 
        radiating up my leg sufficient to make me faint. Or WISH I'd 
        fainted. But the short story was that as long as the boot was on, I 
        was comfy, and so I hiked northward. I was still "Connecticut 
        Climbing Roan Mountain was about the only place where the pain of 
        the toe was too great to continue without a break. I stopped, 
        drained the colorful toe again, took pictures of Its Hugeness, and 
        tried to enjoy a beautiful day, but the toe hurt too badly. I think 
        that's where the idea of "Sloetoe" -- with a Winged (Mercury) Foot 
        with a Huge and Inflamed Toe cartoon symbol was conceived. But I 
        forgot about it until Damascus.
        The morning I got up to hike into Damascus (May 2?, 7 weeks and 500 
        miles up the trail), I noticed red streaks tracing up my calf -- 
        first signs of blood poisoning, as I recall. Hit The Place, decided 
        to have a Doctor lookie at the toe, and availed myself of the 
        services of the good Dr. J. Thomas Luck at this little glorified 
        garage of a clinic 100 yards from the hostel. Was able to get in 
        right away, and (after a shower and what I thought was a really 
        excellent job making the toe look as healthy as possible) went in 
        for the 500 mile inspection.
        Dr. Luck noticed the red streaks and casually mentioned it was a 
        good thing I hit town before they hit my abdomen. Ohhhhh. Then he 
        suggested that he take care of the toe right away. Okie-dokey! He 
        got out this and that, prepared a syringe of local anesthetic, 
        turned to the nurse and said (casually)
        "Why don't you get a hold of his foot."
        I said "Why? You're not going to give that to me Chinese style, are 
        you? You know, under the nail?"
        "Oh no, from the top." He assured me.
        I should have gotten a clue from the vice grip the nurse put on my 
        ankle -- both hands, full body weight. I'm laying back, but I can 
        still see Luck winding his arm up like Luis Tiant presenting a 
        submarine fastball across the plate. WHAM! Right up the length of 
        the toenail. I took a full throughhiker lung of air and cried out 
        "OOOWWWWWUUUNNNNGGGHHH!!!" "Careful!" came the reply, "It's not all 
        the way IN yet" and he pushed again, visibly hard and far -- I was 
        SURE the needle was going to come out my ankle. "SONOFABITCH!!!" I 
        cried out again, and this time, even with the nurse doing Full 
        Nelson on my ankle, my entire body came off the gurney. (I only 
        know this because I felt the "thump" of my landing.) "AWG!!!" I 
        cried. This was the most painful thing I have EVER experienced.
        At this point, I heard hurried footsteps running from the waiting 
        room next door, and the screen door opening and slamming 
        repeatedly. I was emptying the clinic.
        But that's when the cool stuff started. With the toe (and, I 
        suspect, half my foot) now thoroughly numbed, J. Thomas took out 
        the Nephrecator, a marvelous little pen device which burns off skin 
        and tissue with the stroke of a ball point. I watched (I'm leaning 
        up now, observing everything frantically, ready to grab for a 
        scalpel and escape with my life if anything looks suspicious) as he 
        drew the Nephrecator over my toe, again and again, leaving charred 
        and smoking blackness instead of ink, wherever it passed. When the 
        affected area was completely cooked, he'd take iodine and scrub 
        brush the char away. It was REALLY cool to watch, until it occurred 
        to me that he was going REALLY far down into the toe. He was 
        amazed, too; "Where's your toenail?" "I don't know. Urp."
        But I kept watching, and he kept Nephracating, and eventually the 
        toenail was revealed. At that point, it was a simple procedure to 
        snip away under the nail, remove the offending in-growth, and form 
        a nice smooth taper that would grow out naturally over time. He 
        also instructed me to notch my toenails in the middle -- like 
        cutting a "V" into the nail at the front -- a practice which I have 
        followed RELIGIOUSLY for twenty years.
        Afterward, while Dr. Luck chased down his escaped patients, the 
        nurse wrapped my toe inside a huge bandage with thick padding all 
        around. When I asked him when I could return to the trail, he said 
        whenever I'd like -- that the toe should be fine. With that, I 
        hobbled delicately back to the hostel, doing the three minute trip 
        in twenty. I went upstairs to the middle room right off of the 
        staircase and crashed on a mattress, moaning not at the pain -- 
        because there wasn't any -- but at the MEMORY of the pain! And for 
        the next 48 hours, whenever anyone would walk by "thump thump 
        thump" in their big ol' clunky hiking boots with the big, mean 
        looking Vibram cleated soles, I'd dive protectively for my foot, 
        saying "Please! Please! Not the Foot!" That's a memory. My foot 
        hurts just remembering this.
        As I was leaving The Place, and trying to figure out what to write 
        in the register, the "Sloetoe" idea came to me, complete with 
        detailed WINGED FOOT cartoon. Poof. I was "Connecticut Yankee" no 
        more. Never did like that name anyway. Boring. Who cares where 
        you're from? Nah! I was SLOETOE! THE MAN OF THE TOE! And I signed 
        with THE SIGN OF THE TOE! And when I was going through (fast) 
        thereafter, I was "Sloetoe stomping through!"
        So I forgots about the whole Sloetoe thang for a number of years, 
        except for occasional visits to, say, Damascus or DWG or an AMC 
        hut. And now, like 20 years later, there's like this whole 
        cyber-community who knows me mostly as that nutball Sloetoe.
        Ah, yes......
        Oh, and during Trail Days this past May in Damascus, I had reason 
        to head once again by that fateful street corner which held the 
        Damascus Clinic way back when. On the site is a tidy little 
        professional building, all in brick, you know. Quite different. But 
        who's the presiding medical person? Dr. J. Thomas Luck. Bless him.
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