MS Hiker Laces Up Her Boots for Appalachian Trail

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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Reservations at a base lodge have been made, and a starting date is circled on her calendar. MS hiker April Hester is ready to start up the Appalachian Trail in the eastern U.S.

It’s always an uphill hike for April, even when the trail is flat. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996, just after her 20th birthday.

In October 2017, she and her husband, Bernie, hiked South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail to raise awareness about the fight against MS and to raise money for the National MS Society. Palmetto runs from Walhalla, South Carolina, to Awendaw, on the coast. The trail is nearly 500 miles long, and about 100 miles of it is mountainous. Some sections are nearly vertical walls.

After that hike, Bernie told me, “April nearly lost two toenails but we pushed through all the pain.” Over the past three years, the couple has hiked the trail four times!

Multiple Sclerosis News Today | MS hiker April Hester crosses a marsh on the Palmetto Trail during her Finish MS Hike in 2017.

April Hester crosses a marsh on South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail in 2017. (Courtesy of Bernie Hester)

It’s not a walk in the park

Like many of us with MS, April has balance and fatigue issues. Her foot drops and she falls a lot. Frequent breaks are a must. April hikes with trekking poles and wears braces on her knees and ankles. Since 2013, she has treated her MS with the disease-modifying therapy Gilenya (fingolimod), and she works out regularly in the gym. But Bernie says the best thing for her is hiking — the more she hikes, the stronger she gets. Bernie tells me he can see the difference out on the trail.

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April and Bernie plan to start their greatest hiking adventure yet on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17: the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, which runs from northern Maine to western Georgia.

Most hikers attempt it in what’s called a flip-flop, starting in the middle at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and hiking north to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Then, they travel back to Harpers Ferry and hike south to finish at Springer Mountain in Georgia.

The Hesters had planned to hike that way in May 2020, but COVID-19 concerns knocked them off the trail before they could lace up their boots.

This time, they’re attempting a thru-hike, going directly from Georgia to Maine in a year.

“A thru-hike is always an incredible adventure and is no easy feat,” Natalie Cappuccio Britt, former executive director of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, said in a press release prior to the couple’s Palmetto Trail effort.

Hiking to the finish

April calls her efforts “Finish MS” hikes and says she hopes they’ll bring inspiration to others living with the disease, and awareness to those who aren’t.

You can follow April on the trail in real time on several platforms:

A map showing their progress and location will available here.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Cathleen Mulvey avatar

Cathleen Mulvey

April, as a fellow MS Warrior who lives in Maine, I find your story so inspiring. I plan to follow your itinerary. The Irish in me loves that you’re starting on St. Patrick’s Day. So the best of luck to you!

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Cathleen,

Thanks for your comments. I'll pass them along to April.

Ed

Reply
Bill C Walker avatar

Bill C Walker

I did 17 miles of the Appalachian Trail many years ago before I was diagnosed with MS. And even then it was a very tough hike. My thoughts and prayers will follow you on your journey April. I certainly couldn't do it now even without a backpack!

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Bill,

Thanks for taking the time to post a note. I'll pass your comments along to April.

Ed

Reply
Tom Anderson avatar

Tom Anderson

Hello Mr. Tobias and thanks for your article- I always get a bit of agita in my gut when I see these MS stories which celebrate an individual’s unusual experience or activity despite the fact they have MS. I think it’s great that April is able to do this. But what is the message? I hope, certainly not that “MS is no big deal”. Awareness and inspiration are essential and so is charity. However, if the message is “use it or lose it”, I would respond “use it while you can”. I think finding the inspiration to push and challenge one’s self, as well as not to give up (which includes MS treatments), are very important “traits”, with or without MS. But “the more she hikes the stronger she gets”, really? I would fill in the blank as to what the message is, to be “use it while you can”. No treatment thus far has proven to be a “halt” for disease activity not seen on MRI, and that includes even miraculous physical activity.

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your comments and I'm sorry that they took so long to be approved and answered.

The message that I take away from April's efforts, and those of other people with MS who are active in exercise, art projects, their business, etc., is that there is life after an MS diagnosis. Sure, our lives have been changed, and some of us will lose abilities before others, but life shouldn't stop. Life isn't about hiding from the storm, it's about learning to dance in the rain. I think April would probably feel the same.

Ed

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Steve O'Neal avatar

Steve O'Neal

Former thru-hiker here. One of the "names" of the AT is Bob Barker who had MS and hiked the entire AT 3 times in the 80's. He walked with the assistance of 2 aluminum forearm crutches. I believe he was in his 60s at the time. He is included in the VHS video "5 million steps" if you are able to find it. What he accomplished is awe inspiring. Good luck to April.

Reply
Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Steve,

Thanks for taking the time to share the info about Bob Barker. Wow! What else can I say? But, doing a thru-hike even once is an amazing accomplishment, even for someone who is able-bodied. I've never been much of an athlete, though at one time I loved to play tennis.

I'll see if I can find that video posted somewhere. It must be quite a story.

Ed

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