MS Hiker Laces Up Her Boots for Appalachian Trail
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!
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.
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.
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