Persistence, pills fuel epileptic's 2,160-mile hike

October 28, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Oddball names are an Appalachian Trail tradition.

Hikers on the 2,160-mile path forsake their urban titles and become Ladder with his faithful dog, Hook; Hairbear, Ramble-On, Hungry Mother, Mr. Clean, Lazy Daisy and The Fugitive.

David S. Hannibal, 25, of Baltimore County, who hiked with them all, was Shaman the Medicine Man -- because of the pills he had to take daily as he walked the full length of the trail.

Hannibal is an epileptic, an asthmatic and allergic to trail dust, but none of those problems proved big enough to keep him from finishing the trek.

Last weekend, he emerged from the woods after six months of popping three Tegretol pills a day while "through-hiking" from Georgia to Maine, from April to October.

"I had such a good time," said Hannibal, who is from the Jacksonville area. "There were rough spots when I wanted to quit or cry, but something always happened. Once I jammed my toes in Virginia and sat down in pain. I looked up and saw hummingbirds getting nectar from rhododendrons and azaleas. I said, 'Wow.'

"I had to let people know I had epilepsy, because they might think I'm a druggie, or they would have freaked out if I had a seizure," Hannibal said. "But I only had a lung infection in Virginia and diarrhea in Massachusetts. No convulsions or asthma."

Hannibal, whose last seizure was in 1991, said he was lucky to have his epilepsy under control. While he wasn't trying to prove his prowess as an epileptic, he hoped his success would inspire others.

"I did take extra precautions," he said. "Besides the pills, I needed extra sleep -- 10 hours a day. I was always hydrated -- 10 quarts of water a day. I tried to eat enough. I hiked alone only two weeks. I listened to my body: When I got irritable or light-headed, I took a break -- that's good advice for any hiker."

While Hannibal, carrying a pack varying from 40 to 70 pounds, encountered eight bears, electrical storms on exposed peaks, almost 100-degree heat in Maryland and 96-mph wind gusts on snowy Mount Washington, his mother worried. Religiously.

"I prayed every night," said Virginia Hannibal of Jacksonville.

About 1,200 hikers began in Georgia this spring, and 280 to 300 have completed the entire journey, said Brian King, public affairs director of the Appalachian Trail Conference in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

A 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pounder, Hannibal kept in shape as a mountain biker and exercise physiologist with Mid-Atlantic Corporate Health of Hunt Valley, which gave him a leave of absence.

He set off from Springer Mountain in Georgia on April 10. The trek eventually cost him $4,000 -- mostly for food -- 7,000 daily calories, and by the end, 10 pounds.

But it gained him many friends. He met the likes of Ramble-On from North Carolina and Hook and Ladder from New Hampshire.

"We did 1,500 miles together," Hannibal said. "You need companionship. Many days, we'd do 15 miles. Sometimes just two miles. You go too fast, you miss so much beauty."

Hannibal took a few short breaks, such as visiting his newly born nephew, Daniel Richard Andrews, in Maryland. The son of his sister, Jeanne Andrews, was christened Saturday, and godfather David cut his half-year beard to celebrate.

When he ended his journey Oct. 18, he hugged the Katahdin Mountain summit sign, 5,267 feet up on the roof of Maine, and had a couple of thoughts.

One was that people should respect the environment.

The other was that the trail restores faith in the generosity of people -- hikers and nonhikers. They shared gear and gave food of all types, fuel for cooking, cheaper rates for pills, rides to post offices and to a hospital when sick.

Trail buddies offered each other encouraging words. One friend was SpaceWrangler, a diabetic through-hiker who had to take insulin and check his blood count every day. He lingered one day to walk with and cheer up Hannibal.

The kindness went with the trail like the funny names.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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