By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0413-Feature-Hadley_Blog

Dustin Hadley is more than one-quarter through the hike of his life — one that’s taking him the length of the Appalachian Trail.

His gear goes beyond the usual camping provisions. Hadley has an ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which works as a pacemaker and also shocks his heart if needed. He aims to be the first cardiac arrest survivor to make it the entire length of the trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

As of June 8, he’s trekking through Virginia, his fourth state and the longest of the 14 he’ll cover on the trail. He’s already conquered Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Boy, have there been some challenges,” said Hadley, a Minnesota paramedic for Allina Health EMS who started hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail on April 17.

Hadley - quarter mile markerSo far he has dealt with broken gear, cold weather, storms and enough snow to have a snowball fight. A month ago, Hadley and fellow hikers were thrown out of a shelter during a snowstorm due to overcrowding. (That one may have been a stroke of luck, as the shelter occupants got a good scare from a curious bear a short time later.)

Hadley also marked his 40th birthday on the trail. “For going ‘over the hill,’ I went with the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rockies,” said Hadley, who’s lost about 30 pounds since he started his journey.

Hadley continually reminds himself that he has to listen to his body.

“I am still a heart patient and I need to let my body tell me what it can handle,” he said. “This can change a little from day to day, but is mostly improving. I really don’t want to wind up stopping this adventure because I pushed myself too hard and sustained a heart dysthymia (abnormal rhythm).”

Social media posts give a glimpse of his journey so far:

May 14: I am no longer in shape to keep up with the 20-somethings. However … I can use my knowledge and experience to keep myself from getting injured and realize that, by pacing myself, I can hike longer into the day and need less rest at night.

Trying to go uphill, I need to slow down, find a pace that keeps my heart rate in check and keep myself moving. For as many people that pass me going up, I can often make up some time going down or on level ground.

Hadley hit the quarter-mile mark May 28. Two days later, he’d hiked 600 miles.

May 31: Mom, don’t read this!

The last thirty hours or so have been more interesting than usual. Yes, plenty of fun characters around me, but even

Hadley's hiking scenery

Hadley’s hiking scenery.

hiking alone for a while can bring excitement. First were the normal whitetail encounters; no shortage of deer around here. I’ve had a couple of staredowns.

Cattle have behaved, but the longhorn in a herd can be surprising.

Hadley said he also startled a skunk and nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.

Yesterday, I nearly stepped on a juvenile timber rattler. His head was beneath the leaves and I thought he was a tree root. We surprised each other. I was quick to move my foot and used the trekking pole against him to flick him off of the trail.

Hadley said he has planned to use his hike as a way to focus on the emotional part of his recovery.

“Catharsis is present, but slower than I expected. The challenges of the day, weather and my timeline have made it more challenging, but it is there,” he said.