‘I’m in trouble’: North Carolina man describes fall, rescue on Appalachian Trail in Maine

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ARCHDALE, N.C. (WGHP FOX8) — Rick Sullivan and his son Daniel had been preparing to hike the entire Appalachian Trail for about six years. But, instead of starting in Georgia and hiking north to Maine as most people do, they decided to tackle the most challenging stretches in Maine and Vermont first, before making their way south.

On June 17, they started their journey. 

“Hiking out of Baxter [State Park] was beautiful, but then after that, we went into what’s called the Hundred-Mile Wilderness,” Rick said. 

The Hundred-Mile Wilderness, Rick said, is a stretch where there isn’t a good place to get off the trail. 

“We quickly learned that we weren’t as prepared as we thought we were,” he said. 

Stopping off at some of the ponds in Maine, while meeting fellow travelers and enjoying the wilderness, the father-son duo took their time getting through the area. 

On Tuesday, they set up camp early, knowing rain would be moving into the area. 

“We were only planning on going about seven miles or so,” Rick said.  

On Wednesday, they were on Sugarloaf Mountain, approaching a lean-to where they planned to spend the night.  

“It was a very rocky downhill section of the trail,” Rick said.  

Everything had been wet, he said, but the Maine rocks still provided plenty of traction. 

“There was just this one rock, I guess I wasn’t paying any particular attention to it, but it turned out to be more slippery than most,” Rick detailed. “As my foot was slipping on that rock, I reached out with my other foot to gain some footing, and instead of gaining footing, it went into a hole, and I kept going down, but my foot didn’t go down. That’s when I heard the snap and felt the snap, and went, ‘Uh oh, I’m in trouble.’” 

Daniel turned around to find his father in what he describes as “excruciating pain.” 

“Oddly enough, the thing that went through my mind that hurt the most was, ‘Oh no, this is going to knock us off the trail, I’m not going to be able to keep hiking,’” he said. “When I sat up and saw my foot sort of flopping over to the side, I knew for sure it wasn’t good.” 

Luckily, the pair had cellphone service, and Daniel was able to get a call out to 911. The dispatcher took detailed information, as Rick prepared himself for what he anticipated would be a three-hour wait for help to arrive.  

In the meantime, he called his wife, Charlene, to tell her what had happened. 

“She said, ‘We’ll be praying for you, know that I love you, and hang in there, you can do this,’” Rick said. 

Just over an hour later, they heard voices coming from about 50 yards down the trail. 

“We were shocked when we heard voices yelling, ‘hello, hello,’” Rick recalled. 

Members of the Franklin Search and Rescue crew were familiar with the area and were able to find shortcuts to Rick and Daniel.  

“[They] quickly sort of took over the situation and assessed what was going on,” Rick said. 

But, as Rick explained, Maine Game Wardens oversee any rescue events, and they were coming over the mountain.  

By the time they arrived and got Rick loaded into a rescue basket, it was about 5:30 in the evening. Now, attention turned to getting him through the dangerous terrain to the summit of the mountain. 

“They would have six people at a time carry the litter, and carry it for a couple hundred yards, get tired, put me down, the next six people would pick up the litter, carry me for a hundred yards,” Rick said. 

Around 11 p.m., they reached the emergency vehicles awaiting Rick’s arrival. In total, there were about 30 to 35 people who came to help.  

“These search and rescue people were giving up their time, for no pay, to help a total stranger,” he reflected. 

From there, Rick was brought to a hospital, where they took X-rays.  

“The nurse went over and looked at the screen and went, ‘That doesn’t look good,’” Rick joked. 

Rick’s tibia and fibula were both broken. 

On Friday, Rick flew back to the Triad, after a bittersweet booking of a plane ticket. 

“I know this sounds strange, but very disappointed to be home, that we would have to stop our adventure where we did, without being able to finish,” he said.  

Rick says he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to attempt the entire trail again. 

“There are definitely sections of the Appalachian Trial I still want to hike,” he said. 

He’ll have a better idea of his chances on Monday when he visits an orthopedic surgeon.  

“I’m really glad to be home now,” Rick said, from the comfort of his couch. 

While he awaits his appointment, Rick said he’s been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement he received. This, while remembering the people who took time out of their lives to get him home safely. 

“There are people out there that you don’t even think about that are willing to give up their time to come and help you out if you need help,” he said. “Those people need to be appreciated.” 

Rick worked at FOX8 for more than 30 years.

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