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Beware of Boy Scouts Bearing Gifts

The three boycots that bring us trail magic and witness my finger getting dislocated.
Boy Scouts Bearing Gifts

Voice of Reason, Babe, Shanti and I have made Eagles Nest Shelter in Pennsylvania our home for the night. As I walk over to join them for dinner at a picnic table set in front of the shelter, I hear a rapid knocking sound, like maracas or a güiro. For an instant, a flashback of my mother having a grown-up party with her musician friends playing salsa music late into the night. But, at this moment, as I look down, I quickly realize that it’s not a Latin American percussion instrument that I’m hearing. Nearly a foot away, I see a fat, black…

“A rattlesnake!” 

It may have been that I made a clear announcement to the group that there was a rattler in our midst, but more likely I was screaming with a thrilling fear as I ran back to my tent, shouting back over my shoulder, “Don’t scare it away!” 

I sprint as fast as my chancleta-clad feet can take me. I get to my tent…

Where is it? 

I search through my backpack, tossing my possessions in all directions. 

Where did I put it? 

I check my hiking pants… 


I frantically continue searching until… got it.

I run back with my camera in hand and when I get there, I see Voice of Reason and Babe standing on the picnic table looking down at Shanti, who is recording the snake.

“It won’t rattle,” I hear Shanti exclaim as I approach.

“Don’t scare it away before I get a picture.” I say, running up behind her.

“Look he just ate. Come on buddy… rattle, I wanna hear your rattle,” Shanti pleads.

I quickly snap a few shots. “Wow, it’s beautiful,” I exclaim.

“Now that I’m filming, he’s not rattling,” Shanti expresses. 

She then swings her camera to the boys on the table. “Look at all these people watching the snake.”

“I’m going to my tent,” I hear one of them say.

“Okay these guys are up on the table and they’re afraid of the rattlesnake,” Shanti narrates for her video.

I look around for… ahh, I grab a stick and hurry back to the snake that’s now crawling away under a bush. 

“Haven’t you learned from your bear encounter? Such a bad idea, Mr Fabulous,” says Babe from atop the picnic table. 

“Mr Fabulous?” says someone else, but I ignore them all. 

I tap the ground next to the snake, causing it to rattle. The maraca-like sound is beautiful. 

“They can reach up to six feet,” says Babe.

I’m not sure how true that is, but the statement is enough for me to reel in my curiosity and let the snake be. I never imagined that such a deadly creature could look so magnificent.

“Okay, now he’s in striking position, Mr Fabulous,” Shanti says as she quickly moves away from the snake.

I hear someone say that a rattlesnake can strike quickly and double the length of its body. My stick is less than half the size of the snake. I shake my head at my stupidity and toss the stick away. 

One day, if I’m not careful, my curiosity is going to get the best of me.

“Okay, that was cool.” I say turning to my Lil’ Fam. 

“I had no idea they came in black,” I add, amazed.

After our first rattlesnake hoopla fades, we all settle back at the picnic table and finish our meal… well everyone, but myself. I must have been doing a lot of talking because, before I knew it, everyone was done and headed to their tents for the evening while I was still heating water for my Ramen noodles. Eventually, I do manage to eat my meal and while putting my cookware away, three grade school boys, arrive with a large pot that looks as if it can hold three human heads… I mean if necessary

“What’s going on guys?” 

“Hi, we’re from Troop 115. We made too much mac and cheese and our scout leader said we can bring the leftovers to you hikers,” says one of the boys.

“Oh, cool. Well, everyone’s in their tent, but they’re thru-hikers, I’m sure they’ll come out for food.”  

“Hey guys, Boy Scouts just brought us some trail magic,” I announce, as I approach our camp.

Babe is the first out of his tent and runs toward the food, followed by Voice. Shanti is in her tent and slow to come out. 

“Coming Shanti?”

“I’ll be there, Fab,” says Shanti, sounding a bit tired.

Although I just finished my dinner, my appetite has not diminished, so I run back to the shelter. I excitedly jump over a large log just to land on a smaller one with the agility of Peter Pan, well… so I thought. The log rolls under my feet, I lose my balance and fall backwards. It’s all I can do to brace myself with my right hand as it lands between the two logs. I jump up feeling a bit clumsy and embarrassed. When I recover, I glance at my right hand and notice that the top half of my ring finger is not quite aligned with the rest of the finger, in fact, the entire finger is shaped like a lightning bolt.

“My finger is broken,” I calmly say, as if noticing a hangnail. 

I clearly don’t understand what has just happened to my finger. 

“No, it’s just dislocated,” I hear someone say through my cloud of shock.

A slew of thoughts zip through my mind, like one’s whole life passing before their eyes in a moment of extreme trauma or sudden near death experience, except the thoughts are not of my past, but of my future here on the trail. 

Getting off the trail to heal is not an option for me; this will have to be taken care of right here and now. 

I stay calm so as not to scare the kids. I don’t want their thru-hiker encounter to be one of torn fingers, pain and rapid-fire swearing. 

“Oh, then in that case,” and before I can think long and hard on it, I grab the top of my dislocated finger and pop it back into place. 


I have never broken a bone and my joints have never separated from each other. My body has been intact my entire life, so it goes without saying, I had no clue what I was doing when I grabbed the top of my finger and did what I did. I just knew where that part of my finger belonged and I wanted to get it back into place before I chickened out. The term screamed like a schoolgirl has been applied to me more times than I care to remember, yet I somehow kept my cool.

“Whah… did that hurt?” says the smallest of the three boys.

I lift my hand up to my face, flex my fingers and then close my hand into a fist, “Nah, actually it feels okay.”

In truth, I don’t feel any pain. 

Perhaps I’m in shock. 

“Man, that was cool,” he says smiling up at the bigger Boy Scouts. 

They nod in agreement, if not a little taken aback by what they just witnessed.

“Yeah it was,” I agree, and then announce, “Well, let’s eat.”

I continue as if nothing happened, but it doesn’t take long for my stomach to turn. I sit down until the dizziness passes. 

Mac and cheese will make everything better. 

I reach inside the pot and I’m instantly dispirited by what I see…  

Meat… there’s pieces of hotdog in the mac and cheese… curses, curses and many bad curses.

A dread comes over me… I mean I did almost lose a finger… I could use some comfort food right now, but no, I can’t eat this soothing trail magic because I’m a pescatarian. This reminds me of the time Big Foot flaunted a warm sausage muffin in my face after our rough snowstorm hike. He brushed off the seriousness of my strict eating lifestyle, then double dared me to eat whatever form of animal was used for the breakfast sandwich he sat on my lap. I did not eat the meat then and now, instead of eating the creamy warm goo in the pot, I grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that the boy scouts brought as well. It’s a poor substitute, but this clumsy beggar cannot be choosy. I graciously eat the sandwich without complaint.

When I finish the sandwich, I walk over to my tent. I take three ibuprofen or vitamin I, as fellow thru-hikers call the painkillers. I look over and see that Shanti is still in her tent.

“Hey Shanti, I just dislocated my finger,” I say nonchalantly.

“Whaa, are you okay?” she says, concerned.

“Yeah, I slipped on a log and landed on my finger. I’m cool… I’ve never dislocated a finger before.”

“Okay,” she says, confused.

“Are you going to join us?” I ask.

“I’m not hungry, but I’ll say hi.” 

I head back to the shelter… this time I carefully walk around the logs. When I get back to the group, the conversation is of Lyme disease. 

“Lyme disease has been an issue out here. We’ve seen several hikers leave the trail because of it,” I hear someone say as I walk up. 

“Yeah, but I hiked through it. I just kept movin’ and eventually sweat the Lyme disease out of my system. It’s what I do; I’m different like that. Shoot, I had it three times, but I kept hiking and look at me now… normal.” 

My story is absurd, yet the boys stare at me with astonishment. After seeing my mangled finger popped back into place, the kids might actually believe my tale. 

“Nah, I kid. I know I may seem like a superhero to you guys, but no I didn’t have Lyme disease… okay I had it once, but it went away,” I flash a smile that suggests that I’m still kidding. 

My head begins to spin, I calmly sit down and attempt to play it cool. 

The Boy Scouts can’t see me sweat. 

I begin to sweat.

“Thanks for the trail magic,” says Shanti when she arrives. “So, Mr Fabulous dislocated his finger,” she adds as she looks through the large pot. 

“Yeah, I thought he was doing a magic trick for the Boy Scouts,” says Voice, turning to look at me. “You presented your finger, then you casually popped it back into place. I was like, good trick Mr Fabulous.”

“Yeah, I’m just glad I was able to keep it together,” I explain, then add, “You should have seen it, Shanti. It was awesome.” 

“You should show her how awesome it was and dislocate it again,” says Voice of Reason, who at this moment does not reflect his trail name.

“It wasn’t that awesome,” I say, abandoning any form of enthusiasm that I may have had about the dislocation of my finger.

After spending some time with the kids, we call it a night. I lay in my tent observing my injured finger. 

“Wait until it swells up,” Babe proclaims as he climbs into his tent. 

Strange, but it feels like and looks as if nothing happened to it. I keep flexing my fingers; it’s a bit sore, but other than that, my finger feels fine. I must really be a superhero… yet if I were, would I have dislocated my finger in the first place? Woo woo, I know… I have a quick healing factor, like a vampire. Whatever it is, I’m fine for now, however from this moment on, I will definitely be cautious around boy scouts bearing gifts.

Dislocated finger

You want more? Check out my travel memoir, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker.


  • Amy

    I guess this part didn’t make it into the book! I’m almost done reading your book and loving it so much I don’t want to finish it so I might read it again! I’m a wanna-be thru hiker but now I’m too old —66. I live in your neighborhood so maybe we’ll meet up sometime or I’ll run into you on an AMC hike.

    • Catherine Arntzen

      Hi Amy,

      You’re never too old to hike! I hiked 75 miles on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevadas in August, 2019. I was 68 years old at the time and I hiked solo. Could only do 5-6 miles a day on my arthritic knees with my 30 lb. backpack and some altitude issues I had (vertigo). It had been a dream of mine for 25 years to hike the JMT. But it had to wait until I was retired and had the time and money. I did a section hike, instead of the entire 211 miles, as that’s what I felt I could do at the time. Another woman was hiking solo around the same time. She was 78 years old and did more miles than I did.

      I trained for seven months. Lost 35 lbs. (more than the weight of my backpack), educated myself about gear, navigation, hiking at altitude. Took relevant classes at REI. Joined three FB groups (John Muir Trail Hikers 2019, Ladies of the JMT, Altitude Acclimatization) to make my education and connection to other hikers even more robust. Assembled all my gear and food for the hike. Worked out in the gym and did training hikes with my niece in New Mexico where I live. Got my legs and cardio strong. Did PT to resolve the bursitis in my hips. I also took a Garmin inReach GPS unit with satellite texting and SOS capability with me, in addition to paper and digital maps. Guthook on my cell phone was invaluable.

      The point being that you have to make any needed life changes, put in the time to educate and train yourself and be smart, but it’s totally doable. Most of the solo hikers I met on the trail were the older ones. Lots of solo older women hikers. Most of them doing 10 plus miles per day. I’ve continued with day hikes and plan to do more section hikes in the future after the pandemic settles down.

      Happy trails!

      P.S. My trail name is 2DaysLate, since I was always two days late on my planned schedule, because I hiked so few miles per day 🙂

      P.P.S. I’m a big fan of Mr. Fabulous now! Just finished his book and didn’t want it to end. Beautiful person and exceptional writing.

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