Sue Turner aka Hammock Hanger
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Monday, 02 March 2009 11:51

Sue TurnerSue Turner, also known as Hammock Hanger, keeps her dozen or more public hiking journals at   Her vivid writing recounts the daily drama of the long-distance hiker, who might just be your next door neighbor.  In this interview she reveals her signature pluck, enthusiasm, and sense of humor.  By Charlie Duane

WW: How did you become one of the most prolific, most followed journalists on 
Sue:  It is funny but when I first started keeping a "Trail Journal" it was for friends and family.  Public journaling was in its infancy, there were only a few of us keeping online journals.  It was a huge shock to me when I found out how many people were reading my journal.  Many stated that they were living vicariously through me.  It was mind boggling. 

WW: How many hits have your journals gotten?

Sue:  To date my journals have netted a hit number of 359,375.

WW:  How many miles of long-distance hiking have you logged? 

Sue:  I have only documented about 4,000 miles of hiking on Trail Journals, however, I have gone back to my private journals and find that I am just about at the 7,000 mile mark.  Taking the kids hiking and backpacking was an inexpensive activity so it was high on my list.  My husband and I spent many vacations backpacking through the National Forests of GA-TN-NC. I worked as a backpack instructor for 8 years in a camp up in the Adirondacks which put a lot of miles under my boots every year.

WW:  What was your last journal about? 
Sue:  The last big adventure that I was involved in was hiking the Great Eastern Trail (GET).  This is a new trail that is still in the works.  (  At the time I began the hike in the spring of 2007 the southern terminus was where the FL Trail and the AL Trail meet at the state line.  I took on this endeavor as a solo female hiker. Which was a big step out of my comfort zone.  The first 200+ miles were mainly on the back-roads of AL.  I was very comfortable with hiking in the forest but on roads, alone was new for me and just a bit scary.  This section of my hike became one of my favorites, I loved the friendly people of Alabama.  I will say that most saw me as a homeless woman down on her luck instead of a hiker, not sure they really understood the hiker part of it.
This being a new trail I really was out there alone.  People who hiked the AT and only the AT do not realize how quiet other trails can be. I did not run into any other hikers and spent most days and nights completely alone. Lucky for me the members of the AHTS ( did come out to see me, slackpack me and even do a little backpacking with me.
Unfortunately the summer of 2007 was an extremely dry summer and the south was in a severe drought.  I became dehydrated and my vertigo took over and I became very sick. One day while walking along a black top road in what was like 100+ degrees I decided that I needed to go home.  I did return to the trail with a friend a month later only to leave again after another couple of hundred miles with a knee injury.  (I ended up having knee surgery to repair an torn meniscus and ACL.) So that trail is not complete and I plan to continue it as a section hike, which is probably a good thing as some large sections of the trail are not quite in place in the TN-KY area.
I am still in rehab with my knee, which seems to be coming along very nicely.  I plan on taking the month of June to return to the GET where I got off in PA, up near Cowan's Gap.  I will continue to hike northbound filling in as many miles as I can in that time frame. 

WW:  Do you have any projects in the works?
Sue:  My big plan for the year is to hike the Camino de Santiago.  This had been in the works last year but due to the knee problems and some family issues I had to take it off my calendar.  So, it is back on again!!  I am hoping that all goes right this time and that my feet find themselves walking in Europe this Autumn.

WW: Can you recap three memorable events? 

The Needle:
Sue:  When I was hiking the AT in 2001 I was happily working my way north. After about 500 miles I started getting some left foot pain.  It felt like I was stepping on a hot nail every time my foot hit the ground. After another 100+ miles I hiked into Pearisburg, VA.  Once I was checked into the Holy Family Hostel I walked over to the local ER.  The doctor x-rayed my foot.  Later he returned and asked me when I got the pin in my foot.  I thought he meant like a surgical pin.  I told him I had never had foot surgery and had no pin.  He said let me rephrase that, when did you get the sewing needle in your foot.  He then showed me the x-ray.  There it was, a three-quarter inch bent sewing needle, complete with the eye. I went home to have a podiatrist look at it. Unfortunately he did not want to operate and said that if I stopped hiking the swelling around it would recede and I would no longer have a problem.  Obviously he did not understand the mindset of a long distance hiker. I returned to the trail and completed another painful 400 miles before stopping my hike for the year.  I still have the sewing needle and we have basically come to terms with each other.  Which means that when doing any long-distance hiking I take a lot of anti-inflammatories and suck it up!

The Homeless Woman:

Sue:  I returned to the trail in 2002.  I filled in any and all gaps between VA and MD.  Then I continued forward from MAR-PEN State Park northward.  When I hiked in to Boiling Springs I set up my hammock at the outskirts of town at what is known as the Backpackers campsite and then went into town.  After sharing a pizza and some beer with a couple of fellow hikers, celebrating being half way to Maine, I returned. At the campsite was an older lady who said she was a hiker and that she had a tent down the way.  Seemed strange but I was tired and headed into my hammock.  A really bad storm came through and it poured. I got up in the middle of the night to use the Port-a-Let.  As I stepped out of the hammock I almost stepped on this older woman, as she was sleeping under my hammock in an attempt to stay out of the rain.  When I returned from the out-house she was gone, she moved to sleep under a tarp out in the woods. 
The next morning I saw her sitting near the side of an old condemned building reading a book.  I offered to take her to breakfast but she said no.  She continued to tell me that she was a hiker and that she needed to get on the trail.  She was a very nice lady and seemed to be well educated and articulate. I have often wondered what happened to her. 

The ER Visit:

Sue: The hike was going well and once again I was having the time of my life. After a few hundred miles the "needle monster" began to rear it's ugly head, but I sucked it up and continued on my journey.  There were days of dehydration as I hiked through NH during a heat spell but other than that I was truly enjoying my hike.  The day I climbed up Kinsman I was mentally feeling on top of the world but physically I was feeling feverish. I stopped at the Lonesome Lake Hut. Next day after a night of sweats and chills I hitched into town.  I spent the next two days in bed.  Day three I thought I would head back out but in the morning felt ill again.  Later that night I crawled down the stairs but couldn't find anyone.  Later they found me passed out on the front porch.  An ambulance was called.
I do not remember much of the trip or the ER but the nurses had a great time retelling me the story.  The doctor kept asking me if I had been exposed to any ticks or mosquitoes. I kept saying I'm a hiker. He continued to ask me the same question and I apparently got a bit annoyed.  My response was something like "what don't you understand I am a hiker, who has been living in the woods. Which means I expose ALL parts of my body to the elements everyday, as nature does call!"
My blood titre came back positive for Lyme disease. I had a stiff neck and the doctor ordered a spinal tap, luckily the fluid came back clear with no signs of Meningitis. The diagnosis was Lyme and West Nile. I wanted to continue on with the hike which of course was ridiculous since I couldn't even walk to the bathroom. So, just a few hundred miles short of the Big K, I was once again homeward bound. [note: Sue later returned to finish her Appalachian Trail hike and climb Mount Katahdin.]

WW:  Do you have words of encouragement to walkers just getting started?
Sue:  One does not have to be a thru-hiker ready to invest 6 months of their life or hike thousands of miles to go out and enjoy the hike.  I think that sometimes wannabes are just that because they don't feel that they can be "thru-hikers". 

Only a few of the so called 'thru-hikers" really make it in one straight shot.  For them I say BRAVO. Don't, however, put that pressure on yourself.  Just go out and hike, a day, a weekend, a week, etc, etc.  The important thing is to go out there and let yourself enjoy the experience.
If you are planning on doing a long distance hike, research your hike, your equipment and practice using your equipment.  Keep your pack as light as you are comfortable doing so.  Listen to your body and [gradually] work in to those big mile days.  Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare.  Be brave, be a tortoise!!


WW:  What would you say to the person who wants to get started walking and a mile seems like a lot? 

Sue:  Find a place that is close to home.  The further away, the less likely you are to go. Find a place that resonates with you, makes you want to be there. 
If you just want to be able to walk out the door... make it a habit.  Habits are sometimes a good thing.  Pick a time of day that is almost always convenient, then just walk out your door and walk.

Is there a time of day when lots of your neighbors seem to be out?  It is always nice to be able to connect with a neighbor even if it is just a quick hello, nice evening for a walk... 
If possible shake things up, walk west one night, east the next, in a figure eight pattern around the blocks, you get the idea.
Start with short walks routinely and grow into longer walks.


WW:  How do you get out the door to just do it for twenty minutes?
Sue:  If you are looking in the frig but know you can not possibly be hungry, go out and walk, even if it is only to the end of your street.  (Most likely you are just bored.)
Walk with a friend at night and see how the lights in your neighborhood look, better yet look up and see the night sky.  It is nice to have a friend or companion to walk with.  However, walk even if the companion cannot.  My favorite time to walk is after dark and very early in the morning, predawn when possible.
Motivate yourelf by knowing that it is good for your health and your soul.  Both of which will help you to live a longer fuller life.

WW:  Anything else you want to relate?

Sue:  When I went out to hike I was not out looking for anything, no soul searching... However, through the hiking I found that the "little child" inside of me was still there and ready to play.  It is good and healthy to grow and mature, but we should always retain a little of the naivete and innocence of the happy-go-lucky child.  I found that I am not as jaded and hard-edged as I was before hiking.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 March 2009 17:22
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