It’s Princess here again…WOW! What a day. As you probably know, a Zero is an intentional day off the Trail. Today was the last of three zero days that Walker took when he got off the Trail for Mother’s Day. Walker and I left the Hampton Roads area – where we were visiting my mother – in the early afternoon. As we were driving along I-64 just riding and talking, suddenly both of us saw a tractor-trailer in flames in the trees off the side of the road. Walker immediately pulled off the highway, said “stay here” to me, and jumped out of car. He ran to the truck along with another man who had just pulled off the highway and they were quickly joined by a third man. Together, they managed to pull the truck driver out of the cab through the passenger window. (The driver’s side door was in the ditch, with the passenger side door facing up and parallel to the road, if you can picture that.) They first had to pull parts of the vehicle away and get the broken passenger side window out so they could get to Bill, the driver. Walker said he was in the middle of the two front seats, face up, with his head near the gear shift and his legs on the back of the seat. He was in a semi-conscious state, but moving around a bit. He was in an awkward position – and a big man, so it wasn’t an easy feat to pull him out. Imagine all this with a fire raging!
If you know me, you know that I did not say in the car. I felt so helpless that I had to get out. Keeping in mind the fact that the truck could explode, I did stand a fair distance from the wreck. I was the only bystander (others were stopped in their cars, but more cars just passed slowly by) and I remember yelling, “Come on guys, you can do it!” I also took a few pictures with my phone. It all happened really quickly, but yet so slowly, too. It seemed to take a long time to get the driver out, but finally they freed him and he was able to walk away with their support. After they got him a fair distance from the truck, a nurse appeared and checked his vitals. He was conscious, but in a stunned state. He said his name was Bill and he was from Canada. He was hauling some big machinery; we don’t know what type, but it was helpful to know it wasn’t anything flammable. Next on the scene were the firefighters who were relieved to know that no one else was in the vehicle. By that time, the truck and trees were on fire, and they put them out pretty quickly. Next to arrive were the paramedics and then the State Police who seemed pretty nonchalant about the whole thing which makes you think this type of accident happens way too frequently.
Talking to Bill, he did not remember what happened prior to the accident that caused him to wreck. Someone gave him a phone to call his wife, but he said he couldn’t see to dial; his glasses were in the truck. The bystander dialed the number for him and then called his company after he was able to recall the number. After we left the scene, I realized he had lost his glasses, phone, wallet…everything. I wish I had thought to give him some money.
The reason I’m writing this post is that Walker is way too modest. When he was in the planning stages of his AT journey, people were stunned when he said he would be walking the Trail alone; they usually asked, “Are you packing heat? (“Are you carrying a gun?”). Answer = No! He said – and still says – you are never really alone on the AT, and he never felt like a gun was necessary. (Plus he wouldn’t carry the extra weight!) Who would think that one of his scariest days would be a Zero Day? I am so proud of the way he immediately stopped the car, and without hesitation (except to be concerned about my safety) fled to be of help. When it was over, the hair on his knuckles and hand was singed, he was cut and bleeding and had Bill’s blood on him. The two other rescuers were cut and bleeding also. Bill had some cuts and bumps on his head, but appeared to be in fair condition.
Walker said the heat of the fire was incredible, and it took him back to the unpleasant training that he had in the Navy for putting fires out both in the aircraft and on ships. He said that even when he knew a fire was controlled, it was difficult training to endure, and here he was today in there willingly.
As I said to Walker earlier, this must have been both the worst and best day of Bill’s life.
These photos don’t do it justice…Walker wouldn’t let me get any closer!