He was climbing over boulders, the only way through the rough Appalachian terrain, when the giant rock beneath him started to fall backward.
In an instant he would be pinned beneath it.
The boulder shifted at the last second, moving him out of harm's way.
Luck? Fate? Whatever saved Collin Arant that day kept a close eye on him for six months as the 19-year-old from Omaha hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
“I should have gotten killed,” he said, and on more than one occasion.
The trip was six years in the making when Arant started his journey in March. As a 13-year-old, he read a book about a man who attempted to hike the 2,185-mile trail but failed. He decided then he would do what the author couldn't.
So, 10 months after Arant graduated from the Omaha Christian Academy, his dad drove him south, to the trail's start in Georgia, and said goodbye until September.
Most days he hiked around 18 miles, but sometimes as few as two or as many as 34.
He equipped himself with enough clothes to fill his pack, dry food, a map, a GPS device and a first aid kit. His stash of safety supplies was so extensive he picked up the nickname “EMT” somewhere along the way. And it fit — he earned his emergency medical technician certification to prepare for the trip.
Injuries fascinate Arant, now 20, and he saw more than his fair share in the mountains. A 14-year-old girl hiking the trail with her dad broke her arm in a fall. A friend he met in the wilderness — “Rhino” to fellow hikers — broke several ribs and his hand en route. Arant didn't break anything, but his adventures pushed his body to its limits.
When he escaped the boulder's blow, he earned a few scars he wears proudly now. A sharp but short-lived bout with Lyme disease forced Arant to take a brief hiatus from the hike. The current from a nearby lightning strike literally shocked Arant and another hiker who took refuge from the storm under the same tarp. The surge was strong enough to knock the two off balance, repelling them in opposite directions.
“It didn't give me any cool superpowers, though,” Arant said, joking.
They would have come in handy when he encountered a mother bear and her cubs. He saw the trio 70 yards away and redirected his route. Unfortunately, the bears moved in the same direction and reappeared, this time 30 yards ahead. The mama bear charged. Arant held his ground — running would give way to a chase he would lose.
Thankfully, it was a bluff.
She stopped after a few yards, shifted on her paws and stared. Arant stepped backward slowly, again and again, until she lost interest and moved on.
“It lasted about a minute but felt like an eternity,” he said.
His journey ended last month in Maine.
The hike was a challenge, an adventure, “a total exercise in Murphy's law,” he said, laughing.
“You learn so much about life.”
Now he's back in Omaha, preparing to start college, but already eager to make a return trip to the Appalachian Trail. When he does, he'll cross his fingers, hoping lightning doesn't strike twice.
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