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Clayton man recounts odyssey from NH to NC

Posted August 13, 2012

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— A Clayton man who had been missing for more than two weeks before being reunited with his family over the weekend says he kept trying to get home the whole time but wasn't sure where that was – or even who he was.

Hugh Armstrong, 72, went for a morning hike on July 25 along Stinson Lake in New Hampshire, where his family was vacationing, and planned on returning in time for a pancake breakfast with his grandchildren. A fall into a ravine set him off on a seven-state odyssey that ended early Saturday, when a McDowell County Sheriff's Office deputy picked him up along U.S. Highway 70 in western North Carolina.

"Apparently, I hit my head, because when I woke up, it was after dark," Armstrong said by phone Monday from his home in Clayton, still trying to piece together what had happened.

"I had a splitting headache," he recalled. "I didn't know who I was, but the only thing I knew was that I had to go south and west (to get home)."

He would navigate by the stars at night and sometimes sleep in abandoned barns, he said. He worked two days on a Pennsylvania farm, where the farmer paid him to collect hay from a field and then drove him to Roanoke, Va.

Eventually, Armstrong made his way to Asheville and was sitting in a McDonald's when he started filling in the blanks in his memory.

"I heard a mother call her little girl by the name of Emma. I said, 'I know that name. That’s a family name. That’s my granddaughter’s name,'" he said.

A reference he heard on a television show sounded like a familiar house number, and he began looking up street names in a phone book to assemble an address. He then addressed a letter to "Emma."

"I said, 'Hi, Emma. I don't know who I am, but I hope you do," he said, noting that he included initials and a date inscribed in his wedding ring to provide clues.

Hugh Armstrong with wife, daughter Concussion, amnesia don't stop Clayton man from finding way home

Armstrong said he started off from Asheville on Friday to head to Wilmington, where he thought he had family. The deputy stopped him at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and he entered Armstrong's information into a computer database and learned New Hampshire authorities had been searching for him.

Ellen Armstrong then got a call in the middle of the night, but she said Monday she didn't dread answering the phone.

"I thought it was good," she said. "Hopefully, they wouldn't call me with bad news at 3:30 in the morning."

Although her husband sounded weak and emotional, she recognized his voice. She then drove to Raleigh to pick up her daughter, and they headed to Marion.

"When I saw my wife, I said, 'That’s my wife,' and I ran and met them at the door," Hugh Armstrong said.

"Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it. He was running through the door there," Ellen Armstrong said. "We didn’t even get in the first door, and we had the biggest bear hugs and crying – all three of us crying."

Hugh Armstrong had a CAT scan on Sunday, and doctors said he likely suffered a mild concussion during his fall in New Hampshire, which explained his amnesia. His wife said being home and around his family again is helping him recover.

Ellen Armstrong said she is grateful for the New Hampshire authorities who searched extensively for her husband, but added that she and her daughter knew the search of Stinson Lake would turn up empty because Hugh Armstrong is careful near water. She said she was most worried that he was injured in the woods and had lost his glasses and hearing aid, which would make it hard for him to find his way back.

"I know he's resourceful, and I know he would be really good with maps if he ever got out of the woods and on a road," she said. "It's just a miracle – a wonderful miracle – because we're not done with him yet."

41 Comments

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  • JAT Aug 14, 2:53 p.m.

    oh, no, Gnat, he seemed to remember enough that he needed to go South so the stars didn't really help him much unless he could also remember all the constolations and their locations at various times in the year. This amnesia is just getting to be too selective for me to buy.

  • Smedley Aug 14, 1:48 p.m.

    He probably just asked the farmer for some work so he could 'earn' money for his trip. He probably left out the sob story.

  • satman1 Aug 14, 12:45 p.m.

    Cool

  • hangry Aug 14, 12:21 p.m.

    I thought amnesia only happened in the movies. I will have to use that one next time I get gone a few days.

  • foster208 Aug 14, 12:09 p.m.

    This is just an amazing story. He should chronicle his days and write more in detail, as this would be a fascinating short story. It's sad his family had to worry so much about him. Glad he is well.

  • smegma Aug 14, 12:08 p.m.

    what an awesome story. pipe down, Karmageddon. money isn't everything.

  • warrenhicks19672 Aug 14, 11:28 a.m.

    I am so glad this man is home safely and is getting his memory back...I do question, as others have, what the rest of this story is. I don't think I could have left knowing my father/husband was lost up there somewhere and just return home. Kinda like a mystery movie that was interrupted by a thunderstorm knowcking out the electricity and we didnt get to find out the middle of the story; with it coming back on just in time to see the ending. ?????

  • Karmageddon Aug 14, 11:13 a.m.

    The state of Vermont spent a lot of money looking for this man and they deserve a better answer than he just showed up back home.

  • Gnathostomata Aug 14, 11:05 a.m.

    How scary it must have been to be alone, walking across four states at night, guided by the universe. Knowing home is "that a-way" but not knowing exactly where. My neighbor drove to pick up a relative for a doctor's appointment but never made it; came home four hours later very disoriented. Doctors said she had a "fugue"...all I know is it was very scary not to know what happened in that four hour period. Speedometer verified she drove for four hours, she had no recollection of where. And \naysayers/ can make your comments now, but she is a very consciencious lady, not given whimsey. Maybe it *is* time to pin my address in my clothing...Dog tags, so to speak.

  • wiseowl Aug 14, 10:39 a.m.

    I'm glad he's home and safe...but I agree there is more to the story we aren't getting.

    The family just shrugged and left NH when he didn't return?

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