Appalachian Trail to Torn ACL

I scrolled through my newsfeed, seeing picture upon picture of my friends doing the classic pose at the Katahdin sign and I let out a deep exhale. I was proud of my trail family, excited for my friends, but I had not made it up to the top of Katahdin. That dream had to be fulfilled another time.

In Shenandoah National Park, I had been overcome with a variety of issues, from a death in the family to money problems. My biggest problem that eventually led to me leaving the trail was that I had contracted giardia. Giardia not only gave me plenty of stomach issues but also contributed to my anxiety, so I decided that I had to come home and then I’d be back on the trail in a months time. When I returned home, I went back to white water raft guiding for a company I had worked at for years, but luck would have it that at the end of my giardia spell, I tore my ACL.

I was in the largest rapid of the day with a boat full of boy scouts, as we went over the main drop, my leg slid up under the back thwart (tube) and I was flung forward. My left leg was off to the left and looked terrible, there were shooting pains throughout my knee. I yelled to my roper to throw my boat a rope and that I had broken my leg. Amanda, the girl on the rope, tugged us in and helped me out of my raft (Thanks, Amanda!). It instantly felt like there was a disconnect in my leg, the feeling was as if my calf was just dangling by a tiny string. My trip leader, fellow guides, and the boy scouts helped evacuate me from the river and I was taken to the hospital for x-rays.

I was devastated.

There I was, banged up knee, waiting on the verdict of what was wrong with it and no way I was making it back onto the trail in a month. I couldn’t even raft guide while I waited. There was no hiking, no paddling, no swimming, my knee wouldn’t allow me to do much of anything. I could barely work. How could someone that walked 950 miles be taken out of the game so easily? If you’ve never had an injury like this, it’s difficult to comprehend how overwhelming it can be.

After a month of little to no activity, I was able to walk around a bit. Although I couldn’t do heavy trails or really even walk down a hill properly without aid, I did do research to find there were trails I had never done before due to them being so short and easy. Even with crutches, I was able to make it down the trails I found around North Georgia. Much like the trail to Toccoa Falls, in the photo below!

After finding out I had torn my ACL, it took another month or so to even have the actual surgery. I was walking relatively normal at that point since it had been about two and a half months since I was originally injured. With that being said, I was nervous about basically digressing. In reality, I would get better and be stronger with a graft in my knee, rather than constantly having to wear a brace to make sure it felt like it wasn’t dangling. Even a month after the surgery, I felt stronger than before.

Don’t let an injury slow you down.

I had to forfeit my Grand Canyon permit to my little sister because I wouldn’t be healed in time, yet another thing I had to give up. For a while, I went through bouts of depression from being immobile and unable to immerse myself properly in nature. However, there were times that I would drive up mountains or to roadside waterfalls like in Highlands, NC. There’s always a way to get out and explore, it doesn’t matter. Everyone should be welcome in the outdoors and feel nature’s open arms. Sometimes it would take a while to find the motivation I needed to even get up and out of bed. Again, the question would knock at my mind, “I walked almost 1,000 miles… What happened here? I was supposed to be back out there!”
But those thoughts are dangerous, they can push you back into bad headspace. Life comes at you fast, and living this sort of lifestyle, you can almost guarantee that you will experience some sort of injury. Even small inconveniences seem like a big deal when they hold you back from doing the things that you love. Don’t take the steps you’ve walked for granted, let each of them take you to a brand new place. Even if you can’t take steps, you can still get to your destination, you have got to want it.

Take time to heal.

Being a few months post-op, I’ve found myself taking to the trails again. Most are easier type trails than what I was used to beforehand, but I’m working my way back up. Friends generally will hike smaller or easier trails with me if I ask. Everyone faces hurdles, it’s just how you choose to overcome them when they happen.

If you do find yourself in a similar situation, do not fear. You will move forward and overcome. Keep yourself surrounded by like-minded people with passions that match yours. Set your goal and go for it. Just like hiking through the Smokies, you’ll get through it and be proud of what you’ve done.

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Comments 2

  • Michelle S : Feb 24th

    You glorious gazelle…I am so proud of your 1,000 miles, your time on the water, and the time you take when you take care of you! Love you lady!

  • Michael Brehl : Jul 21st

    Hi Ashley, is your ACL still bothering you? I am going to make a suggestion: fore-arm crutches! I hike, weekly, as treatment for breathing problems. Rain or shine, injured or not, and I’ve found that when injured (usually my ankle) fore-arm crutches keep me going. They are apparently standard in the rest of the world; only in the US does everyone use underarm crutches. Plus it works out your arms. Thats all. Hang in there in these crazy times and keep hiking.


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