Heartbroken, but Determined and Hopeful

I apologize for my long hiatus from blogging.  I am still alive!  I have not written a post because I simply have not known what to write.  I am still at home and have been seeing a chiropractor twice a week.


I still don’t really know what to write.  This will be a roller coaster of triumph, despair, heartache, and hope.


At this point, I have decided not to return to the Trail this year.


I fully intend to finish the Trail.  It just won’t be in one shot like I hoped it would.


Honestly, this has been the most difficult part of coming to this decision: the fact that my hike will not be a bonified thru-hike.  I have been facing this reality for a couple of weeks now, in the back of my mind, and I am no more resigned to it than I was the first time I realized this possibility.  My heart still aches over it.  I wanted the glory of being a thruhiker.  I wanted to be a member of that elite class.  This was my plan from the beginning and I have been dreaming about it ever since the idea formed in my mind 1 ½ years ago.  The tears are leaking out even now as I write this.


I do not know what else to do.  The season is getting later, the weather is getting colder, and the days are getting shorter.  My bank account is beginning to look a little scary.  My workplace is itching for me to return.  My back and leg are still not cooperating, so that even if I did return to the Trail, I do not know if I could put in the miles I want to in order to finish at a reasonable time.  Knowing me, I would be racing the weather, the daylight every day, and time, and thus would not be enjoying the hike.  Neither would I enjoy hiking with crippling pain in my leg on a daily basis.


The point is, I want to enjoy the Trail.


In some ways, I am ready to get back to normal life, but then I find myself missing the mountains.  I see photos of my fellow hikers finishing, of people I knew on the Trail experiencing the beauty of Virginia and the Smokies and getting closer to their goals.  I am happy for them, but it makes my heart ache.  Post-trail depression is real and I feel like I have been experiencing some of it.


I never thought I would say that.  One rough day on the Trail is enough to remind you of the comforts of home.  There were so many days, especially in the three northernmost states, when I was frustrated with the Trail for being so hard, not just physically but mentally and emotionally hard.  But now I feel myself being drawn back to the Trail and I cannot go and that is a new kind of hard.


In dealing with this conundrum, I have been trying to focus on what I have already accomplished.  I have been writing about my experiences on the northern half of the Trail, which will perhaps become a book someday.  I keep returning to my journal and my photos and videos.  The triumph of Katahdin is still fresh in my mind.  On only my second backpacking trip ever, I solo-hiked over 1200 miles through some of the toughest terrain on the AT.


The solo part is huge.  Everyone (literally) asked me if I was going on this trek by myself.  My fellow hikers who are women get this same question over and over and over (along with “are you carrying a gun?”).  Before I started the hike, my answer was a tentative “yes” or a made-up “I’m trying to find someone to go with me” (I didn’t try that hard).  My “yes” became more confident all the time when I was on the Trail.  Now when people ask me if I hike by myself, I answer yes and bristle with indignation.  “Seriously? I just proved myself in 1200 miles and you are still asking that question?”  Show me an instance of disaster on the Trail and I will show you a hundred instances of kindness and camaraderie.  It is a beautiful thing.


Of course, I wasn’t truly alone.  God carried me thru.  If I had been hiking with someone, I would not have relied on Him as much, which I believe was all part of His plan.  As one of my dear friends from the Trail said, “He is a jealous God.”  My fellow hikers were always a source of support and encouragement, as well as my support community at home, including my family, my grandma, relatives, friends, and coworkers, who cheered me on from afar.


Like I said before, I fully intend to finish the Trail.  My back is still not perfect and I am still in pain when I walk/hike.  I am hoping the extended rest will help.  I am thinking about going semi-ultralight as well, maybe getting a different backpack or changing out some gear things.  When I do hit the Trail again, sometime next year, I intend to fly.  As many of my friends from the Trail have assured me, “The Trail will be there.”  And while I am not thrilled about the prospect of having this hanging over my head for the next few months, I am trying to remember that I am blessed to have a reason to return.


“Still round the corner there may wait,

A new road or a secret gate,

And though I oft have passed them by,

A day will come at last when I

Shall take the hidden paths that run

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”

-JRR Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On



Mary’s Rock in Virginia!

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Comments 3

  • Ruth morley : Sep 18th

    Vulture, my heart goes out to you. I have also had to grapple with the same issues this year. However, you have many more miles and experiences under your belt than I do (your 1200 vs my 500). But my physical and emotional pain parallel what you’re feeling.

    I felt completely out of sorts and very anti-social on my return to Cincinnati two weeks ago. Even though I was proud of my miles (half of what I had planned for 2017) and still plan on completing the trail in the future, I simply didn’t want to talk about it with anyone but my husband. I was depressed, slept constantly and escaped into reading, ironically two books about women who walked great distances.

    But I feel I’m over my funk now, and it sounds as if you’re getting there too. Yes, I still have tendinitis in both feet and very painful plantar fasciitis in one, I’m seeing a physical therapist and doing all that I can to help healing, as you too are doing.

    But I have experienced countless other sports injuries during my decades of marathons, hiking, cycling and triathlons. Some have threatened to stop me permanently. But they didn’t. I took charge of my own health care and searched diligently for doctors and practitioners who understood my situation and had suggestions for care that I felt were right. So don’t accept just one doctor or one method. I use a doctor who follows integrative medical practices, a chiropractor, acupuncturist, deep tissue massage, and a counselor when I had a deep depression in 2015.

    Although we try our best to hurry healing, the body decides the time it needs. I also had severe hip and knee pain from 5 weeks hiking in the Alps a decade ago. It hung around several years until I began twice-weekly Pilates classes (on the equipment, not the mat) and daily yoga at home. After just 6 weeks, I began to see improvements in my movement. I now totally swear by Pilates on the reformer, springboard, chair, etc. and consider it the base of all my other sports.

    Mary, we are now LASHERS (Long Ass Section Hikers). I proudly claim that name. We WILL hike the entire trail (so, actually, we are still thru hikers), but we now have so much more control over when and where. And now it can be more fun, without a deadline always away in our minds. You met section hikers on the trail. Didn’t they seem much more lighthearted than many of the thru hikers?

    So I encourage you to continue to explore ways to heal and strengthen your hip (and work on flexibility too). I hope that you will be able to embrace a new sense of liberation from the confines of finishing within the arbitrary figure of 365 days.

    As for me, I’m doing stretches, exercises and icing three times a day, as prescribed. I find that I can cycle, if on flat ground, and swim. Any movement or time outdoors helps. I’ll resume Pilates next week, taking care to not irritate the injuries. And hopefully, next May, I’ll be able to resume my SOBO hike in southern VA, and try to finish the southern half. If all is going well, I’ll do as much as possible on the northern half. If I must quit, well, “I’ll be back!”

    And if it’s a certificate you covet (as do I), the ATC does provide some for members of the 2000 Mile Club. I intend to claim one when finished. And also a little AT tattoo as well!

    Hang in there! Your hike will resume when the time is just right. Im so glad you know not to ruin the experience and your body by trying to force through in pain.

    But, trust me, I understand COMPLETELY!

  • Dennis Criddle : Sep 27th

    Sorry to hear you will not be able to complete your thru hike. Be proud of what you did accomplish, 1200 miles on the AT! Your body will heal and you will be able to finish your hike. Hopefully I will see you out there next year.

  • Beth : Sep 28th

    So sorry to hear what you are going through. I admire anyone that does any part of the Appalachian Trail. Be proud of what you have done and wait for the day you can return. Looking for you for next year!


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