And Just Like That…
And just like that, my thru-hike was over.
The thought of having to abandon your hike because of injury lurks unbidden in the back of every thru-hiker’s mind. Stumbles and even falls happen so frequently that most aren’t worth discussing or even acknowledging. Yet occasionally a fall feels “different” and your mind immediately flashes to “will this end my hike?”
It is intriguing to note that this thought did not flash through my head when I tumbled to the ground on July 3rd. My partner, Buttermeister and I had left Harper’s Ferry that morning and making great time hiking through Maryland, when I simply fell over on level ground. No big deal, right?
We had just exchanged trail names with fellow thru-hiker Puddin’ so perhaps I was distracted or maybe I stepped on a rock. Regardless, I let out a short yelp, which caused Puddin’ to stop and ask if we needed help. I reassured her that I was fine and she hiked on, after declaring that we should just holler if needed.
I wasn’t until I stood up that I realized that something was wrong — seriously wrong. After hiking 1,000 miles (and as a former athlete) I know what soft tissue injuries feel like and this was different.
Buttermeister and I stopped for lunch before resuming our hike and I knew even then that my injury was serious. Every step sent shooting pain through the outside of my foot. We quickly discerned that our first opportunity to get help was at Gathland State Park, a mere 3.5 miles ahead. I limped down the trail, our spirits only slightly lifted when a SOBO hiker (our slackpacking friend, Lady Jane) told us there was trail magic at the park.
It was easy to spot our fellow hikers gathered around the benches enjoying trail magic. Former thru-hiker, H-Bomb, had brought drinks, chips and chocolate to the park and had set up near a water spigot. I quickly chugged a Gatorade as Buttermeister and I quietly typed away on our phones, looking for a shuttle, car rental, and nearby hotel. It was clear that the Independence Day holiday closed nearly everything down and filled local hotels to capacity.
Friends to the Rescue!
It was this holiday that put this next thought in my head. We have Ohio friends, Marianne and Matt, that have two households — one in Virginia and the other near our own home in Dayton. I knew that typically our friends try to spend holidays together. The question was whether they might be together in Virginia or together in Dayton. A quick text message gave us the answer — they were not only in VA but at a relative’s home less than an hour from the trail!
The Trail Provides
They immediately offered to pick us up and we were quickly whisked away to their Virginia home where we were made comfortable and fed extremely delicious pasta, followed by ice cream. In addition to our amazingly timely trail rescue, Matt was driving back to Dayton the following day and was more than happy to drive me home, even dropping Chris/Buttermeister back at Gathland so he could resume his hike. Yes, friends, the trail provides.
Another great friend, Barb, picked me up at home on Tuesday and took me to Urgent Care, where a quick x-ray revealed the bad news. I had a Jones type fifth metatarsal fracture, a break common among athletes and dancers. My foot was swiftly embraced with a foam splint and I was given strict instructions to use crutches and stay completely off my foot at least for a week, after which I would get more x-rays to evaluate healing. The doctor said that it would be a minimum of six weeks before I could expect to resume normal activities. Yes, my thru-hike was indeed over.
Things that Make it a Little Less Sucky
The reunion with my Goldendoodle Bodhi (aka Wigglebutt) was sweet, though he wonders where Chris might be and why I can’t take him for a walk. Son, Alex, has been attentive and honestly makes a great house-mate, cooking our meals and making sure that I have everything I need.
Buttermeister Presses Onward!
After assuring that I was safely taken care of by our friends, Chris/Buttermeister resumed his thru-hike. Undoubtably able to hike much faster without me and our dog, especially through the more level sections of the trail, the odds of him reaching his goal are much higher. And as soon as I am cleared to travel, I plan to drive out to New England and become on-the-ground support with shuttles and supplies.
Will I try to complete the rest of the AT at a later time? It’s highly unlikely though I definitely plan to do some section hiking in the future. In the words of trail-buddy, Curls, I’ve gotten what I needed to get out of my hike. There are many other things I want to do with my life and in a very real way, I feel that my hike was successful even though unfinished.
Still, I’m deeply saddened by this turn of events. Thank you to all our friends, trail buddies, and even strangers who have sent messages of love and support. Those words matter more than you could ever know. I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.
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