Coping when Injury Turns a Thru into a Section

I dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 26 years before my husband, Muskrat and I stepped foot on Springer after a cold wet hike up from Amicalola Falls on March 19, 2015.  Seeing that first white blaze filled me so much emotion that it spilled down my cheeks in warm salty tears.  The following days, weeks and months on the trail brought us 662 miles north through challenges, joys, frustrations, all sorts of weather, and bonded us with amazing people from all over.

Compounding injuries that just wouldn’t heal forced us to cut our hike short on a lonely stretch of gravel called Mountain Lake Road. I had anticipated more tears at the conclusion of our hike, but I expected them to be the joyful tears of accomplishment atop Katahdin, not the tears of disappointment atop a roadside rock where I sat watching my dream die.

It would be easy to call ourselves failures and to sink into a funk as we watch our trail family hike on, ticking off northbound miles in smiling posts on Facebook and Instagram.  A friend of mine even wrote me a message the day after we arrived back in DC saying, “I’ve never seen you fail.”  My reply was, “you still haven’t.”

Muskrat and I are healing slowly, and the past couple of weeks have given us some time to reflect. Here are some of the strategies we have used to celebrate the success of 662 miles:

1. Acknowledge your accomplishment! Think back on how many people you’ve talked to about your hike who wistfully mused about how they wish they could do something like that. You’re way ahead of the game!

2. Celebrate your accomplishment!  You probably still have trail budget left over, so take some of it and celebrate! For us, this meant a few days of relaxation and brewery tours in Asheville, NC after retrieving our car.

     3. Be a trail angel! We used some of our leftover trail money to rent a car, fill two coolers with cold beverages, and purchase candy and snacks. Then we headed into Shenandoah National Park for a weekend to pass out food and drinks, pick up hitchhiking hikers and slackpack as many people as we could! It gave us closure to spend time car camping and hanging out with our favorite trail people and making hikers smile!

           4. Focus on the next adventure!  For us, that next adventure is absolutely going to be a 2016 thru, but it could be anything! We just have unfinished business with the Appalachian Trail and can’t wait to come back to Springer armed with all the knowledge and experience we gained this year.  Whatever you dream of next, looking forward always feels better than looking back.

5. Make a list of the positives.  If you find yourself stuck in a negative space, get out some paper and start writing the little positives about your experience. It could be the new friends, new knowledge, photos you took, or fitness gains. It could be getting back to indoor plumbing, seeing family, friends, and pets sooner than expected, using deodorant, taking daily showers and wearing clean clothes. Find the silver lining and focus on it.

     6. Let yourself feel. There are a lot of emotions attached to a goal this big, and denying them doesn’t make them go away. Take time to feel whatever comes up. I’ve felt a lot of sadness, anger, frustration, and even some relief.  I’ve also been through the denial and bargaining stages of grief.

However you choose to deal with a hike-ending injury, remember that just getting out there is a success, and adventures will always be out there when you’re healed and ready for them!


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Comments 5

  • A J MacDonald Jr : Jun 27th

    Good advice! : ) Great photos too!

  • Ellie Baugman : Jul 2nd

    Thank you sooo much Jen. Your words have reached my heart.

    I had to leave the trail in 2014 after reaching “Woods Hole” near Pearsburg Va. 630 miles. You describe all the feelings I have had and still get most everyday. Depression being the most difficult to deal with.

    My friends and family are proud of what I have done. Strangers are amazed that this “old” lady (61) went as far as I did.

    I do appreciate all that I have here at home. (CA) I feel fortunate that I was able to have had the experience. I gave back to the trail by making 100 crocheted hats with white blazes on them for Trail Days 2015 in Damascus..

    I used the rest of my budget to take my husband to New England last October. He felt the beauty of the mountains as we toured Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. All I kept thinking that I should have been finishing my hike on Mt. Katahdin rather than looking at it from the distance.

    Thank you for giving me back the realization and hope that I can try again! My leg is healed. I need this goal. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to meet you in person on the trail in 2016..
    Hummingbird Ellie

  • Greg Taylor : Jul 3rd

    Thanks: this was an extremely timely post for me. I am trying to get back out after a knee injury on Katahdin during the first day of a proposed sobo. I just discovered a new unrelated injury today. WTF!!

  • SweetTime : Jul 6th

    Hey IronJen & Muskrat!

    Beautiful post and wonderful strong words, I was filled with happiness and joy every time we crossed paths on the trail, take care!

    Love, SweetTime

  • Nichole : Jul 11th

    I’m holding you to it: see you on Springer in 2016!! Go Iron Jen!!


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