Cruel Tricks: Dealing with Injuries & Depression

First off, let me say hello again to anyone who has been following along, as well as the folks who are reading my blog for the first time! It’s been a long while since I updated for The Trek, and it’s time to get some raw emotions and thoughts off my chest and be all angsty like Harry was in The Half-Blood Prince.

To catch y’all up to speed:

  • I’ve been slowly recovering from a torn meniscus in my left knee since mid-June. The injury occurred 500 miles before I finally came to the conclusion I needed to talk to a doctor… and mainly rest.
  • I gave myself 3 weeks to heal before heading back out on the trail, with a goal of being back on the AT the first week of July. That decision was 2 months ago, and I am now over 1 month behind that original AT return date.
  • 2 months of rest has helped my knee FINALLY feel (kind of) normal; still occasional pain, but no more 2400mg-of-Ibuprofen-pain.
  • Going from 15-18 mile days on the AT… straight to NOTHING has taken a toll on me; both mentally and physically.

Currently:

Here I am, still at home, waiting to return to the trail. The depression of an injury has made my summer go from what was supposed to be pure bliss to absolute sorrow. My whole year was supposed to be out on the trail… instead I’ve been glued to my bed, waiting for the grinding and stabbing pain to leave my knee. Usually folks who have torn meniscuses tend to get surgery with shorter recovery times. Me? Nope. I’m the kind of gal who doesn’t do anything (medically) drastic unless it’s dire; AKA my-hand-is-partially-severed-maybe-I-should-call-911 kind of dire. Well, my thought was this:

“Hey, you’ve hiked on a torn knee for 500 miles. What’s the point of surgery? What’s done is done. It’ll heal on its own. Don’t spend the money to have them tell you what you already know.”

Well, that healing time is taking much longer, which doctors warned me about. I could have been back on the trail if I’d gotten surgery – or better yet – gotten off trail immediately after tearing it in the Smokies. My stubbornness ended up screwing me over in the long run. I look back and wish I’d taken care of it immediately. I can’t go back in time… so now what?

The Gameplan:

After talking to my doctor for the millionth time, things are looking up. My knee is much better; at least to the point I should be able to hike for a few hundred miles comfortably. Did they still recommend surgery? Yes. Did they recommend another month off? Yes. Am I listening? No.

I just can’t afford nor justify the surgery procedure. Since my knee has been recovering quiet well – and I’ve been going on test hikes during the day – I feel I’ll be okay to return and try my best to complete as much as I can. I’ll take it slow, do small miles, and just enjoy the Appalachian Trail. A traditional thruhike is off the table because of my injury; it’ll be a weird Flip Flop as long as I complete it by March 2018.

The Definition of a Thru:

Oh, and to all the purists out there who would fight my “thruhike” authenticity because I had to take a medical leave, HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE. Do you think I wanted to leave the trail? Hell no! Did I want the doctors to tell me it’ll be at least a 3 month recovery? Not one bit. But this girl doesn’t like people sticking tools in her knee and that’s just how it’s gonna be. The ATC says as long as you complete the trail in 12 months, it’s considered a thruhike. Luckily, no one has said to my face that my hike doesn’t count, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people are thinking it. I’ve seen so many people get shot down on their hike’s authenticity, and I’m over here just rooting for that person to finish no matter HOW they do it! It takes guts to be out on the trail, and I applaud everyone out here for hiking this beast!

That’s what the AT teaches you: shit is out of your control and you have to recover from mistakes, injuries, and god know what else it throws at you. Respect the trail and respect your body. I wasn’t thinking of my body’s overall health until it was too late. Don’t be like me, future hikers. You have a serious injury? You get off that trail and fix it ASAP! This is sound advice for anyone hiking whatever trails are out there.

Recovering:

I can’t even begin to describe the depression I’ve dealt with while home. Not only did I go from extremes of physical activity to nothing, but I started to question if I’d ever return to the trail this year with such a bad injury. How do you let go of something like that? How do you come to terms with the fact it’s out of your control? I couldn’t, and it’s had me spiralling. I’d lay in bed with ice and heating pads on my knee, looking through Instagram and Facebook as my friends continued on their journey. I was happy for them, yet incredibly jealous. I wasn’t supposed to be home… but I didn’t have a choice anymore. A knee specialist told me if I continued, the damage could end up irreversible if I went the whole way – or fell again.

I want to hike other trails, continue mountain biking, snowboarding, longboarding, rock climbing… etc. All those require strong knees, and if I blew my knee out on the AT, I might never do any of my outdoor sports again – or at least for a long long time. I’ve had multiple leg injuries in the past where I had to stop EVERYTHING for 5 years. I can’t go through that again.

Acceptance:

That’s how I finally realised the big picture wasn’t just the AT; it’s my future in the outdoors… to continue doing what I love that made me realise I had to get off trail and heal. It SUCKED to admit “this could be it”.

  • I’ve self-mediated with binging Netflix and editing my photography from the southern portion of the trail.
  • I’ve been researching where to drop back on the trail, keeping my goals alive and well.
  • I’ve been delaying my (re)start date for weeks due to doctors urging me to give my knee more time.

Many people have said to give it up this year, but that isn’t who I am. I knew I needed to wait until my doctor gave me the green light to retun, which is now looking to be the end of this month. I’ll have been off trail longer than when I was ON trail. Whatever, it is what it is and I’m just gonna get back out there and do my best. All my friends either quit, are states away, or finished. It’ll be lonely, but maybe a good way to continue this hike. I’ll have a ton of ME time, and I’ll meet new friends who are taking their time and enjoying the trail.

The Big Picture:

As much as I LOVE the Appalachian Trail, I’m not going to risk further damage to my body just to get the token title of a thruhiker. I can’t rush to grab the title, and honestly at this point it isn’t worth the stress. Will I attempt another thru on the AT and hopefully do it all in one go? Maybe in a few years. BUT I have bigger plans: PCT, CT, AZT, IAT, OCT, etc. There are so many amazing long trails out there that I’d rather do first before maybe trying another straight thruhike. I’m pretty confident I can finish the AT by March 2018, and that’ll be good enough for now!

I’ll tell you what though… all the friends I’ve made on this hike so far made it worth it. All the places I’ve seen, all the stuff I’ve done. It’s been hard being stuck at home and unable to do anything active, but it’ll pay off so I can continue my outdoor lifestyle. If anything, this injury has shown me how badly I want to be back on the AT, as well as plan other long hikes. It’s given me the realisations that I do want to live in a mobile trailer and just bum around the world, photographing and writing all my journeys online to share with the world. Yeah, yeah, I know so many people do that now, but everyone has different experiences and lifestyles, and I’d like to bring mine to others over the next few years.

Last Thoughts:

I’ll be back on the trail very soon, and I’m just gonna have a blast doing it. I want to leave you all with this very inspiring (compilation) quote by Les Brown that’s helped me not only cope with my injuries, but also the many mountains I climbed in the southern portion of the trail while I was injured. Things happen, but it’s all about how you react to those events that exposes your true self.

“You’re going to have some ups and you’re going to have some downs. Most people give up on themselves easily. You know the human spirit is powerful? There is nothing as powerful – it’s hard to kill the human spirit! Anybody can feel good when they have their health, their bills are paid, they have happy relationships. Anybody can be positive then. Anybody can have a larger vision then. Anybody can have a lot of faith under those kinds of circumstances. The real challenge of growth – mentally, emotionally and spiritually – comes when you get knocked down. It takes courage to act! Part of being hungry when you’ve been defeated; it takes courage to start over again.”

Be sure to subscribe to my posts with your email on my profile page to keep up with my ongoing prep for 2018 and flashbacks to this year’s 2017 section hike! And make sure to follow me on the social media links listed below for tons of images!

Keep on keeping on, family.

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© Amber Redfield

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Comments 6

  • Avatar
    Daddy Longlegs : Aug 22nd

    Amber you nailed it! I can honestly say that I know exactly how you feel and the emotional rollercoaster of an injury is a brutal ride. I broke my leg in NewHampshire exactly a month ago after completeing over 1,765 miles. These last few weeks have been an enormous spiritual struggle. In the last few days my ‘tramily’ has been hitting the Katahdin summit and, while both happy and proud for them, it keeps the wound raw in my soul. Thanks for putting your struggle in words and know that you aren’t alone.
    Keep on Truckin!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mary : Aug 22nd

    Thanks for writing this! I am off the trail currently because of back trouble leading to leg pain, foot pain, hip pain… Pain! And painful hiking which isn’t fun. So I am dealing with some of the same thoughts, doubts, etc. I am hoping to head back out soon and finish my thru, but if my body doesn’t cooperate, I may have to finish later as well. Wishing you a speedy recovery and peace in your decisions! Take care!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    liv : Aug 27th

    Great post and I am sorry about your injury! I am currently serving in Peace Corps and am enduring some terrible knee pain. All my plans for when I finish involve thru-hiking trails!! Can I ask what it felt like to tear it? And the most painful part? My knee hurts bending 90 degrees and going UP stairs!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    George : Aug 29th

    Last year after hiking from Marion, Virginia to Harpers Ferry, I came home to visit the wife and dogs, slipped on the stairs and tore my rotator cuff. Feel your pain. Get better and get out there.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    stealthblew : Sep 11th

    I would not recommend hiking the AT this summer unless your knee has healed properly. As a general rule the trail gets more difficult the father north you travel with more rocks, bugs and steeper climbs (NH and ME). I would also highly recommend reconditioning your legs / knees before your next long adventure.

    Train / heal by taking a hike every other day and allow your body to rest on the days off. This approach will be the quickest and most painless way to recover. I am concerned starting up too soon may only aggravate an already existing injury. With plenty of smiles and miles are in your future there is no need to be too hard on yourself physically. As far as the thru hiker title….once you become a thru hiker chances are the title will be as relevant as your priority may shift to just getting back out there and enjoying some time on the trail. As the old saying goes….it is the journey and not the destination that matters the most.

    Additionally, the western trails are graded for pack animals and subsequently, are easier on the hiker’s body too.

    Good luck and get well soon.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    stealthblew : Sep 11th

    sorry meant to say not relevant

    Reply

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