Hi everyone! There is more explanation below, but I have started a gofundme to help finish my hike. If you finish reading and would like to donate, I would be extremely grateful. The link is here and also on my profile as my homepage.
Also, if you don’t like injury pictures, you may want to stop reading after day 97. They aren’t gory, but you might get empathy pains.
Day 96: High Point Shelter to Pochuck Mountain Shelter
I had planned to go an extra eleven miles today, but after doing 56.5 miles in two days, I was a little tired. Other hikers can string marathon days together all they want, I was meant more for slow and steady. And the humidity today was absolutely oppressive. It was drizzling this morning when I woke up, and, sidebar, it’s a little weird to wake up alone in a shelter. I’m used to sleeping next to at least one other person on the trail. There was another person here, as it happens, a section hiker named Molly, but she was in her tent so I didn’t realize she was here when I got in last night. Anyway, the weather was calling for rain and thunderstorms today, and the morning really did look ready to fulfill that forecast.
However, it cleared up around 1:00, about two hours after I’d made it in to Unionville for a resupply, where I was sitting on the front porch of Holger’s General Store, talking to a sobo named Middle who is doing the AT after having finished the PCT earlier this year. I guess when you’re not ready to stop hiking, you’re not ready…and I’m a little jealous, because that sounds awesome. He seems like he’s got his ultralight system figured out, which makes sense after that many miles; I thought he was slack packing at first because his bag was so small. I admit I was ready to lounge there all day, because my feet were feeling sore from all of yesterday’s rocks, and the idea of another 16 miles in the rain didn’t really appeal.
I saw Frisky and Stumbleweed there as well, having some beers and pizza next door. I’ve run into each of them several times, although I can’t remember now if I’ve mentioned them on this blog. Stumbleweed started out as Tumbleweed but was renamed for, perhaps, obvious reasons. Frisky is so named for the amazing cotton t-shirt he swears will go all the way to Katahdin with him, which features a giant winking cat face doing the finger-pistols thing that bros do. It’s phenomenal.
Anyway, the sun came out and it was pretty clear that there would be no more rain today, so I compromised and did another five miles to Pochuck Mountain Shelter. Noteworthy along the way is Wallkill Reserve, which the AT skirts three sides of. Yes, you could probably shave about a mile and a half off your hike by just road walking down the one side and taking a short cut, but if you begrudge such a beautiful walk then I maintain that your shriveled heart has no joy left in it. It’s such a nice change of scenery. The reserve is filled with cat tails and a purple wildflower that grows in bunches on long stalks (I wish I knew more flower names), and I saw egrets and herons and geese all along the way. It was absolutely lovely.
I also met the grandmother of a current thru hiker who told me that he was tall and handsome, and she was only mentioning it because I was tall and pretty, so, you know. I found her willingness to hand off her grandson to a total stranger hilarious and terrifying and endearing all at once. Anyway, I made my way up to the shelter, where Molly had also decided to stop. She set up her tent again and I’m in the shelter, alone, one more night. Shade says she’ll be at Wildcat Shelter tomorrow, and that’s only a 24 mile hike, which I’ll be up for after a short day today. Looking forward to seeing her again!
Day 97: Pochuck Mountain Shelter to Wawayanda Shelter
Okay, I didn’t actually get that far today. The humidity is back to being oppressive, and the hike up the Stairway to Heaven featured me, sweating too much. The Stairway wasn’t really that bad, although I had heard some people talking about it with trepidation, and the view from Pinwheels Vista is really nice. From there it’s a relatively easy 3.6 miles to Wawayanda Shelter, but the heat made it exhausting work. Molly felt the same, since she was there too, and ALSO SHADE oh my gosh. She has been struggling with feeling tired and not being able to eat enough calories, which sucks, but seeing her again was exactly the boost I needed. It’s so good to reunite with the people you love on the trail.
Day 98: Wawayanda Shelter to Vernon, NJ
Shade and I hiked out this morning after an almost sleepless night. For the record, I am pitching my tent until the end of mosquito season. The swarm last night was huge, and desperate for my blood. There was also a pretty big storm last night, which was too bad because we missed the meteor shower.
I met Molly’s parents at the road, where they were planning a day hike with her, and they gave me some orange slices! They were so good, oh man.
The morning started off so well. Shade and I crossed into New York, the sun was shining, and my mood was upbeat. The trail promised a lot of big boulder piles, which you know I love, although wet boulders can be treacherous…as I rediscovered personally.
In the section after Prospect Rock, my right foot slipped out from under me on a boulder that looked dry, but wasn’t. My left leg bent out to the side as I feel, and my left foot caught in a crack in the rock, and bent in what is definitely not the right direction. I knew before I even looked at it that it was not a good situation. By the time I had worked my shoe and sock off, my ankle had already doubled in size.
But what can you do? I was still 3.5 miles from the closest road. I downed six ibuprofen and threw my brace on. Walking on it was very painful, but it’s not like anyone was going to save me. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and figure out a bad situation yourself.
All the boulder piles I had been so excited about suddenly became huge obstacles. I had one good leg, two trekking poles, and occasionally, used my left knee to brace myself as I crawled up and over obstacles. At one point I was standing at the base of a twelve foot rock cliff, thinking to myself, “there’s no way I can get up this,” but of course I did. Slowly. Painfully. Molly and her parents passed me there and pointed out the huge rattlesnake at the base, about four feet long, which definitely helped motivate me when it started rattling at me. Shade waited for me periodically along the trail and at one point asked me how I was doing. “It could be raining,” I said by way of a joke.
Ten minutes later the first roll of thunder came, so, you know, I’m just never going to open my mouth again. I got absolutely poured on. Lightning, huge cracks of thunder, the works. I was hobbling along, desperately thinking of silver linings. The two inches of water I was wading through was cooling off my ankle a little bit, at least. Yup. That’s what I came up with.
It took three and a half hours to get to that road, and I’m pretty sure I sobbed the whole time. But you know what? That was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I didn’t hit my limit. I got there. I dragged myself to Bellvale Creamery, down the road, where Shade was waiting for me, and sat down to look at the damage. It was bad, really bad. Before I even got my bearings a woman came up to me and put some money down on the table. “Hikers should never pay for ice cream here,” she said before walking away. I was so overwhelmed I started crying again. I forgot to say thank you. A little kindness on a bad day goes so far sometimes. I hope she knew how much it meant to me.
It was pretty obvious that I was out of the game for a while. With The Girl helping me coordinate a ride from the hostel she was staying at back in NJ, I said goodbye to Shade and Molly and headed back for some aggressive RICEing. I can’t believe it. I just got Shade back, and who knows how long this monster sprain will take to heal? I’m afraid I’m going to lose all my friends again. And I’m furious with myself for slipping in the first place, even though I knew to be careful.
When I got to the hostel, I was cheered up by some familiar faces, at least. Frisky was there, as was The Girl with her friend Luigi, and a few others I hadn’t met before. But I’m still feeling so demoralized. This sucks.
Days 99-102: Vernon, NJ
This sprain is pretty terrible, but it is getting better. The swelling has gone down a lot, and my ankle is still weak and sore, but I’m hoping to start hiking again soon. I’ve met some good people at this hostel, a nobo named Sota (from Minnesota) and a few sobos like Christopher Columbus. Feel Good showed up too, I haven’t seen him since Damascus, which means that the only times he has ever seen me I have been wounded or sick. The church members who run the hostel have been extremely kind as well, but I’m hoping to head out tomorrow.
While I was here, Shade texted me to say she was getting off the trail, due to exhaustion. I will miss her a lot, and with the Canadians so far ahead, I feel like my original tramily is gone to the winds. It’s sad, but I’m happy to be hiking with the people I’m with now and I hope Shade feels much better soon! She’s a champion and I consider myself lucky to call her a friend.
Day 103: Vernon, NJ to Little Dam Lake
Nope, nope, nope. I should not have hiked out yet. A woman I met at Bellvale Creamery, a trail angel named Mama Miley, picked me up and drove me back to the trail head where I got off. I figured if I woke up early in the mornings and just went slowly I would be okay, but there’s slow, and there’s too slow. It took me eight and a half hours to go nine miles. That’s too slow, and my ankle is swelling back up again and is very painful. I got to a campsite by the lake, and spent a fair amount of the evening with my ankle in the steam that runs out of it. I will see how it feels in the morning, but some of the trail today was really hard to do with an ankle that I just don’t trust.
Day 104: Campsite by Little Dam Lake
Yeah. It’s no better today. I woke up at four in the morning to more rain, and a throbbing ankle. I’ve been eating ibuprofen like it’s candy and as I laid there, listening to the rain fall, I decided I needed to take the time to heal up properly. When I woke up again later on, the sun was out, and I went down to the stream and got in touch with some of my friends in Great Barrington up in Massachusetts while I soaked my ankle in the cold water. One of my dearest friends, Matt, agreed to come get me and host me in my old home town while I rested. He will meet me in the nearby town of Monroe tomorrow evening.
I spent the whole day with my foot in the stream. Feel Good stopped to chat on his way through, with some encouraging words. I hope I’ll see him again further up north. This is a nice spot though, if I had to be immobile somewhere on the trail this is an okay place. A great blue heron came and landed next to mine while I was sitting there, they are beautiful animals. I spent my time just watching the woods around me. A hummingbird buzzed the flowers all around, and a squirrel climbed in the branches above (and threw a nut at me once). All manner of small animals rustled around me. It would have been so peaceful if I hadn’t been feeling so low. All these injuries are really hard to stay upbeat about. When it started getting dark I climbed into my tent (and let’s talk about how surprisingly hard that is to do with a sprained ankle) and now I’m lying here trying to find a comfortable angle for my ankle, and hoping tomorrow is better.
Day 105: Little Dam Lake to Great Barrington, MA
I did a 4.5 mile road walk into Monroe, NY after noon today, and I’m still moving so slowly. Hitching is illegal in New York, but I did sort of hope someone would see me limping along and pull over to offer a ride. No one did, so I made it into town around 4:30 and parked in a McDonald’s to wait for Matt. The time passed quickly, as it turns out. A man started a conversation with me and be turned out to be an artist so we had a great time comparing work and talking about the trail. He left around an hour before Matt showed up at 7:30 and we headed back to Massachusetts.
I had a pang of sadness when we drove over the Hudson. This wasn’t how I imagined the trail unwinding for me. But it was so good to see my friend again, and meet his girlfriend and her family, and I know that I need to let this heal properly so I don’t make it worse. I’m really trying to stay positive about all this but it’s hard.
Days 106-115: Recuperating in Great Barrington
My ankle is a lot better now, but it’s still not perfect. After spending a week with Matt and Caitlin at her family’s inn, which a fun and beautiful place that I absolutely recommend (It’s the Egremont Village Inn on Route 23 if you stop in the area), Councilor, Sticks, and The Girl caught up and we relocated to my friend Carmen’s house. While we were there, Sticks and Girl made the decision to get off the trail together. And, briefly, so did I. I’m so low on funds, and I’m worried that I can’t keep up with Councilor right now. I don’t want to keep losing my friends out here, it makes me so sad, and while I love the trail, when it gets hard what keeps me going is knowing that I’m going to get into camp and see people I have come to love like my own family. Without the people, this trail loses a lot of what makes it special. So I called home, reserved a rental car, and drove Councilor back to the trail with Carmen. These goodbyes, one after another, they just suck.
But for most of the day, I felt fine about wits my decision. It was the reasonable thing to do. It was a bad idea to hike on and risk permanent injury to my ankle. I will get to see my family and dog again. But towards the evening, I really broke down. Everything about the decision felt wrong, so wrong, and I was absolutely heartbroken about giving up. It’s not smart, I know, but I have to find a way to keep going. I don’t ever want to have to look back on this experience and say “I didn’t give it everything I had when I needed to the most.” So if you feel that you know what that feels like, I hope you’ll take the time to check out my gofundme and if you want to help me make this work, you should know that it would mean so much to me.
And in the meantime, I’ll be out here, heading north. I’m going to hitch up the trail a little bit so I have some window to hike slowly for a bit and not worry about time, and as always, the plan is to fill in my missing sections as soon as I can. If my gofundme is successful, that will be right after Katahdin. If not, it will be as soon as fate allows.
Thank you all for reading along! I want you to know that the comments I get from those of you who read mean a lot and make me really happy.
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