Farewell, For Now

I am writing this during a four hour long Greyhound layover in New York City…too far from the trail for my taste. The sky has a sickly yellow glow, piles of garbage line the sidewalks, and tourists prowl the streets toting purchases that weigh more than my pack.

How did I end up here?

Quite simply, I have become a statistic.

I am one of the many people who set out with dreams of completing a thru-hike and failed. In my case, it is due to injury.

I chose a flipflop route for my hike that spanned my home state of Virginia through half of Pennslyvania. Then, a lovely soul by the name of Jersey Jane offered to flip me up to Maine…for free. I jumped at the opportunity. For me, my hike was not solely about reaching Katahdin, but it was simply for the joy of being on the trail. It did not matter to me where my journey began or ended.

About two hundred miles in, my knees really started to hurt on the downhills. One of my friends recommended Tiger Balm, and was kind enough to share his until my next resupply opportunity. It worked wonders for the next few hundred miles. I had almost zero pain.

Then somewhere in Pennslyvania I fell pretty hard right on my knees. The pain came back. I upped my Balm use from once…to twice…to three times a day. I took way more Advil than normal. I stretched. I tried hiking shorter days. I used KT tape. And when that ran out I made knee braces out of my bandana and lightweight towel. Nothing was helping.

I didn’t even fall in the rocky parts of PA…

I hoped that resting my knees would work. The ride up to Maine took two days, then I took an additional zero day at the AT Lodge, icing my knee in preparation for the climb up Katahdin.

I still couldn’t believe I was actually in Maine, and that I got there from the most amazing trail magic a hiker could ask for. I made it up that mountain, tearing up as soon as I saw that famous sign.

Coming down from there, I knew. Deep down I knew that climb had killed my knees. My hike was over.

But I was stubborn. I decided maybe, just maybe, one more day of resting and ice would help. And drawing on the sidewalk with a friend to cheer up NOBOs completing their trek.

So I headed out into the 100 Mile Wilderness, simply in awe of Maine’s beauty. The most clear blue skies, crystal clean water, and shades of green I could only dream of.

Just floating around on my sleeping pad with Katahdin watching over me…no big deal

But then I started falling down…a lot.

Note to self: Don’t fall in to bogs

My last straw was when my knee buckled under me during a boulder scramble. That was when I realized I had a real problem and the only way to avoid permanent injury was to get off the trail. It is the most heart breaking decision I’ve ever had to make. Not only was I letting myself down, but all my family, friends, and trail angels who believed in me.

 

My last blaze for now….I will be back

Then, just to add to the day, once I got signal at the dock to get to White House Landing I received word that one of my co-workers had suddenly passed away from cancer. It was definitely time to go home.

There’s a saying, “never quit on a bad day.” I chose to leave on a wonderful one. The terrain was mostly flat, I got to swim in a crystal clear alpine lake, and be toted off the trail in a boat to a beautiful off the grid lodge. I am not quitting the trail, but I am quitting a “thru-hike.” I will be back when I’m healed up, especially to Maine.

I made it farther than most but not as far as the best. A huge thank you to everyone I’ve traveled with, and I hope we all remain friends for a long time to come. I will miss you all. If you are still out there and healthy- don’t you quit.

I have hiked across bald mountains in hail storms, endured days and days of rain, got hypothermia, traveled with some of the most kind people in the world, and witnessed sunrises and sunsets that no pictures or combinations of words could do justice.

Most important of all, I achieved true happiness and joy for the first time in years, and even if I didn’t complete the thru-hike, I still accomplished that. And always remember- SMILES OVER MILES.

I will be back to the AT once I am healed, but for now…Savage is out. Love you all.

 

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Barry Hudson : Aug 8th

    I admire your attitude. I have a very similar story posted here on The Trek. And while struggling with depression off-the-trail, my little brother took his own life. I was enlightened while visiting home during the family death, my cousin helped me see my unsuccessful thru hike in a perspective that I had been unable to see. He explained that I was still interpreting my unsuccessful thru hike through the perception of a conditioned thru hiker, where the rest of this world viewed my completed 777 miles as a huge success and an epic achievement. My hand injury is finally showing signs of healing and that’s been a big help in lifting me from the dense fog.
    I have every intention of completing the trail as a section hiker. I wish you a speedy recovery and may sunshine always flood your path.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Dustoff : Aug 9th

    Always remember you did not quit but left the trail. In 1972 I did the (west coast trail) Pacific crest trail and in 1973 the Rocky Mt and in 1975 the Appalachian trail and it really messed up my knees. You did right to stop and heal. Good luck and God bless…

    Reply
  • Avatar
    richard morriss : Aug 9th

    Remember that a thru hike is any hike that completes the entire trail in one twelve month period. Rest up and get back out there . My knees went out on me in Connecticut on a SOBO in 2014. I worked out a three way flip that made it possible for me to finish with two weeks to spare. I also had a lot of help from friends and family. HYOH.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Rhinestone : Aug 14th

    The AT isn’t going anywhere. You have a lifetime to get back if it means that much. You probably made the most logical decision. Walking around limping or fighting arthritis for rest of your life would have been too high of a price to pay. Take good care of those knees, you might need them.

    Reply

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