I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again
Three weeks ago, I took a fall that put a pause on my AT journey. I was five minutes into my hike for the day when I tripped over my own two feet on the flattest terrain I had ever seen on the AT. Trying to catch myself led to throwing myself even harder at the ground. I landed on my elbow and felt a pop right away. I laid there helplessly screaming until Bluegrass reared around the corner to help me up. We were 15 miles from the crossroad to the next town, Glasgow, Va., and the only thing we could do was hike out. Fortunately, the pain went away as soon as my arm was secured in a sling Bluegrass made me out of his pullover. With the loss of pain as the day went on came my change in attitude toward the situation. I must have been overreacting and thought I would be reunited with the rest of my trail family in no time. Thirteen miles in, we ran into Oven at the last shelter before town and coordinated where we would meet her and the rest of the gang after the check-up with the doctor. I legitimately thought I was going to be out for a day at most. A nice group of section hikers overheard us discussing the injury and offered to hike out with us then drive us to the Lynchburg hospital 45 minutes away! On the way to the hospital, they did us one better and bought us burgers, fries, and blizzards from Dairy Queen. Like any reasonable thru-hiker, I was prioritizing food over tending to my injury.
Once we got to the hospital, it was a waiting game until the discovery of a broken elbow. Pumped up on adrenaline and the desire to get back on trail ASAP, I called my parents in a delirious state. The conversation went like this:
Me: “Hi mom! Hi dad! I’m at the hospital and have a broken elbow but the doctor said they could perform the surgery today. I could get all patched up and return to the trail tomorrow! Just want to give you the heads up.”
Mom: “Aw honey, I’m so sorry your trip has come to an end. You don’t know anything about this surgeon’s work and need to be around family when you’re recovering from a surgery. We’ll fly you home tomorrow.”
Me: “Fine, I’ll come home, but I’m coming back to the trail to finish what I started.”
After the discussion with my parents, I was on the next plane home. Luckily for me, I was set up with the best hand surgeon in Central Florida. When they opened me up, the doctor discovered that I had also completely torn off my ulnar collateral, one of the main stabilizing ligaments of the elbow. Just call me Tommy John! Check out my cool new scar and bionic-looking arm at the end of this post.
Two weeks post-op, I’m now focusing on physical therapy in order to restore range of motion to my left arm. I got the green light from my doctor to return to the trail in a little over three weeks. I still have to wear my brace for a month after my return, but I think it looks badass so I can live with that. The new plan is to summit Katahdin before my cousin’s wedding at the end of September.
Before all of this happened, I had fallen in (no pun intended) with a great trail family and was on track to finish my trek early August. Mentally, I was in it and committed to that schedule. I wasn’t expected to return to work until September so I had started to make plans for my free time, like climbing with a friend in Grand Teton. I was also trying to figure out when I would attempt PCT and CDT thru-hikes. I thought I had my AT thru-hike in the bag so my mind was elsewhere. My mind-set has obviously changed and all of my focus is on completing this trail. Thru-hiking is hard and the mountains fight back. I will channel my energy toward the things I can control and give it all I got so I can one day call myself an AT thru-hike finisher.
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