Where Have I Gone
The day was so beautiful. Bright sun and 60 degrees. One more day and night in the Smokies and we would be out of the park. No more sleeping in shelters, unless I chose to do so. Maybe I was too excited, it felt so good to be on the trail. No responsibilities, except to get from point A to point B. Spirit and I were traveling from Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap Shelter. A distance of 14.8 miles. We were half way through the day and going on a steady downhill for the next 7.7 miles. The rocks in one area were approximately 3”-4” in diameter with many angles. My ankles were doing their best to keep up with my mind, which was telling them to just get down the summit. Before I knew it, the inside of my left ankle bent outward and I felt a bone go in and out of joint and it popped. I was able to catch myself with my right hiking pole and right leg, even though I had been favoring the right ankle because of a possible shin splint I was feeling for the past 2 days. My first thought was, “Thank god I didn’t fall to the ground.” The second thought was, “That can’t be good.” And the third thought was, “Keep going.”
We arrived at Davenport Gap Shelter around 4 pm. My ankle was bothering me a little and so I took Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) and made a supper of dirty rice and sacked out and talked to the hikers that gathered there for the night. BT, another hiker, announced he would be heading home and going off the trail. I hated to see him go. He had always encouraged me on the trail. Sometimes even a person with Sisu needs encouragement.
The next day we all headed out to our various destinations. Spirit, BT and I were heading to Standing Bear Farm, which was a 4 mile hike. Twice BT offered me an Ace bandage, but both times I declined thinking that I hated to take something he might need at some point, even though he was headed home. I was able to take it easy for the day, shower, resupply, call home and visit with other hikers.
In the morning we headed to Groundhog Creek Shelter. A distance of 7 miles. We arrived at 11 am and decided to stay because of the weather and my ankle. Spirit was also tired this day and glad to just take it easy. I remembered when I started the trail in Georgia, 7 miles would have been a 7-8 hour day and now I was doing that in 3.5 hours. This night I had some pretty vivid dreams of being home. When I woke up, it took me a while to realize where I was. No I wasn’t home in Minnesota in my warm bed, I was sleeping in a shelter, in a sleeping bag with 6 other hikers with rain dripping on the roof.
The next two days I hiked 10.5 and 14.8 miles. Each of these days we started in the rain. It was on day 4/14 that my ankle started to swell. Whatever I had done on 4/11 was now starting to catch up to me. I knew I would have to do something with it when we got to Hot Springs.
In Hot Springs we went to Bluff Mtn. Outfitter and I found an ankle brace. It wasn’t as tight as I would have liked it to be and so I also purchased compression tape. I asked the clerk at the check out if there was a clinic in town and he laughed and said no. Spirit and I spent the rest of the day eating 2 meals in town, getting resupplied, a haircut and staying the night at Laughing Heart Hostel.
I got up the next morning and the first steps with my left ankle were painful, but still bare able. We headed down into town, across the French Broad River and back up onto the trail. I wasn’t moving at my normal pace and it was a little worrisome. When you get to around 4-5 weeks of being on the trail and you know what your pace is, you also know when your pace is off. At 1 pm my ankle started to hurt in ernest. It wouldn’t be until 3:15 pm when we were finally able to stop at Spring Mtn. Shelter. Spirit’s foot was sore from an injury during her thru-hike in 2012, so she went right into her tent to rest. I walked down to the water source and filled up a bladder with water and went and sat at the picnic table with the cold water on my ankle trying to get the swelling to come down. After I had made a supper of spaghetti, I headed into my tent as well.
I knew that the next day was big miles 15.4 in hard terrain. Spirit seemed anxious about getting through this next section before it rained the following day. At the time I didn’t understand why. We were on our way to Jerry Cabin Shelter. To get there, we had to cross Whiterock Cliff and Bearwallow Gap.
I was in the middle of a rock trail when I text home to tell my husband I had bad ankle.
He texted back to take it easy.
So, I sent him pictures of the area I was in the middle of and stated the miles.
There would be no taking it easy this day.
This was the day that Spirit announce to me what I already knew. I would have to come off the trail. This would be the second morning that I would hike with tears running down my face. The realization that I would be coming off the AT was more than I could bare, but I also knew it was the truth. I was only able to make it 6.4 miles this day. Spirit got at the shelter at 10:30 am and I hobbled in 45 minutes later. I was now taking 800 ml of Vitamin I three times a day. When I got to the shelter I admitted to Spirit that I had to go off the trail.
On Monday, April 20th, 2015 it took me 3 hours to go 2.8 miles. I had made it to Devil Fork Gap. A distance of 310 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
We hitched a ride to Erwin, TN where I saw a Dr. who strongly suggested I get off to hike another time.
Yes, he was right, the trail isn’t going anywhere.
The next few days were a blur of meeting Miss Janet, a hiking legend, who brought Spirit and I to Johnson City to catch a bus to Chattanoga, TN. I would go and live with Spirit until I was ready to make a final decision of what to do.
After talking to my sister-in-law Beth, who is a physical therapist, I knew I couldn’t continue on the trail this year. I would need time to heal the ligaments, so that I could hike again without permanent injury. I called my husband to come and get me.
I have been home for almost 2 weeks. The thought of not being on the trail and being back home has left me with a lot of confusion. It’s like I can’t put together that I am home and not on the trail. I was home a week when I could finally answer the questions everyone kept asking, “When are you going back?” “Are you going back?” “What are you going to do next?” I wasn’t in any state to answer these questions. I was traveling at roughly 2 mph and then at 80 mph. I went from no stores and business to watching Walmart’s pop up within a 3 mile distance from each other. I went from green grass, trees and 70 degrees to watching snow falling from the sky this past week back home.
To say that my world was flipped over is an under statement.
To see my family again is awesome. I missed them a lot. To hear the news and see what is happening in this country is more daunting than hiking the trail. To realize how many unnecessary objects exist in our lives and for what? To distract us from real issues at hand and keep us chasing after the almighty dollar? It only took a few weeks off the trail to realize I am going back on in 2016. See you next March.
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