Hope, Hiking, and the Appalachian Trail – My Intro

I’m Gail, a Cornish woman from the UK, and I’ll be attempting a SOBO thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this year.  Cornwall, in case you don’t know, is the most southwesterly county in England. Famous for pasties and tin mining, it juts out into the sea on the bottom left of the map and is surrounded by wild coast, beaches, and pirates drinking rum. OK, no pirates (not even in Penzance), but definitely occasional rum around campfires at dusky beach barbecues.

So Why Am I Here?

I’ve got a bit of a back story that has motivated me to hike the AT. I figured by way of introduction that I’d share it with you before beginning to pepper you with my articles, prep updates, and, eventually, my hike. I’ve always loved the Appalachian Trail and everything I’ve ever read about it—most notably Bill Bryson’s book, of course. It was something I was obviously going to do… someday. Unfortunately, until now, some serious life got in the way.

No Such Thing As Normal, Right?

In my teens I was fit and healthy. I was involved in a number of sports like swimming, competing in the 1500m and cross country running. Well, I was mostly healthy—my feet were shaped slightly oddly and when I was born they were a little malformed; bent inward like tiny, cute bananas, so I had to wear casts on my feet for the first year of my life to straighten them out.

A Shady Prognosis

All was well and I thrived, but as my feet turned in when I walked and my ankles often rolled, I was finally referred to medical specialists in London in my early teens. Astoundingly, they said I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 due to the musculoskeletal issues that would arise from the malformation of my feet and the consequent effects on my gait, as well as problems with my hips and knees. “Shit,” I thought, at 14 years old.

How Do You Deal with Such Bad News?

The grim prognosis didn’t bother me at the time, however. Well, at least not on the face of it. I kind of internalized the doctor’s message and didn’t process it because I was only about 14. I felt fine, but then at about 23 years old, chronic physical pain struck and never went away. It crept through my right hip, back, and shoulder like a creeping mold; spreading through my whole right side. I tried everything to cure it. Over the years I went from that first innocent visit to the doctor, to the hospital pain clinic at 32. There, they said I needed to accept my fate, stop trying to find a cure/answer, apply for a disability badge for my car, and prepare for the worst.

The Trail Was My Goal

I realized then that I had put a lot of trust in medicine to find the cause and “fix me.” Despair came in hard when I realized that medicine didn’t have the answers and a cure wasn’t going to happen. I experienced some depression and even bleak suicidal ideation, but this was soon subsumed by a determined personal quest to find a cure for myself. I believed that one day I’d be better, and achieve the goal of a long-distance journey powered solely by my ailing body. My hope took the wheel, and it changed everything.

Hope, Nature and Determination

I wasn’t really going to accept defeat. I refused to stop working and I would not give up my mission to heal my body. Despite having to crawl and pull my body across the floor to the shower some mornings because I couldn’t walk, I was going to find a cure. So I did. I traveled the world through hippy communes, detox centers, breathing ceremonies, hospitals, and more in order to heal myself. I’m now back to my best, and ready to hit the trail to prove to myself and my body that we can do it.  Nature has always been a huge healer for me, and being outside was a vital part of my recovery. I’m going to extend that outdoors healing down through 14 states and whatever they bring my way. Pain is now my friend, and together we’re going to use the AT hike to show that hope is sometimes the best medicine there is. I can tell you that there is some serious damn mileage in never giving up.

Can’t wait to take you along for the ride with me,

AG x

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Comments 2

  • Lucky : Mar 23rd

    Wow Gail that is some story. Though I have never experienced anything even remotely close to the painful health issues you have experienced, I have at times snarled through gritted teeth, “Pain is my friend, we spend a lot of time together, we know each other well….” So it was kind of strange and startling to read your “Pain is now my friend…” comment. I’m sorry you have to go thru that, and applaud your determination to live life to its fullest. Anyway, welcome to the USA, I look forward to following your adventure. I’m heading NOBO and will give you at least a virtual wave as we hopefully cross paths sometime this summer.

  • Ruth Anne Collins : Mar 23rd

    Wow! You have an inspiring story. Kudos to you for searching to heal yourself. I look forward to following your trek.


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