365 Days Later: Scratching and Clawing My Way Back
Let me tell you, folks, during the past 52 weeks, I often doubted that I’d ever see the AT again. At this time last year, I had to give up the quest, with around 500 SOBO (southbound) miles under my belt. Renting a car in Pearisburg, VA, I limped home with plantar fasciitis, severe tendonitis, and strange blisters on one heel called “painful piezogenic pedal papules.” With a walking boot in place of one trail runner, I was truly an unhappy camper.
A whole lot has happened since then. The above afflictions eventually healed, I resumed training in our general vicinity in Ohio, and was hiking in Patagonia in February. All was going super… till that fateful day when I chose to ride an Argentinian horse for an hour.
It doesn’t sound like a body breaker, but my back thought otherwise. What felt like resulting bad hip pain turned out to be something much more severe: scoliosis, lower back arthritis, and spinal stenosis. This means the passageways in my curved spine are filling up with who-knows-what and the nerves are being pinched. This affects my lower back and the right hip.
None of this can be cured, but there are ways to help it. After a depressing winter and early spring on the sofa, my spring and summer became more hopeful and productive: doctor visits, physical therapy, yoga, Pilates, a spinal epidural (temporary relief), and easy walking, swimming and cycling.
And it worked!
Well, sort of. This back will continue to be curved funny and the nerves will always make my right hip sometimes feel different than the other. But I’ve been able to slowly up my walking to backpacking. Yay, yay, YAY!
Which brings me back to the date of Sept. 1:
–2017: Sad, injured and heading home.
–2018: Happy, not injured, and heading back to where I left the AT 365 days ago.
Forty-eight hours from now, my husband and I will be sleeping at a lovely hostel near Pearisburg. On Saturday, Sept. 1, I’ll once again set out on the AT, accompanied the first four days by my guy. You can be sure that my heart will be filled with gratitude for the good company, improved health, and time immersed in nature.
My goal is to finish the southern half of the AT, which will be just over 600 miles and about ten weeks. As they say, HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike). Mine will consist of days that start with half an hour of yoga on my tent’s ground cloth.
I’ll be hiking modest distances of eight to 12 miles, at least during the first month. I will do all that I can possibly do to protect my body while fully appreciating being out on the trail again. If it happens to turn out that I must cut this section a bit shorter than I presently hope for, so be it. I’m retired. I’ll return.
I most certainly could not be doing this without major help and encouragement from the following people:
–Husband, “Shortimer,” who so patiently was there for me all the times I cried and felt hopeless. Together 47 years (!), and still going strong.
–My two darling children, who just happened to call me more frequently during my long, sad winter and spring.
“The Fam,” enjoying (?) a hike in Japan together. (This is my blog, and if you choose to read it, you have to look at as many family pictures I chose to post. Enjoy.)
–My two beautiful granddaughters, who are always the best medicine for what might ail me.
–Sister Barb, who has been there for me in happy and in sad times since forever.
–Friend Mary Jo, a consistent source of support and inspiration, as she continues to ride her bike on nearly every paved road in the US known to man. How could I ever stop trying if she’s still playing outside?
–Sports physician Dr. Emily Dixon. She won’t quit till she finds the cause and the cure of the many injuries I present to her, and surprisingly continues to be totally supportive of all my adventures.
–Chiropractor Dr. Laurie Jahnke, who finds discreet muscles in the back that are weak, works on them and then gives me homework.
–Integrative health practitioner Dr. Lauri Nandyal, who has helped me get in order my thyroid, leaky gut syndrome, food sensitivities and anxiety.
–Physical therapist Eden McD. at Premier Physical Therapy, who is so different and more effective than any other PT I’ve had in my long life of sports issues. She said I’d get back to the trail, so I chose to believe her.
–Pilates instructor Myra Pucci, a dear friend who is also the best of the best, tailoring each private session to my specific needs that day.
–Massage therapist, Marika Ruschmeyer, who not only gives a fantastic 90-minute massage but also lends a listening ear and advice when desired.
–Body Talk practitioner Christi Graeter, who has been such good counsel during the wild mood swings that come after sports injuries and changes in direction.
After it looked like I’d truly be returning to the Green Tunnel, I got busy around here, finishing up dehydrating, freezing and organizing all my gluten- and dairy-free meals, to be mailed to me by Shortimer every four to five days,
sorting all 70 days’ worth of supplements into tiny ziplock bags,
gradually building up my hiking muscles and reminding myself how to backpack and camp again,
spraying my hiking clothes, pack and floor of net tent with Permethrin, especially to keep away the ticks, carriers of Lyme disease,
getting my hair cut short again for the trail,
and changing a lot of equipment.
Gone are the trail runners that have twice induced tendonitis, replaced by my trusty Lowa Renegade hiking boots. This brand has served me well on Kilimanjaro and in Patagonia, so I know they’ll be the best for me in the Appalachians.
I sadly had to give up using my self-sewn backpack, made from one of Ray Jardine’s kits (rayjardine.com). It weighed only ten ounces but had no hip belt, which my back, sports doctor, and chiropractor now insist upon. My new ULA Circuit fits like a glove and works as a comforting brace for my back. It’s the perfect size for me and weighs less than two pounds. The previous backpack is now sulking in the basement, near the Excaliber food dehydrator (the best, hands down) and food vacuum sealer.
As a cold sleeper, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a ten-degree down Enlightened Equipment Revelation sleeping quilt. My heaviest (of three) self-sewn Ray-Way synthetic quilt was just too bulky and not warm enough. I’ll start this section in Southern Virginia with my midweight synthetic quilt and progress to the down EE Revelation when needed. I’ll add a Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner if early November in Northern Georgia proves too cold for me.
I also decided to follow the advice of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and carry a bear canister, a sturdy container which holds four to five days’ worth of dehydrated food. No bear can break it open. Now I can just set it away from my tarp and be done with it, instead of searching for a tree with a suitable branch to hold my bag of food. Peace of mind, for under two pounds.
I am so very, very grateful to be given another opportunity on the AT. I don’t mind at all leaving behind the designation of thru-hiker and becoming a LASHER (G-rated: “Long- _ _ _ Section Hiker”). I am now in control of how far, how fast, and how long I am out there on the trail. True freedom.
It has been a long road getting back to the trail, so to speak. I can no longer deny my age of 65. Some days I feel younger, but sometimes older now. Changes happen. I’ve been told to give up running, which I’ve done since my early 20s. This was a hard pill to swallow, but who would have guessed that I could still walk, backpack, cycle, swim, do Pilates and yoga? I feel very fortunate I can still “go outside and play.”
Thanks for checking in on me, folks. I look forward to posting on this blog during my zero days, which should come along every four to six days, also according to my HYOH plan. I’ve got the time, the food, and a warm quilt. I’ll eventually get to Georgia. And then… the northern half awaits!
All my best to you,
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