How 2 months without walking mentally prepared me for the Appalachian Trail

A Cautionary Tale

When you were young, did your parents always say skateboarding is nothing but trouble? You probably shrugged them off at the time, but I can say from experience that they might have had a point.

Back in November, while I was getting serious about prepping for my thru-hike, I went out to the local skatepark to try some new stuff. After practicing on smaller ramps, I figured I was finally ready to try rolling into one of the concrete bowls at the park. I was comfortable enough riding my board, but the sheer vertical face of the roll-in scared me. But, hey, you only live once right?

It took me a few false starts to summon the courage, but I finally committed. I rolled down the slope and kept my momentum going as I leveled out. For a moment, I felt triumph. I finally did it! Yes! Who’s the boss?

Andando in skateboard / Skating

The doctor said it could have been worse. Considering the fact I had three different fractures in my left foot from the incident, I didn’t want him to say how. 24 years I had been a member of the unbroken bone club, all to end because I slipped on my stupid skateboard like a banana peel and hit the concrete foot first! I had just bought a helmet, too. I was doing all I could to protect myself. Maybe I should go out in bubble wrap next time?

For the next week, perhaps as a side effect of the painkillers, the world got weird. My sleep schedule was randomized. The simplest things in my daily routine felt like herculean tasks. My boss insisted I come into work despite the fact I couldn’t walk, stand, or drive (I ended up quitting that job). Oh, and the surgeons put some metal plates and screws in my foot, so now I’m a cyborg (possible trail name?).

The early stages of recovery were miserable. Turns out hopping on one foot with a fiberglass anchor weighing the other one down isn’t the most efficient method of transit. I hurt and was tired, but most of all, I was unhappy.

The lowest point

I’ve battled with depression and anxiety all my life. Nowadays, I perceive it less like the cloud of torment it’s often depicted as, and more like a particularly pesky roommate. I spent large chunks of my early recovery period either lamenting my current state or feeling dread for the future. In my darkest hours, I feared my plans for the AT would go down the chute, or worse, that my ankle would never fully recover. It didn’t help that I was far away from friends and limited my social interaction because of COVID. I had to find a way to break from the norm.

Now, people have different ways they cope with depression and anxiety. Some seek counseling, some are on medication (myself included). Most develop their own coping mechanisms that reflect who they are and what they need. I say this to point out that there is not one universal treatment, and it’s unfair to suggest everyone dealing with bad brain moments should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I could write a whole post just about that.

But I must confess that while I didn’t pull up my bootstraps, I did strap up my boot.

Broken ankle strapped into iWalk 2.0 crutch

Arr, I’m a pirate! (another possible trail name?)

Getting stronger on the sidelines

The doo-hickey you see in that pic does exactly what it looks like it does: you strap it on to your bad leg and use it to “walk” hands-free. It’s not a perfect device, but it was good enough for replicating the motions of walking. With it, I managed to make an exercise out of walking down the street or around the grocery store. I noticed a lot of people staring at me, which is fair since not many people walk around with what can only be described as a peg leg. I don’t know how much strength I actually recovered by doing this, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was I had ability and motivation to get out and about, and my mind was at (relative) ease. Hiking was always a form of mental health for me, and “walking” around the block was the next best thing.

Now, I’m back on two feet

It’s 2021, and I’m finally walking for real. I still have a bit of a limp and lost all my calf muscle, but I’m getting it back slowly. I’m going to start ramping my mileage and elevation gain back up. It’ll be mostly day hikes for now, but the shakedown overnights are right around the corner. I know a lot of thru-hikers are already on trail at this point, but I’m gonna keep biding my time.

I guess there are two lessons I’ve learned from all this. The first is I should take a break from skateboarding for a while. The second is to be patient and listen to my body, while also pushing myself juuuuust enough to stay motivated. Something tells me that will be critical for the trail.

Sitting on top of a crag in VA in 2018

Here’s to getting to summits again

In the meantime, less than three months before I start my trek in Harper’s Ferry. Y’all haven’t even seen me at full power yet. Hope y’all will keep following my trek.

“Andando in skateboard / Skating” by aldoaldoz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Comments 4

  • pearwood : Feb 26th

    Keep moving forward!
    Steve / pearwood

  • Lyla Harrod : Feb 26th

    Hey Austin, great writing, thanks for sharing about overcoming what sounds like a pretty gnarly injury. Cyborg would be a badass trail name for sure lol. Be well! – Lyla

  • Joseph : Mar 3rd

    Hey pegleg
    You’ve got the mojo!

  • Cortney : Apr 16th

    Good luck Austin! Don’t let your foot injury get you down. My kid had an injury in Sept 2020. He had sugery to repair his achilles tendon that he severed in his “accident.” He did’t get the ok to fully start moving until a couple weeks before he set out on the trail. I dropped him off to head to Springer Mtn. mid march. He was a bit out of shape and one calf was half the size of the other so it took him a bit longer to get his hiking legs worked up. He’s crushing the trail now and has passed the 400 mile marker recently. If you meet up with Achilles along the trail, tell him I said HI. Enjoy your adventure! I love that you’re doing the flip flop!


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