It’s Over (For Now)

As much as I hate it, I think I need to embrace my role as this year’s cautionary tale. To be fair to myself, this has largely been out of my control but it still stings to admit that it’s over. At least for 2024. Here’s what happened:

The Hits Keep Coming

As some of you might have read from my previous post, my hike was derailed almost instantly by getting pretty damn sick on the first night. I left trail with multiple infections and a pocket full of antibiotics after hiking about 10.5 miles and shuttling out at Horse Gap. I decided to go home to recover for a few weeks with the intention of an April return. Warmer weather and better health seemed like the ticket, and I think it was the right call at the time. In hindsight it didn’t play out very well though as the flight home through Chicago blessed my already suffering immune system with a fresh round of COVID. As soon as I had started coughing less from my infections, I started coughing more from C-19 and was right back in sick mode.

Not So Triumphant Return

COVID was nasty for me and I spent a solid couple weeks coughing my lungs out, but I was still determined to get back to trail. Being sick already bounced me from the trail once and kept me from going to Texas for the eclipse, I wasn’t going to let it kill my thru. So about 2.5 weeks after my positive test I was back in Georgia and ready to start anew. My brother graciously gave me a ride back to Horse Gap and I hit the trail feeling a lot better than when I left. I was certainly winded, sweating a lot, and was pretty often getting the chills on any significant climbs, but figured that was just part of not being in trail shape and coming back from these illnesses – it could only get better right?

View from mountain top

The only climb portrait I have

Predictably, it got worse. Despite beautiful sunny days and warm weather near 80° F, I was getting the chills every day while climbing, regardless of my water intake (which included electrolyte water as well – on my last hiking day I drank 1 liter before going out, 4 on trail, and another 2+ at the hostel before ever using the bathroom… that’s over 15lbs of water for about 6 miles of hiking). I also had a tooth that started to hurt. Nothing too severe at first but after a day or so I wasn’t able to chew on the left side of my mouth and had a constant throbbing pain throughout my lower jaw. A trail exit and a couple dentist appointments later and the worst was confirmed: I had a cracked tooth that had become infected, and that infection jumped back to my ears again as well. For those keeping score at home, that means that in the 30 days since attempting to start trail on March 18th, I got myself a sinus infection, double ear infection, COVID, a cracked tooth/tooth infection that required a root canal, and another double ear infection. I’m amazing.

Decision Time Again

As soon at I got the diagnosis of needing a root canal, the wind was officially knocked out of my sails. I knew what that meant. Thousands of dollars and a timeline not very conducive to trail life. Along with the actual procedure, I also had another round of antibiotics too, and this time for 10 days. Best case scenario would be a return to trail sometime in early May. At this point I hadn’t hiked a double digit day yet and in reality had only hiked for 5 days and a total of 26.2 miles. Granted, I literally had at least one infection every day I hiked, but my confidence of getting back on trail and hitting it hard was basically shot. In the recipe of a successful thru-hike, constant infections and being unable to hike hills is not a good ingredient. I considered a flip flop and re-starting in Virginia or something, but frankly it’s not the experience I wanted. I know that these things will never go exactly how a person wants, but I’d like to at least go the direction I had been dreaming about for the last 8 years. Maybe that’s being too picky, but after everything so far, it doesn’t feel like so much to ask.

A pack on the trail

The final pickup spot from Jarrard Gap

Looking Forward

So in the end, here I sit back home in WI with a freshly root canal-ed tooth and a determination to get back next year. Although this was a tremendous failure to launch, I’m still finding the bright sides that I didn’t do anything that will permanently hurt my hiking or require intensive rehab. It was annoying, frustrating, and expensive – but not career ending. It was certainly not how I expected or wanted this to go, but I’m looking forward to coming back in 2025 after a year of training and seeing how much easier it can be. Until then, good luck to all the hikers still out there and stay healthy everyone!

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Comments 11

  • Sly the Navigator : Apr 25th

    Don’t give up, you’ll be probably more prepared next year. See this year as the practice run. May i suggest shorter trails until then to keep training if you have the opportunity ? …

    • JANA J : Apr 26th

      I did a lot of 30÷mile rides on my bicycle, pushing thru your heels on hills.
      When I started backpacking I was in shape. Consider doing this as a way to break the boredom of training for your next adventure.
      The longest hike I did was 87 miles . We hiked 10 miles and the next day we did a day hike to explore the area. Most of my trips were in hilly SE Oklahoma. Also did a rim to rim Grand canyon trip. And 3 trips off the south rim. Also trips to Yosemite.

    • David : Apr 29th

      Sounds about the kind of luck I would have if I tried such a feat. Hopefully better luck next year.

  • jen l : Apr 26th

    Perhaps there are other reasons for this change of plans as well. I’m sorry for your loss here. It’s a big one, but it sounds like you have the right attitude in thinking toward next year. May you thoroughly heal and use this time to strengthen yourself inside and out. Peace 🙏

  • Dan H : Apr 26th

    Getting the root canal isn’t so bad. It’ll be easier than having to get an implant, that’s for sure! And I’ll bet anything that the black cloud over you this year will be lifted in time for your next ATtempt! Gotta have faith!

  • Stoic : Apr 26th

    Wow, your trail name should be Patient Zero or something. At least you can be relatively confident that the trail won’t go anywhere, and you will enjoy it much more next year without all the sickness dragging you down. It’s stuff like this that has me still wearing a mask when I head into town, getting deathly sick while in a tent on a mountain is not a fun outdoor adventure.

  • Patrick : Apr 26th

    That’s rough! Just think, when you try again in the future it’s going to be a cake walk compared to this!

  • Phyllis Gentry : Apr 26th

    I’ll still cheer you on as you train for your thru hike! Positive thoughts sent to you.

  • Chris : Apr 26th

    Whenever something wonderful unexpectedly happens in my life, I say to my wife, “I feel bad for the guy who gets all my bad luck.” I think it might be you, and for that I apologize, but I’m certainly not doing it on purpose. Keep your head up, and you’ll get back out there, even if it’s next year.

  • Carole Hall : Apr 26th

    You’ll certainly have better luck next time, and some good stories to tell when you’re on the trail again.

  • Flash : Apr 26th

    You’ve got almost a year to train. That’s definitely a good thing. As far as regaining your health, fruits and veggies plus lots of fresh garlic will get you back on track to hit the trail next year. You got this! Good luck fellow Wisconsinite.


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