Languishing in Hiker Limbo
For the past two weeks I’ve been languishing in hiker limbo, one part of me back on the Appalachian Trail, the other part here at home. It’s a disconcerting place to be, teetering on the edge of two vastly disparate worlds, not quite committed to either one. I’m feeling both anxious and optimistic, hopeful and resigned, eager to resume my hike while bracing myself for the worst possible outcome — that thanks to my constant knee pain, my thru-hiking days are done.
In fact, I’ve become somewhat schizophrenic. My dining room still looks like Hiker Central – the table covered with dehydrated food, my backpack in the corner with my freshly laundered clothes beside it, ready to go. I’ve cleaned my water bottles and repaired my equipment. I’ve replaced the insoles in my shoes. And I’ve put aside a dozen cardboard boxes for my southern mail drops in the hopes that I’ll soon be off.
At the same time I’ve moved the furniture to the deck. I’ve brought my houseplants back inside. I’ve restarted our garbage service and mail, added appointments to my July calendar, and made some decisions I’d been putting off, such as whether to finally get rid of our landline. (It’s gone. After living in the woods for several months the barrage of junk phone calls got to me.)
So I’ve been operating in a state of ambivalence, not quite committed to staying home — but still assuming that I had a choice. Until I got the radiologist’s report from my MRIs. (My follow-up appointment isn’t for another week so I don’t have an official diagnosis yet.) The “soft tissue edema” didn’t sound too bad. Neither did the “mild fraying” of the menisci or the “tiny Baker cyst.” Ditto for the “tendonosis” and “osteoarthrosis” – certainly not wonderful things to have, but nothing that would end my hike.
The “full-thickness fissure” in the cartilage was the clincher. And it turns out there isn’t just one. I’ve got two full-thickness fissures and one partial fissure in the left patellofemoral compartment alone. No wonder my darned knees hurt! And unlike a broken bone, cartilage doesn’t heal quickly, if ever. So in the crap shoot that comprises thru-hiking, it appears that my luck ran out.
I’m still not giving up hope, of course. If I’ve learned anything from my aborted thru-hike it’s that there is no point stressing about potential problems until they actually occur. There’s always the outside chance that I’m overreacting, that the doctor will tell me I just need a little rest and I’ll soon be good to go.
But I can’t quite bring myself to believe it. Like it or not, I’ve now got to face the very real possibility that I can’t do this, that for once in my life the persistence I’ve always relied on won’t be enough to see me through. Because the sad fact is there’s a difference between determination and obstinacy, between the willingness to pursue a goal — no matter how hard — and doing something stupid. Between hiking through a minor knee strain and doing myself irreparable harm.
And as much as I’m loath to admit it, I fear that I’ve reached that point. Which makes me wish I could stay in limbo. Because suddenly, that uncertainty looks pretty good.
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