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.

The dining room table

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.)

All ready to go

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.

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 17

  • Sandy Parks : Jul 1st

    While it could mean a change from one goal (you achieved numerous ones just getting to this point), you can always look forward to setting new ones. I truly believe in the theory of when one door closes another opens. Good luck with those diagnoses yet to come.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 2nd

      Thanks, Sandy. I hope that’s true and there is a reason I’m off the trail. I’ll let you know if I figure out what it is.

      Reply
  • Christine (Nemophilist) : Jul 2nd

    So sorry to hear of your injuries! Limbo is tough spot to be in and I’m right there with you. You nailed my feelings exactly! I came home a week ago with some stomach issues that I hope I can overcome and then resume hiking. I’m coming to realize that there’s nothing wrong with section hiking either and perhaps a lot of benefits. Congratulations on your accomplishment! I didn’t meet many women of our age group out there thru hiking so you should be proud of your amazing hike! Hope your knees feel better soon and maybe we’ll meet out on the trail yet. Nemophilist 🙂

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 2nd

      Thank you, Christine. I hope your stomach issues get resolved quickly. I actually think that section hiking is a much better way to do the trail. Thru hiking is more of an endurance event than something fun to do. It has its own rewards, but they don’t really have to do with hiking. And at our age, completing an endurance event takes luck as much as perseverance. It doesn’t look as if I’ll be able to resume long distance hiking, but I’ll be cheering you on if you do. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Pat B. : Jul 2nd

    I agree w/ Sandy Gail. You and your and your husband did more than many others. AND just think if the memories you two have created. 😀 The country/world is vast. Right now I’m in the mainland doing a road trip w/ my sister…seeing Mt Rushmore, horse back riding w/ a chuck wagon cookout, Crazy Horse Monument, Deadwood, Devil’s Tower, Little Bighorn, Cody, Yellowstone (a stagecoach ride) & the Grand Tetons (fortunately all within close approximity of each other). Sell your gear and recoup some of your money and if you’re up to it…”road trip”. 😀⛰🌲

    Reply
    • Pat B. : Jul 2nd

      (Sorry typing this on the run)… 😜

      Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 2nd

      Thanks, Pat. Those are great places! My parents took us on a lot of cross country road trips growing up, and my husband and I moved across the US several times when he wS in the military, usually every other year. It’s a great way to see the US!

      Reply
  • Sherry Jarvis : Jul 2nd

    Oh Gail, I’m sending good energy for a speedy recovery. Whatever the outcome is, you are such an amazing woman! What you have accomplished so for is something I could never have even thought of. I love reading the blogs and wait with eager anticipation for the next one. Hang in there my friend!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 2nd

      Sherry, you never thought to do it because it’s insane! But maybe I can use it for the foundation of a book and it won’t have been for naught. I hope we can see you soon!

      Reply
  • Karyn : Jul 2nd

    Hi Gail – interesting diagnosis prior to your MD visit. I’m interested in how your recovery goes as well, time, symptoms, etc.
    I have to say Pat B makes quite an argument for switching gears!!! It appealed to me anyway (I’m not retired so I won’t be doing a road trip) and I think it sounds like a great way to have an adventure while healing from your previous adventure. And everyone is correct, not many women attempt the AT never mind middle-age or older women so you have indeed done quite well for yourself. You should be very proud and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for, if it’s the case, not ‘finishing’. Move on woman!!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 4th

      Karyn, you make some valid points. It’s awfully hard to give up on an idea once I’ve committed myself to doing it, but there is no doubt that I need to revise my plan and switch gears. I guess I need to see if this knee pain will ever go away and/or how much stress I can endure without making it worse. In the meantime, I’m working on some home projects. It’s not the way I expected to spend the summer, but at least I’m getting a few things done…

      Reply
  • Mary Ellen : Jul 2nd

    I am soooo impressed with how far you have made it already. I admit that when I first started reading your blog, as you were preparing for the AT, I really didn’t think that you would last a week out there. You have gone beyond impressing me with what you have accomplished! Hopefully a rest will be enough for you to get back out there this year but if surgery would be necessary – you can finish this hike next year. Because you are the person who will finish it!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 4th

      Thanks, Mary Ellen. As you have figured out, I’m pretty persistent, so if there is a way to finish this hike, I will. I spoke to a friend who is an orthopedist specialist and he affirmed everything I’ve read — that there is really nothing they can do for cartilage damage. It simply doesn’t heal well, and surgery often makes things worse. So it appears to be something I’ll simply have to live with. The question is whether I can get back to day hiking eventually and salvage some of the hike by slackpacking, or whether the AT is too rocky for my knees. I might not know that answer for a while.

      Reply
  • Ruth morley : Jul 2nd

    Hang in there and don’t give up yet till you get the final diagnosis. I was told to stop running due to “wear and tear” on my knees 13 years ago. Since then, I’ve run 10 marathons, two 100 km trail races, cycled across the US and the west coast, and hiked 1500 miles in Europe (500 in the Alps). Guess the west and test wasn’t so bad after all.

    Don’t give up!!!

    And when I can no longer do all of this, I totally agree with the road trip idea. I’m going to talk my husband into getting a cute little bitty camper and head west, north, everywhere.

    Don’t give up! And I highly recommend drinking 2 T of grass fed collagen powder a day for the joints. Forever.

    Reply
    • Bruce Nixon : Jul 3rd

      Hi Gail. Like you, I love to hike. Unfortunately, my hiking days are also through from bad knees and West Nile Encephalitis in 2007 which did a number on my strength. Sooooo. If my legs can’t pack me anymore? Canoe trips down rivers (I am thinking seriously of floating all the way from up by Yellowstone Park down the Gallatin River to the Gulf of Mexico) and and camping off my motorcycle. There are alternatives, so don’t give up hope. Have a great day.

      Reply
      • Gail Barrett : Jul 4th

        I’m sorry to hear that, Bruce. It sounds as if you can still stay active, though, which is the main thing, and your trip idea sounds fun. I love to walk more than anything, so I’m hoping that I can at least resume day hiking on flat surfaces or gentle hills eventually. The AT might be off limits due to the rocks, but I’m not giving up all hope yet. And if I can’t hike on the AT, I’ll have to find some more gentle trails out west.

        Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Jul 4th

      Ruth, do you have fissures in the cartilage or just thinning? I like the collagen idea since it would help my tendinosis, too (which I’ve learned is different from tendonitis). What brand do you use?

      Reply

What Do You Think?