Moving Forward (But Not Necessarily North)
This post is long overdue, and I’ve hesitated writing it because I wasn’t entirely sure how to do so in less than 10,000 words (I’ll save that for my novel) and because, frankly, I’ve been lounging in the selfish comfort of refuting an obligation to any other person to regale the details of my personal journey. But any time I think of the people who have wished me well, or housed me, or liked a photo of me goofing off in the woods, or given me a hitch, or told me I was in inspiration, or any of the other wonderful things people have done for me in the past few months- I feel totally wracked with guilt. Because:
I am off the trail. I’ve been back in Florida for exactly three weeks. I hiked a little over 950 miles in total, and am somewhat ashamed to admit that I figured my hike was just about over around mile 700. I loved my time on trail. And I’m ridiculously happy to be home.
So, what had happened was, I experienced a great deal of things on the trail. Trials, tribulations, successes, injuries, and every emotion known to humanity. Ultimately the biggest deciding factors for me in terms of leaving my northward quest were the two useless slabs of crushed bone, strained tendon, calloused skin, and numb tissue that were hanging off the ends of my legs. My “feet” felt unrecognizable to me. They started hurting (just a general ache and throb at first) around Damascus, and by the time I reached Glasgow I couldn’t walk more than 6-7 miles without stopping to remove my shoes and massage them- something I should have been doing anyways, but that’s hindsight for ya. The interval between which I was forced to stop grew smaller and smaller, and by the time I got off the trail I could manage to walk two miles (without a pack, mind you) before the sharp pains started in the balls of my feet and spread outwards to the undersides of my toes, through my arches, and into my heels. I knew it was time to get off the trail for good when I arrived to a parking lot after a 5 mile section that most hikers proclaimed “pretty easy” and “great terrain,” but which had been my singularly most painful and miserable section yet.
If it had just been my feet (those aren’t THAT integral to the hiking experience anyways) maybe I would have pushed on for longer. Maybe I would have committed to sitting down once ever mile or two to massage my feet and take a break, no matter the weather or trail conditions. But it wasn’t just my feet.
My next biggest obstacle was Lyme disease. Something happened to my little tramily when we entered the Shenandoahs just before the 4th of July- we all became plagued with laziness and a severe lack of motivation. We spent over 7 hours drinking on the lawn at Big Meadows. We stayed in a shelter and watched Hot Tub Time Machine 2 on a cell phone until 3 pm one day. We hiked -10 mile days multiple times. It took us almost a week to get halfway through, at which point we hitched from Skyland to Front Royal to take a good ol’ zero. I figured it was just a slump, but all the same my feet ached and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed a real rest. I was totally exhausted. So I went to visit my friends in DC and they let me sleep on their couch for the second time that summer and graciously hosted me while I rested and deduced that I almost definitely had Lyme. After two weeks of rest, several hundred dollars, and three doctors* I got some antibiotics and am happy to report that I feel much less Lyme-y now. I almost feel back to my old self again.
The Lyme wasn’t enough to push me off the trail on its own either. In fact, once I started antibiotics I got back on the trail for about a week. My dad was visiting to do some hiking with me, and the timing worked out perfectly. He slack-packed me through a 25-ish mile stretch of PA (where I’d gone to meet my tramily after my extended trail-cation) so I could slowly ease back into hiking. It was during this week that I realized my feet hadn’t recovered even a little bit, and that despite new shoes and insoles, most of my hiking would coincide with excruciating pain and a steady stream of obscenities surrounding a generally foul mood.
The foot/Lyme combo was rough, but illness and injury only confirmed what I’d already known: it was time to go home. I missed my dog. I missed my cat. All of my stuff arrived to my parent’s house from Germany, where I’d left it to move stateside back in January (which is actually quick when you consider a transatlantic move combined with US military bureaucracy) and my sister was sifting through it trying to move photos and the like indoors away from damaging FL heat, as well as checking to see if any of my things had been broken since I only had 30 days to make a claim with the moving company. My parents were watching my pets, accepted an entire household worth of things to be delivered to their already full household, AND were faithfully sending me thoughtful and wonderful care packages. They are saints. They were constantly supportive of my hike and told me not to worry, but after a few months away, all my obligations started tugging at me. I needed to be taking care of my life, and what I craved more than any town food or cold beverage every day was to be living in my own space. Like, a real fully enclosed space with at least 4 walls and a solid roof that always stays in one place. I was craving stability and I constantly day-dreamed about setting up a home and growing some roots somewhere.
I was tired of packing away my “waterfront loft” every morning, and it wasn’t long before I started resenting my hammock euphemism.** I was tired of moving from place to place. I hated carrying everything on my back. I was desperate to cut weight but unable to afford lighter gear and unwilling to survive solely on tortillas and peanut butter. In short, I was starting to resent my trip. I was starting to hate hiking.
The first two months of my AT journey were marked by unabashed joy, near constant bliss, and an overwhelming sensation that maybe for the first time in my life, I was doing right by me. I was exactly where I needed to be and I felt grateful for every single event in my life that had led me to where I was. I didn’t care about the rain or the injury or the hardship- that was all part of the fun, part of the adventure. I felt absolutely confident that I was supposed to continue North. Which is why it was so hard for me, in my last month on trail, to admit that it was time to change my course.
I couldn’t leave the trail in good faith until I knew for certain that I was physically incapable of completing it right then. In that way, it’s good my feet were in so much pain. Because as hard as it was to walk away (haaa- get it?) from this great adventure, it was time. I had learned so much and had achieved almost every goal on my “why I’m hiking” list- really, I had gotten what I needed out of my hike, except for that one tiny “Walk to Maine” thing.
Since coming home I’ve visited friends and sorted out all sorts of personal matters and rekindled bonds. It hasn’t been without frustration and some sadness that I cut my journey short, but to be entirely honest, I don’t miss the trail life. I miss my friends, my tramily, and occasionally I miss just being in the woods or coming across a vista. But I’m happy to sleep on beds and eat real food and use a motorized vehicle to travel great distances in remarkable amounts of time. I’ll hike again one day, maybe I’ll finish the trail, maybe I’ll attempt another thru-hike eventually- but for now I’m happy to be doing whatever it is that comes next in my life. Which is another topic entirely.
In conclusion, I want to personally thank every person who helped me on this journey. But I won’t do so here because there are an incredible amount of people who inspired me and helped me, to include (in no particular order) my tramily and all its variations, my parents, the friends who housed me, the random strangers who housed me, my sisters, the people who commented on my posts, the people who messaged me, the people who sent (or even offered to send) care packages, the day-walkers I encountered who were amazed by the idea of a thru-hike, the people who allowed my smelly self and my smellier backpack into their personal vehicles- you all helped me get to where I needed to go. Please accept a generalized “thanks y’all,” you’re all amazing and helped restore my faith in humanity.
*Pro-tip: when attempting to diagnose Lyme, don’t go to a big city like Washington DC for example -especially if you are uninsured- where a doctor is likely to give you the following extremely helpful medical advice: “Maybe you should think about finding employment… with benefits.”
**Actually, the resentment for that moniker started precisely at 3 am one morning when I woke up soaked in my sleeping bag, rain water and mist having saturated my hammock, and my tarp strap snapped and further drenched myself and my belongings. No pain, no rain, no Maine, as they say.
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