Never quit on a bad day. No really! Never quit on a bad day!

Thankful that my friends helped me get a ride to town

You will not believe the couple of days I had on trail, and then off trail. I’m writing an entire post about it because it’s honestly pretty laughable.

The injury

It was a Wednesday and I was thirsty. I reached a water source after 13 long miles of no water. As I was finding a place to fill my bottle I slipped on a wet leaf which was hiding a loose rock and fell backwards in a comical ‘she just slipped on a banana skin in a cartoon’ way. This is how I think I managed to successfully sprain my lower shin/ upper ankle tendon. The pain didn’t start until another 10 miles that day and even the following morning I was so sure I’d be able to walk it off, I set out on a rainy 25 mile day, not really wanting to admit the pain despite the fact I’d swallowed quite the concoction of pain killers.

So began the thing that all thru hikers fear the most. A potential trail ending injury that could stop me from completing a dream. Or in my case, was it an excuse to quit trail?

The worst day

I have never suffered so miserably with so little compassion for myself on the following day that it all started. Even now, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’ve learnt that the trail gives you challenges for a reason. I was too strong, too confident in my ability.

On this fateful day, I was wrapping up a particularly depressing episode of Murder in America. (It turns out I’m not alone in listening to serial killer podcasts whilst alone in the woods, a lot of other women I’ve met on trail have said they do the same). It was raining heavily and there was no sign of any other humans out there. I took my phone out of the pocket of my rain jacket which of course claimed to be Gortex (and on that day definitely wasn’t- thanks Arc’teryx!) to select a new podcast when a raindrop dripped straight into the crack in my screen (caused by a particularly spectacular previous fall on the trail through the town of Hot Springs) and in that moment, my phone died for ever, never to be turned on again.

Not only did I smash my phone in Hot Springs but I also smashed my poor hand!

I stood there frantically trying to turn it on. Getting my charger out and desperately trying to get it to charge. The rain fell around me. The lower part of my shin agony through the painkillers that barely masked the pain. I had my period and having to deal with this in the heavy rain only worsened my mood. It was wet and messy. This couldn’t happen to me. I had no idea where I was. I rely so heavily on FarOut that I’d never really considered that this could happen. I felt stupid and vulnerable and angry at myself. Why hadn’t I packed out paper maps to use as a backup? Reader you don’t need to comment to tell me this, I already know I am stupid. It came to me then though that all I needed to do was to keep following the white blazes to keep moving forward. It wasn’t so bad. On average I hike about 2.5 miles an hour on decent terrain. I kept checking my watch to try and work out how far I could be from the destination if my shelter that night. The trail was covered in slippery wet rocks and my injury hurt like crazy. Finally I see a sign to the shelter I’d been heading for, 2 miles away. What? How was I still 2 miles away. I didn’t allow myself to question how slow I’d clearly been moving. I just got on with it and staggered further down the trail. A few minutes later I heard a huge crashing sound behind me and I turned around to witness a huge tree falling and crashing directly onto the trail. It had missed me by less than a minute. If I had paused one more minute of my day that tree would have hit me and could have killed me. I felt sick. I told myself it was ok if this was my last day on trail. I gave myself the permission to quit. Why was I out here? I was in pain and it was raining and I was definitely not having fun. Of course, it’s not my first rodeo and I know never to quit on a bad day.

When I made it to the shelter that night my friends Tweedle and Wonka who hike very fast were already sleeping and peacefully oblivious to the day I’d had. I ate my usual dinner of a squashed, dry bar and went to sleep watching the lightening storm outside the shelter from the safety of my quilt.

Wonka and Tweedle rose early and I told them my story of the previous day. I told them I had to hike with them as I had no phone and no clue where I was. About 5 miles into the morning the muscle in my leg twinged and the pain was excruciating. I limped to a log and pulled out a sticky, sodden role of leukotape and began strapping my ankle and shin up to support the pain. I had no phone and I was injured and it was raining. It was time to accept defeat and try to get off trail. Wonka had reception found a shuttle number and used his phone. Martin went out of his way to come and save me from highway 42 that morning, borrowing his friend’s truck. He dropped me off at Best Buy in Christianburg where I set about buying an unlocked iPhone. Thank you Martin for your help and kindness!

Trying to buy a new phone without a phone

Only do you know how hard it is to buy a phone without having a working phone? Especially as an international hiker! I was at the counter, happily about to drop $700 on a new iPhone, not even caring about the cost, just relieved that I’d managed to work out one part of the days puzzle. I tried every credit and debit card I had an of course my banks in the UK had blocked them all due to suspicious activity of someone who had probably stolen my cards and was trying to buy an iPhone. I usually have to verify a large transaction on my phone like this. This couldn’t be happening. But it was. The man in Best Buy clearly thought I was homeless and I limped off to the closest ATM to attempt to withdraw some cash. Only of course that didn’t work. Here I was, in a new city, in pain, without a phone and no clue how to get one. I didn’t know anyone’s phone number in the US and every phone shop I went into to try to explain my situation took in my dirty appearance, smell, backpacking look and accent and I didn’t stand a chance. In the distance I saw a Hampton Inn. Perhaps they had a computer I could use. I dragged myself over there. The man at the front desk graciously allowed me to use the computer.

I tried to log into my Facebook. Perhaps one of my friends could help me and order the phone for me to collect. I tried to log into my emails, PayPal, bank account’s everything. None of them would allow me to access them on a strange computer in an odd location without confirming my identity on the app on my dead, unwilling phone.

Eventually I manage to log into one of my emails and send my parents the kind of email that correctly raised suspicions.

‘URGENT! Please help me- my phone is broken and I need to buy a new phone! Please send me $$$ immediately to buy a new phone’

My mother of course was convinced I was a scammer and asked me some security questions. Thankfully she’d quickly picked up the email all the way across the Atlantic and managed to send me some money to the one account I rarely used, had no money in and was thankfully able to withdraw from the ATM with.

I took the cash out in tiny installments, scared at any moment the bank would block the transaction.

I felt emotionless as I returned to Best Buy to purchase the phone. I told the story to the much nicer cashier as he counted my $20 bills and he pulled up a seat for me to sit and told me where the closest urgent care was.

I walked over to the Verizon store who had refused to help me earlier to ask them to transfer my eSIM from my dead phone to my new phone. It took 2 hours and upon realizing that Verizon suck I just bought a new sim as I really wanted to go to urgent care.

The car accident

It was heavenly to order an Uber instead of walking through pain. The driver listened to my story. When I got out the Uber and then of course, because I was cursed a car reversed into his truck crashing into his side. I didn’t know how to tell him it was my fault because I was having a cursed day so I just left him dealing with the other driver and snuck into Urgent Care. Where I was told they didn’t have any appointments left for the day.

I j- walked a bunch of highways to a nearby Super8 which quoted me close to $150 for a room that night. We all know Super8 is definitely not worth that so I got on Expedia and booked myself a Best Western and an hour later I was drinking canned wine in a bath tub, relieved that I’d found a safe, soft space to land that night.

The diagnosis

The next morning I Ubered to a different urgent care. I’d called my insurance company to warn them I was going to get an xray. I couldn’t believe it that in the country known for having the most expensive healthcare in the world, an xray was only $55. The doctor told me to rest and it seemed like just a sprain. He advised me to carry Bear-spray and a knife on the AT. I laughed and hoped his healthcare advise was better than his thru hiking advise.

Giving myself permission to rest doesn’t come easy, but it is one thing I have come to understand as very important. Last year I had ACL reconstruction after a backcountry ski accident. I started hiking the AT only 8 months later with no harm to my knee because I allowed my body to heal and did all the correct things. Allowing my body to rest and heal despite me not wanting to be off trail is vital for the rest of my hike. I’ve lived with chronic pain for years so I understand how certain food and drink can cause higher inflammation in the body. I’m eating healthy, getting nutrition dense foods instead of the unhealthy thru hiking foods. It sucks having to take time off trail and say goodbye to the friends I’d made. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to get to Katahdin until I almost couldn’t. Even on that day I gave myself permission to quit trail if I wanted to, it made my angry that the trail had almost gotten the better of me. It’s a lifestyle that I love so desperately that it would take me so much more than this to get off trail. The hard thing about thru hiking is the logistics. It’s a logistical nightmare trying to buy a new phone or rest from injury. If there is one thing I learnt from my PCT thru hike is that logistics are entirely possible to overcome! You just have to want the end goal badly enough.

I visited a physiotherapist and told them my story as I wanted a second opinion on my injury. A hairline or stress fracture doesn’t always show up straight away on an injury. They did electric therapy and cryo therapy and gave me exercises and showed me how to tape it up. They assured me it was just a sprain. They refused to charge me for the appointment. It was trail magic in the purest, most unexpected form. Again, I’d expected a huge medical bill. The kindness of strangers who just want to help people achieve a dream is never lost on me. It was not what I had anticipated at all.

The kindness of the physiotherapist helping me recover from my injury

If I managed to buy a new phone when the entire odds were against me, I sure as hell can overcome this injury and make it to Katadhin! I’m heading back on trail tomorrow, back to finish the Virginia triple crown. I’ve of course packed for my fears with enough Advil, K tape and ointments to last a whole thru hike.

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