Notes from the AT Disabled List

“… The problems of the human heart in conflict with itself – only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

– William Faulkner

A heart in conflict

The nature in my new habitat- heron at the lake behind my friends’ apartment.

“When do we go back to the trail?” I wake up thinking.

“This has been a long stretch of zeroes and we’re going to fall behind. We need to make up miles if we’re going to get to Maine in time…”

Then I really wake up

My blurry morning eyes catch a glimpse of the heavy boot cast on my right leg. Nearly three pounds of foam and Velcro, plastic and metal. Nothing ultralight about it.

My sore shoulder and side muscles remind me I’ve traded in the pack for a push-cart, the trekking poles for crutches.

I’ve coined a new phrase for my mileage goals on Instagram, a hashtag that at least one friend says will trend.


Instead of “Crushed 25 miles today,” it’s “Crutch’ed my first 0.5.”

It is summer. It is glorious. A walk around the block gets easier by the day.

And yet.

I miss the trail.

Do we have to talk about the injury?

Here it is, as of last Monday:

The break is the upper left. The green shows how the margins between foot and leg bones are squaring off nicely, according to the orthopedist.

My weekly X-ray party continues this Monday when I find out once and for all if I need surgery.

“I’d like a non-surgery, please.”

That is all there is to say about that.

But ask me about the trail

What I miss.

Why I insist on continuing—and please God, finishing—next year.

Ask me how it felt to wake up to the sound of mourning doves and fall asleep to a chorus of frogs.

Ask me about the way Tadpole’s southern lilt made “How’d you sleep, Sprout?” sound like a song.

Ask me how that hike in Northern Pennsylvania felt like a holy art installation of spider webs.

Ask me about the impossibly bright blue of the chicory flower,

and the strange story of the moon.

Ask me about the time I preached from Pulpit Rock,

and about the mother bear with her yearlings who preached to us about taking our time.

Ask me how Militant Buddhist (in a non-militant way) taught me to meditate. And to later make peace with an injury.

Remind me to tell you of the red-haired soprano-sax player in Delaware Water Gap who made us all more glad to be alive.

Better yet-

Tell me about your trail.

You say, “I didn’t do anything as exciting as hike the Appalachian Trail.”

I say, “I didn’t do anything as exciting as summit Mount Katahdin.”

You say, “I’m not sure there’s anything new.”

I say, “I never got to New England.”

As Rob Bell says,

“Who you aren’t isn’t interesting.”

Tell me who you are.

Tell me about your terrain.

Tell me who you met and what you saw.

Tell me what’s been worth your agony and sweat, and I’ll tell you what’s been worth mine.

A heart’s content

Here’s what’s true for me today-

I am broken.

And I am full.

I am missing out.

And I am welcomed in.

I am profoundly disappointed.

And I am looking up at a sky so blue

there’s no room for anything but thanks.

More to come,

Sprout ?

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Comments 17

  • Rick - Quiet Man : Aug 11th

    Cari – Sprout; thanks for letting us know how you are doing! I have been reading your blog since the beginning – I truly enjoy the way you write about the trail. I’ve read many journals – many of hikers who must leave the trail – however, when I read that you went off trail, I let out an audible “Oh no!” for the first time. I’ve missed your wit and insights. I have no doubt that you’ll be back on the trail when it’s time. In the meantime, keep writing, girl – we need your inspiration and humor. Rick

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you, Rick! I am working on a new article as we speak. I appreciate your encouragement, and plan to be back on the AT this summer!

  • Chip Lambert : Aug 11th

    Nice to hear you still have high spirits and continue to inspire some of us to commit to doing a thru-hike. Hoping for the best outcome on that comminuted distal fibula fracture. Hang in there Sprout!! chip

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you, Chip! It seems to be healing nicely in terms of the bone. The soft tissue and muscle area is another story though. It feels like my progress on that has plateaued. But I’m seeking out new healing on that. Hope you are well, and thanks for reading!

  • Dennis A Turner : Aug 12th

    I echo Rick – Quiet Man, can’t say it better than he did. DMFINO

  • Jim - Wet Dreams : Aug 13th

    You’re not alone!!! I had to exist mid-VA. When I return, it will be with a new ultralight, titanium….. HIP!!!! I’m excited!!!! Good luck in your recovery!! -wd

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Hi Jim- wow, a new hip! Way to go on getting through that and heading back to trail soon, I hope!

  • beth : Aug 14th

    Dear Cari,

    I met a guy in the 100 mile wilderness. He broke his knee in the Mahoosic notch. 2 years later (2019) he is finishing the AT. Admiration all around.

    I walked to my home in the Whites; 350 miles from Katahdin. I changed in some small way and now I just want to walk; all day long; every day. It’s not about the AT for me, rather walking in the woods away from traffic and “civilization”. I dream of continuing on next year.

    I’m sure you have the bug big time. You can return. You can finish. The best is to come for you going north.

    PS You DO NOT have to smile all the time. You are beautiful and not every occasion needs a smile.

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you, Beth- yes, you captured so well that ancient wisdom- “The answer is in the walking.” Glad you have caught the bug too 🙂 And thanks for giving me permission to not smile ;-( haha- duly noted!

  • Caboose (AT 2015) : Aug 17th

    Cari – so nice to hear the update and your insights from the AT. You will return. You will finish. Your detour will bring meaning that staying on the trail would not have. While I’m sorry for your injury you now have gift to time that will make your return all that much better. All the much more unique than almost every other thru hiker. You will bring more back to the trail than what you left with. Look forward to seeing you back next year. Until then, keep your updates coming. May you have a quick return to health

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you very much, Caboose! It has been a unique journey indeed, and I am grateful for how things are turning out so far.

  • John Folsom : Aug 19th

    Cari AKA Sprout, Hoping and praying your last X-ray showed good news, that you are finding peace and joy in your accomplishments, your present and your future. It is with more than a few doubts that I will be joining my brother on a short (33 miles) section hike of the AT heading north from Grafton Notch in ME. reading your trail notes is giving me drive.
    Thank you,

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you John! I hope your section hike in Maine was really enjoyable! Hike on!

  • Terry McDonald : Sep 6th

    I love your outlook on life! It’s helping me make some changes to my outlook as well & for the better for reading your blog here! Sending you good thoughts & also prayers for a non (medically!) exciting healing for your leg! Keep on writing if you can, you are so good at expressing yourself & it’s making a difference in so many people’s lives!
    ~Terry 🙂

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you so much, Terry! I am finally back in a writing mode. I really appreciate the encouragement. Look for an article from me on here soon!

  • Pierre (Jackrabbit) : Nov 13th

    I just read your fabulous and entertaining pre hike article on advise for smaller hikers. There is so much wise advice in your piece for all aspiring thru-hikers. I am so sorry about your leg fracture-looks like a tibial fracture which I’m sure you will bounce back from in time for a go at it next year: as a LASH? Long ass section hike. You go girl!!

    • Cari Pattison : Jan 16th

      Thank you, Jackrabbit! Glad you liked the article for petite hikers. And while I can’t yet bear to call myself a “LASH-er,” I prefer “two-part thru-hiker”! ;-D


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