Push, Fall, Rise, Repeat: My 10 Days and 69.3 Miles on the Appalachian Trail

“Push, rise, fall, repeat.” That mantra has gotten me over quite a few hurdles in my recent life, including finding out that I needed to get my gallbladder removed ten days into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Ten days and  69.3 miles was as far as I made it on my 2017 thru-hike attempt on the Appalachian Trail. 69.3 miles! That number now makes me laugh but at the time I was as far away from laughing as I was from Mt. Katahdin. You hope for the best and prepare for the worst but you can never really prepare emotionally to have a dream, a goal, something you have spent over a year – maybe a lifetime – preparing for, snatched right out of your hands. But then again it has been said time and time again, the trail is unpredictable, anything can happen.  So there I was standing on the front porch of the Top of Georgia Hiking Center with fear in my eyes and a growing pain in my side.

Push

Day three: Already learning blister first aid.

I departed from Springer Mountain on Friday, April 7, 2017, and departed from the trail on April 16, 2017, Easter Sunday. Technically this was a section hike because I was only hiking to the halfway point of the AT, to Harpers Ferry, W.V., but this had just been decided a week before my hike so I still considered this a thru-hike.  I had told myself over and over again that there was a good chance I could get injured, get sick, or possibly get burned out on the trail. My goal of hiking to Harpers Ferry may not be reached and to not let myself get too discouraged if and when that happens. I mean, other than an overnight shakedown hike a month prior, I had never backpacked before. I read all the books, several hundred blogs, asked a million questions, and bought and exchanged more gear than REI ever thought possible. Until the pain in my right side, which ultimately caused me to leave the trail, the only issues I had on the trail were my continuing avoidance of the outbreak of giardia among fellow hikers and some serious blisters. By day four my blisters were so painful I was no longer hiking in my Keen Targhee II boots and was now hiking in my Teva camp sandals with a new pair of hiking shoes in a hiker box only a few days away in Hiawassee, Ga. By the time I got to my new shoes in Hiawassee I had hiked over 40 miles in my camp sandals, with no complaints. Hiking in sandals was glorious, my feet never felt this good hiking in a boot or shoe. I was on cloud nine; life on the trail was more magical than I ever imagined and some stupid blisters weren’t going to bring me down. Though I’m not going to lie, I was more than ready to ditch those blister-causing boots I just carried those last 40 miles.

Fall: Don’t Let Small Problems Become Big Problems

Happy Easter from Chatuge Regional Hospital.

 

April 15 a fellow hiker named Pam and I found ourselves at the Holiday Inn in Hiawassee. Here we would spend our first zero day, get our resupply boxes, some much-needed showers, and our first shakedowns of our packs.  After we cleaned up Pam and I,  both starving and ready for a good meal, walked down the street to the all you can eat buffet.  Later that night I had some discomfort in my side but didn’t think much of it considering my dietary changes over the past nine days. The following morning, I woke up with some serious pain in my stomach, once again excusing it to nothing serious. We spent the morning repacking our packs and headed to Top of Georgia Hiking Center, where we would spend the night and  head back on the trail first thing Monday morning. It wasn’t until that very moment when I put my pack back on that I thought that this pain in my side could be something seriously wrong. The weight of my pack intensified the pain in my stomach so much I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to carry it; nonetheless, we got the shuttle to Top of Georgia. We begun settling into the hostel and Pam and I were sitting in the common room of the hostel where a sign up on the wall said, “Don’t let small problems become big problems,” with a picture of a thru-hiker with his mouth wide open with a cracked and infected tooth. This hiker would end up being Bob, aka Sir-Packs-A-Lot, the owner of Top of Georgia. I sat there reading that sign over and over again and decided to google the pain in my side. The pain had since centralized to my upper right abdomen and when searching those symptoms  gallbladder  was my top search result. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: My father had his gallbladder removed, and according to this search gallbladder issues are extremely hereditary. That moment right there and some advice from Sir-Packs-A-Lot led me to Chatuge Regional Hospital, where I had a CT scan and ultrasound. To my dismay my gallbladder was inflamed and I needed to get to a bigger hospital in Gainesville to have my gallbladder removed as soon as I could. So I was to head out the next morning.

Rise

 

Healing from my gallbladder surgery.

 

At this point I was devastated. After everything I went through to get myself to and on the trail ten days and 69.3 miles would be where my journey would end. I lay in bed in the hotel room that night crying on the phone to my Mom. Not only was my hike over, this would be my first surgery ever. I was terrified. My husband, Dylan, was touring in Europe for another month so my Mom would meet us in Gainesville for the surgery and afterward I would go back to Florida with her and recover there. It wasn’t easy to get over the discouraging turn that my hike took, and I probably never would have if I didn’t spend my recovery in such a relaxing, beautiful place as St. Augustine, Fla., where my Mom, brother, sister-in-law and little niece live. I couldn’t see this experience as a failure. Failing would be not going back out on the trail. I was actually more determined than ever to get back out there and fulfill my dream. Plus, I don’t know how much my gallbladder weighed but I think it’s safe to say I shed a few ounces from my base weight.

 

Killiney Beach

My husband, Dylan, on our trip to Ireland after my recovery.

 

Recovery time with Mom in St. Augustine, Fla.

My niece Evelynn. Another recovery essential.

Repeat

So here it is Feb. 4, 2018, and I am happy to say I’m 25 days away from starting my re-hike. I’m not nervous like I was before I began my hike last year. My stomach was a mess the days leading up to my hike but the minute I stepped foot on the trail my nerves calmed and it was all OK. The trail is a beautiful, glorious yet savage teacher and it taught me the unexpected will happen on the trail and when it does you must not be afraid to fall; and when you do fall you must be mentally prepared to pick yourself back up, no matter how hard. Dust off your knees and keep pushing forward. The trail will turn lambs into lions and lions into lambs, though you probably like them both you have to decide whether you’re a lamb or a lion.

Lambs into lions

 

 

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    Bob : Feb 4th

    Good luck Kristin- you can do it!

    Btw – invest in high quality boots made by a hiking boot company (not Keens). Sandals just won’t do.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Sherpa Dan : Feb 4th

    Sandals are awesome. I will occasionally switch to some thrift store sneakers.
    Hike on.
    Peace be with you.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Gary (milkshake 2013 : Feb 6th

    I switched to keen targhee in hot springs on advice of a local dr there, told me to go up a size from regular size. I also wear injinji toe socks. Good luck on hike. Gary

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tom : Feb 6th

    I had a similar experience last year. I started a thru on March 20th and on April 3rd needed to rush home for an emergency with my mom, who was in the hospital until she passed on May 4. I knew it was a possibility as she was 94, and obviously self and family come first. I felt a range of emotion outside the loss of my mom,;selfishness, sadness from the loss of the opportunity to try to finish after all the prep. etc. Anyway, like you I am trying again and will restart at Springer on March 3rd. Hope to compare notes with you! Tom (Detail).

    Reply

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