Sometimes Your Heart is Broken

In an ideal world…

meticulous planning, preparation and training can come together and produce a successful experience on the AT.


However, there are some things you just can’t control.

For me, it has been crippling pain that intensified during my final week of hiking. No way around it. It literally stopped me in my tracks.


Trying to deal with injuries…

Many, many thanks to Dr. Pippa Chapman at Angels Rest Hikers Haven in  Pearisburg for helping me work through this.





4 days of rest at this welcoming hostel and 3 sessions of acupuncture with the doctor helped reduce the pain and swelling. I had high hopes and gave another day of hiking a try.

It started out fine, but by the last third of the hike, it was obvious that I shouldn’t continue. Not this week, this month, perhaps this calendar year.  Both the cutting pain and extreme swelling had returned with a vengeance.

The AT is steep. Relentless. Demanding. It requires being in top form, in a variety of ways, for the long haul.




I thought I was. I had trained hard. I was totally prepared mentally. But the body still had its vulnerabilities, or Achilles heel, you might say.

So…a visit to an orthopedist resulted in a diagnosis of severe tendinitis of the front of the right tibia (shin).  I left the hospital with an  orthopedic boot for 2-6 weeks (!!!),  a week on steroids and up to a month on anti-inflammatories.  And no hiking.



(Smiles can be deceptive)


Adding to my regret of how things had unfolded was my bittersweet reunion with Little Bear Stumbles.  We had hiked together during my week in April, and I had hoped to get a day or two on the trail with her, as she hiked (FAST!) to completion in Georgia.  Not to be.  Sigh..


So everything has changed.

I’m now in Nashville with Short-timer, who is watching our two granddaughters for a week. My hiking and trail sleeping clothes look a bit out of place in this stylish neighborhood. My hiker hunger is still raging and, frankly, I’m very sad.

But I’ve learned through many past experiences that there are some physical issues that you can work through. And some that demand cessation and healing. This extreme pain I’ve had would have only led to compromised physical capabilities on the trail and potentially even more serious injuries.


In fact everything has NOT changed.

I still have my AT goals:  to hike the entire trail. But the plan of how to do this has changed.

So I am now a long distance SECTION hiker, not a flip-flop THRU-hiker. I will do this in smaller segments each year, and with fewer miles per day when possible.

I do have the satisfaction of having hiked over 500 miles of the AT in all, just shy of 1/4 of the full distance. I have hiked from mile 1112.9 (Mt. Holly Springs, PA, in 4/17) south to 608.5 (Trent’s Grocer, Bland, VA, 7/17 -8/17). That’s something.

Its hard emotionally, nonetheless. I wonder at times if I’m being weak in not pushing through this as so many hikers have done, and I wrote in my list of reasons why I would not quit. But the physical pain says I’m right in this decision.

My new plan:

  • First, healing
  • Second, strengthening
  • Third, an hiking trip to Patagonia in South America this winter. This is already booked and I will not jeopardize it.  I realize I am very fortunate.
  • Fourth, back to where I left off on the AT in the spring, 2018.  Fewer weeks, fewer miles per day.


I will do this thing. I will not give up. Once again,  I’m heading toward a light at the end of the tunnel, as I have done many times in the past.


Thank you for your past, present and future support.




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Comments 34

  • George Turner : Sep 4th

    I managed to slip on the stairs and tear my rotator cuff when I went home for a break last spring. That’s how I became a section hiker. Tendinitis is evil, but you will get over it. I don’t know how you operate on the trail, but I religiously observe the holy zero day every 10 days or so. The thing about walking 500 miles is that having done it, you know you can do it. Listen to your body and it will tell you what to do. I have Hanover to Katahdin left to do. Take care of your self, get well and get back out there

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 4th

      George, your comment is so appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to write. Hearing from other hikers means the world to me.

      That is sure lousy for you, having your hike changed by a slip in the stairs at home. Especially after all the other crazy hard ascents and descents you have accomplished. The stairs are also how my husband severed his Achilles, too. They should be outlawed.

      Yes, we will complete the AT. The phrase may sound dated and trite, but time does heal all wounds. The AT’s in our blood now. It’s calling and we will answer. It matters not what pigeonhole or designation we are categorized by. We are a duo, each one of us with that thin strip of brown. That’s what matters.

      Thank you again. Happy trails to you.

  • Ruth Anne Collins : Sep 4th

    I hear you! I started on the Long Trail this past week, thinking I had planned and prepared. A water shortage convinced me to load up on water when I found a fabulous source, and 45 minutes down the trail, I was in pain. An old injury re-surfaced, and I had to leave the trail two days in. I guess I was just past the tipping point of weight that I could successfully carry. I am now re-working my plan, like you. The Long Trail was to be my litmus test to thru-hike the AT starting next spring. I’m thinking fewer miles and even less pack weight will be key, so am looking at how to fit in a few more hikes to test that idea before the cold really sets in. Gotta heal and recover first. I’m working to adjust my expectations, like you, to see myself as a section hiker instead of thru hiker. We are tough ole gals!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 4th

      I like your first name! 🙂

      Thank you so very much for sharing your experience. I can see how and why your injury happened, but what a bummer–so early in your hike! I’m really sorry for this.

      Who would think that carrying just a bit more water would top the scales, but it sure does. I truly think the 2.2 pounds a liter of water weighs is heavier than 2.2 pounds of something ekse….oh, let’s just say, hypothetically, CHOCOLATE! Truly.

      We’ll be fine. We’ll heal and return a bit more cautiously, perhaps. The trail deserves this.

  • Daddy Longlegs : Sep 4th

    Broke my leg in NH after 1765 miles. (I’m now a LASHer too and we will get it done.)
    Yes, the ‘real world’ is boring and you will be sad as the AT is a part of you now and will not stop beckoning. Rest up, get well, and enjoy life. Amazing thing, life.
    Thanks for sharing your journey and best of luck…get well soon!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 4th

      Hard to believe that your leg waited till nearly the end to decide to break. I’m really sorry you’ve had to experience this. Extraction from the trail must have been such an ordeal for you.

      Yes, you are totally right. Life is amazing. These comments from other hikers and the love and support of family and friends are putting it all in perspective.

      As some hikers I know would say, “I’ve done over 500 f***ing miles of the AT!!” (Of course, I myself never curse…..well….ah…..).

      That’s a darned good Section One.

      • Kool Aid : Sep 8th

        Im staying at Maria McCabe house right now. You should call, she loved your letter. She has a syadica problem.
        Ruth Im a flasher also! I love my choice. I hiked 1,026 last year (5 months) started where I got off last year to finish. Nope got to Manchester Center NH starting May 2 and got off August 18 this year. I got off to help Maria. I will finish next year. I love hiking the way Im hiking! Good luck!

        • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

          KoolAid, thanks for your comment. I think being a lasher is going to be a good way to go, although I’ll admit that today I was thinking, “You know, you could still thruhike next year, and just redo the segment that you’ve already done!” I believe that was the little red devil on my left shoulder speaking. I seem to recall saying, after going up the Priest, “NEVER AGAIN AND GOOD RIDDANCE!” Funny how one forgets pain. After all, I did have a second child, also via natural childbirth. But, note: not a third!

  • Barb : Sep 4th

    I am amazed by you and everyone that attempts this. There are many of us that don’t attempt such feats!
    I know you will finish.
    Thank you for being so open and honest with your feelings. It makes for good reading.

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 4th

      Best sister ever!

  • Mary : Sep 4th

    Hi Chocoholic! Vulture here. I think I am coming to the same conclusion, rather heartbreaking for me. I still have not made THE decision, as I am putting it off, but I think I will have to continue the trail at a later date as well. It is a difficult decision and I want so much to push through the pain and finish my thruhike, especially since the pain has subsided in my time off. But the problem is still there and I don’t have the confidence in my body that i used to. We will finish the AT; the Trail will be waiting. Stay in touch! Maybe we can do some hiking together next spring! I’m not sure what my plan for finishing looks like yet, but am thinking spring as well.

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Hi, Vulture! So very, very good to hear from you! At last, I’m in good enough of a mood to answer folks’ comments. You understand.

      I think that Irma has made the decision for us. After seeing so many trees down after just a moderately hard rain storm in July, I can’t imagine the destruction that Irma’s going to wreak on the AT.

      Let’s give it a rest. Let’s get truly healed and do strengthening exercises that will prevent future injuries. And you can continue to call yourself a thru-hiker because you are hiking the WHOLE DARNED THING!!!!

      Have a good autumn. I was going to say the word “fall,” but that doesn’t sound very good when talking about hiking….

  • Jodee : Sep 5th

    Oh, I’m so sad for you, bc I know how hard you worked an planned for this! But I’m still so very impressed and know you will complete the trail. One of the benefits of being an “older” hiker is having the wisdom to know when to adjust your plan! I look forward to returning (virtually) to the trail with you when your adventure continues!
    P.S. That last photo was my favorite of all of them!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Hi, Jodee. Yes, it’s very disappointing, but I’m seeing now that I would have had to leave the trail anyway, due to the approach of Irma. I feel so bad for all those millions of folks whose homes and communities are threatened. This certainly puts a delayed hike into perspective.

      I’m glad you like the last photo. It was taken in Virginia, probably in the Shenandoah National Park. It’s photos like that that seduce hikers onto the trail. Look back further towards the earlier part of the post: the lovely field of ferns with a trail composed completely of #$%&@ large rocks set on angles for several miles. That’s also a part of the reality of the AT. But it keeps calling one back, nonetheless…

  • Hugh HUBBLE : Sep 5th

    Well I’m sorry to hear that you have curtailed the hike. You may remember that I know quite a lot about tendinitis.
    Some of the photos you have posted throughout show more rock than I would have expected but I remain ignorant of your part of the world as you will know. My point is; footwear. What do you think?

    Love the last photo…Marilyn Monroe pose 😎

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Hi, Hugh! (Readers, this fellow has the great fortune to live in Evian, France, at the base of the Alps and on the shores of Lake Geneva. Paradise!).

      Yep, lots of rock. And I haven’t even gotten to New England yet, which has the hardest sections of the trail, but also the most stunning. All in good time.

      Yes, I’m reconsidering footwear. Even though the great majority of thru-hikers now prefer lighter weight trail runners for their agility, I’m thinking I’ll give my trusty Lowa hiking boots another try. They served me well on Kilimanjaro last January, although that was 9 days, not 6 months.

      Marilyn Monroe in an orthopedic boot. Charming. Would JFK still have been attracted? I don’t think he looked down at her feet, come to think of it.

  • Connie Kroos : Sep 5th

    I am so sorry for your misfortune after so much diligent planning. I truly admire your efforts Ruth and believe that you will finish the trail, just a little differently than planned. I can’t wait to see you again back in Cincinnati. Quick healing! Connie

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Connie, thank you for your encouraging words. Yes, I’ll get back out there, with a change in plans but the goal of finishing the whole trail still intact.

      Thanks for writing.

  • Cynthia Smith : Sep 5th

    So sorry to hear, but I think you are being sensible. Better to heal and walk another day! Still very impressed with what you have accomplished!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Thanks, Cindy! Healing has already begun nicely, and you’re right, I’ll get out there another day. I was pleased when I added up the total, too. 500 miles on the AT is a whole different kettle of fish than 500 miles on a road or park trail. I’m surprised I’ve done that much already. It tells me I’ll be able to do the whole thing.

      I’m presently reading a book about a blind hiker who did it in the ’90’s with his seeing eye dog. I am completely humbled.

  • Rhinestone : Sep 5th

    Ruth, Sorry for you having to delay or maybe end your hike. 500 miles is incredible. Logic is the name of the game after passing halftime in life. I certainly enjoyed your fun writing. Best of luck and I will be hoping to see you back and able.

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Thank you, Rhinestone, for your kind comments. Yes, the delay is disappointing, but, as I’ve said to others, I’m seeing now that Irma most certainly would have forced me to quit early anyway. A whole lot of damage will need to be cleaned up after she passes through. I’m wishing I was in condition to help the volunteer trail clubs start cleanup. I might go out and help shuttle volunteer workers to the trail or get their lunches or something.

      You are so right about logic being a big part of the picture after “passing halftime in life,” a phrase I like. We just don’t bounce back like the younger ones and have the experience to look at these situations as part of a bigger picture. I’ve gotten through countless other injuries during my marathoning/hiking/triathlon life, and I know this actually is a small injury that will heal before too long. It’s mostly the pride that hurts and the disappointment that stings.

      I’ll be back! I’m already looking around to see what foods are in season at farmers’ market that I can dehydrate for 2018’s hike.

  • Margaret McLandrich : Sep 5th

    Ruth, 500 miles is amazing! Just being alone in the woods, breathing in fresh air and enjoying nature is good for the soul even though it was bad for your feet! I am proud to know you, Ruth. What a great effort you made. And section hiking the AT will be rewarding. You are very smart to take care of yourself. I hope you have a quick recovery.

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Margaret, you are so very right about how good the fresh air and nature is for the soul. On my last day on the trail, I knew by the final few miles that I would be returning home. I took several opportunities to stop hiking so that I could just look around at all the greenness, breathe in deeply, and listen to the total silence. It’s wonderful, as you, an accomplished backpacker, well know. I wish everyone could experience this. They don’t have to hike hundreds of miles to get it.

      Thank you, and I’m proud to know you too!

  • Julia Kinlaw : Sep 7th

    My heart is with you, hoping to help mend yours as you recover in Nashville, but it seems you have this disease that will only be cured by getting back to your trail when you are fully recovered and ready to walk that next section. How amazing you are with your planning, preparation and reasoned approach to getting this done. I have no doubt that you will finish completing your vision when you can. Thanks for taking me with you!!

    • Ruth Morley : Sep 8th

      Julia, you are so dear. Thank you for your comment. I have to smile when you call this a “disease,” which really does seem to be the case for nearly every person out there on the trail. Even as challenging as the Appalachian experience is, with its terrain, water difficulties, weather, and stinky, unwashed living conditions, we just forget and beg for more.

      Thank you for following me on this journey. Let’s all take a breather and then reconvene not too far in the future.

  • Edward Goode : Sep 10th

    Ruth – I just caught up to this post a day or so ago and my heart breaks for you and how much you put into this. As others have shared, I have no doubt you will re-strengthen and heal and be back on the trails in the time ahead.

    What came to mind for me as I read this were the words of Psalm 121 which say, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” I have heard that psalm called the hiker’s psalm because of that opening. May you find strength and healing through those words, the power of the love of your family, and the presence of God.

  • Ruth Morley : Sep 10th

    Thank you, Ed. I do know that I will get back on the trail when the time is right, but the disappointment of having to stop earlier than planned is very real. Your concern means a lot to me. Meanwhile, I wait.

  • Carol : Sep 11th

    Listening to your body can be grueling, when the spirit is out of sync with what you demand of yourself. I’m so sorry for your anguish in not doing this in the way you had intended, but glad for you that you have accomplished so much and that you will continue your journey again. I think you’re amazing for going after your goals the way you have, and there is nothing shabby about 500 miles! Be gentle with yourself, both physically and spiritually, and thank you for writing about when things are hard, and not just when things are going well, since the beauty in life accounts for all of it.

    Big hugs to you.

    • Ruth morley : Sep 12th

      Carol, so beautifully said. Thank you.

      After a week of the blues, I’m back into planning mode, looking forward to hitting the trail again next spring. Key changes: lower mileage each day and no longer pushing to complete the entire trail within 12 months. There’s no rush. After all, I’m retired. I’m very fortunate to have the time.

  • Christine Graeter : Sep 11th

    My dearest Ruth – finally got some uninterrupted time to read your blog and was greeted with this heartbreaking entry. Air hug, air hug. <3

    We both know that you CAN and WILL heal. You are not alone on this journey. And your persistence has consistently been your travelling companion.

    I am sending love and prayers. Just let me know if there is any other support that you would like from me. Deep breath….

    Please forgive me for my delayed adventure through your earlier blogs. While you have been exploring the AT, I've been at home juggling many balls. All good… I'm simply not good at letting any of the priorities drop. Bet the Type 1 in you can relate to that dilemma.

    So I'm off now to enjoy your adventure vicariously by starting from the beginning… and commenting along the way. I hope that my observations may serve to bring a little joy back into this difficult transition in your adventure.

    With much love,


    • Ruth morley : Sep 12th

      Christi, you’re amazing. I’ve seen all your comments on earlier posts and do appreciate that you actually read them all. Beyond the call of duty!

      Disappointments happen, but I’ve been down this Injury Road many a time before. I’m fortunate it’s nothing really serious.

      Already planning next spring’s return!

  • Doodle bug : Sep 24th

    Sad you had to get off the trail . Thanks for the flowers.

  • Ruth morley : Sep 24th

    Thank you for continuing to follow my blog! The bouquet of wildflowers were my only way of thanking you for leaving the jugs of water by the trail for parched hikers. As soon as I saw them there by the roadside, I knew it must have been you. Thank you for all the kind things you have been doing for others.

    I hope your knee is better and that you’re able to get some hiking done. I’m battling plantar fasciitis now, so I’m not planning on returning to the trail till next spring. Meanwhile, I’m back to dehydrating more food.

    Happy trails to you!


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