Sometimes Thru-Hikes End, Then You Get Lyme Disease

My NOBO thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail has ended. I say “MY” because my kickass husband (Zach) is still out there hiking in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Let me explain : 

While we were in the Shenendoah’s I found out from my mom that my grandma had been diagnosed with cancer. She had been having some unsolved health issues when I left in March, so I knew this was a possible outcome to that. Treatment plans were moving forward, so I decided to go ahead and head home as soon as possible. Zach’s parents (the best in-laws on the planet) were coming to visit us in Harper’s Ferry and it was easy for me to just hop in the backseat after that visit and head home. From the time I decided to go home to the time I was sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, only a week had passed.

Zach and I talked exhaustively over all of our options during those few days. I could stay on the trail and just keep checking in with my mom on my grandmas condition, I could go home for a couple weeks and come back out, or I could just go home – no strings attached. But when I really thought about it, my heart was at home. I knew I needed to be with my grandma, no matter what the treatment plan was, because it’s all I would think about during any more time on the trail and because I just wanted to be there enjoying a job-less summer with her and helping in any way I could. (She’s doing okay now, as we meet with oncologists and show up for a lot of tests that will determine her treatment, which will start in the next couple weeks)

For his part, Zach took all of this like a champ. He comforted me when I cried, and talked me down off so many ledges – about my grandma, my hike, everything. He also said something that’s stayed with me this entire time; he said “20 years from now, what decision are you going to be more proud of? Making it to the arbitrary end point of a trail or being there with your grandma?” I’ve thought about that question every day because it’s so simple – I want to be a person that loves people and shows up for them, of course I’m going to go home to my grandma. I really loved the first half of the AT, especially all the time I got to spend with my husband. I learned a lot about myself, what I value & find important, and I lost 40 pounds – it was a pretty solid 3 months, but it was the right decision for me to come home.

Don’t forget about the Lyme Disease : 

     So yeah, I have Lyme Disease. I had been having chronic intense headaches at the end of the day for about 2 weeks before I went home, also neck pain and some days where I could tell I had a fever. I blamed the end-of-the-day headaches and neck pain on my pack (I mean, I was carrying a 30lb pack for 10 hours a day) and chalked the fever up to a weird day and the heat. Once we got into Harpers Ferry I noticed some rashes on my stomach (not the “bullseye” rash, just un-raised, red, un-itchy rashes) and swollen glands on my neck. I never found a tick on me, and I never found a bite that looked like a tick bite.

BUT HEAR ME THRU HIKERS : not finding a tick or a bite clearly doesn’t matter. I got to an Urgent Care and they confirmed I had Lyme and immediately put me on antibiotics. They also told me how lucky I was to have caught it early (I probably had it about 2-3 weeks), long term Lyme is nothing you want to mess with, even cases that are caught early can mess with your body for long periods of time. If you’re feeling even a little off, or have a couple of the symptoms but no rashes (not everyone gets the rashes), please go check in at an urgent care in a close town – this thing is no joke.

All this to say : 

     I’m home. I’m currently all moved into my grandma’s house and I’m settling back into “normal” life. I drive a car and sit in a house during summer thunderstorms. Grandma and I fix breakfast in the morning and drink coffee and watch the Today show. We also go to a lot of cancer and Lyme Disease appointments. I miss the trail (and I really miss Zach), but I know this is where I’m supposed to be. I carved out this job-less, home-less time to do something I found meaningful, and I’m doing exactly that. I get to spend a summer with my grandma – sewing, working on the farm, cooking, canning, gardening, and helping out wherever I can – and I’m so happy to have the freedom to do that.

We will both continue to update the blog, because one half of this team is still out there on the AT – KILLING IT, I might add. Zach’s currently just shy of Hamburg, Pennsylvania and doing great. He’s adjusting to that solo hiker life and checking in most every day. I’m really hoping to get to see him at least once out on the trail before he finishes in Maine.

I’ll leave this post with a few pictures from the last 300-ish miles and hopefully will have some from the second half of the trail with Zach soon!

Our Cincinnati friends came to visit us in Waynesboro, VA and we got to show them how crazy rainy the AT is.

We made it Harpers! We checked in as hikers #645 & #646 NOBO in 2017

Our tramily was hauling butt to catch up with us, and they did!! Then I left (whoops). They are the best humans, so they love me anyway.

I made Zach take my “I Heart My Cat” keychain when I left – Ella the cat is now with him in spirit, I hope people ask him about it constantly.

The first thing I made when I got to my grandmas house – a huge (kale & romaine heavy) taco salad with homemade guacamole. It sure beat ramen.

In all of this I’m just lucky to have a partner that is supportive and understanding, but also independent and brave – he’s adapted to every change with grace and flexibility. I hope that I can complete the rest of the AT someday, but I know he can finish this thru-hike strong and well for both of us.

Until next time!

– Ashley

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Comments 20

  • Zach : Jun 21st

    Very proud of your decisions, Ashley. It must’ve been extremely difficult to get off trail, but the people in your life aren’t guaranteed. The AT will always be there. Sorry you got Lyme, but good on you for catching it quickly. Be sure to get on a heavy course of probiotics both during and after the antibiotics to avoid the worst of the side effects.

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      Thank you so much for saying that, it means so much coming from you. I feel the same way about the AT always being there, I’m happy to be spending my time right where I’m at. Also, hopped right on those probiotics – thank you! The Lyme seems to have cleared up with the course of antibiotics.

  • Mike Buckhanan : Jun 21st

    Ashley, high praise and accolades for the choices you made. Your true character is shining brightly. Tell Zach to save some willpower for the White’s and Maine, those mountains ahead will put you to the test…..

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      Thank you, Mike! That’s so sweet of you to say. Zach is moving pretty quickly now, but he knows what’s ahead and is ready to slow down and be mindful on those mountains!

      • Mike Buckhanan : Jul 7th

        A fun backcountry inn/cabin to meet up with Zach in the 100-mile wilderness of Maine before Mt. Katahdin is called Whitehouse Landing camps. It is a little difficult to drive back to, but once there you will appreciate the setting. The AT is across the lake from the inn and they provide a boating service to & from the dock where the AT hikers blow a horn to be picked-up. The cabins are unique and a lot of the hikers stop-off there for their big burgers. If interested, double check if it is still open and call 207-745-5116.

  • Steph : Jun 22nd

    Ashley, I am sorry to hear about your grandma. I’m glad that you took the option of going to help her and most importantly, to be there for her thru all this. Hopefully the antibiotics help take care of the lyme disease and you get back to being fully healthy quickly. Good luck with everything. Keep us all posted on both fronts.

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      Thanks, Steph! That’s so kind of you – I’m happy to be here with her too. The antibiotics seem to have knocked out the Lyme and I’m feeling really good. I’m heading to Conneticut this week to see Zach – he’s moving quick and doing great! Hope everyone there is well!

  • Barb : Jun 22nd

    Ashley sorry to hear about your grandma! You guys got this! Thoughts and prayers with you all. Glad you caught the lime early hope you get to feeling better. And again you got this! One of my favorite quotes now. Zach keeping on moving on. You got this! We still miss you back at L3. Oh and buy a lottery ticket there in PA lol. Be safe and have fun.

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      Thank you, Barb! I’m feeling really good and Zach is doing great – he’s got this 😉 I’ll try and make sure he buys a lottery ticket somewhere! I hope everyone at L3 is doing great!

  • Sandy : Jun 23rd

    Ashley glad to hear that you are doing well sorry about grandma keep in touch let me know how Zach is doing can’t wait to see you BOTH sometime after the trail love you both and you look amazing

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      Sandy, you are too sweet!! Zach is doing great, and I’m driving up to Conneticut to see him this week! He’s moving quickly and his spirits are up. And of course we would both love to see you when he gets home!

  • Kim : Jun 27th

    Sorry to hear about your grandma I will keep your family in my thoughts and prayers tell Zach I said hi and if his ears are burning it because Barb and I talk about him a lot lol you all are such a cute couple please keep us posted hope to hear from you soon

    • Ashley George : Jul 4th

      You are so kind, Kim! Thanks for thinking of Zach/us a lot – it means so much to both of us. I’m feeling great, I think my course of antibiotics knocked out the Lyme – and Zach is doing great and moving pretty fast. I’m headed to Conneticut this week to visit him for a couple days, and he should be done by late August!

      • Kim : Sep 1st

        Thanks so much for sending the pic to work that is awesome You both should be proud hope all is going well So Zach when are you coming back to work lol we miss you both enjoy your time together and keep in touch

  • Tracy aka Mystic : Jul 19th

    Hey, don’t know if it would be possible but, maybe you can find the time and money to meet your husband and summit with him. that would be an awesome end to your shared story. 🙂 all the best to you both and even though your not on the trail…keep on keeping on friend- Mystic

  • Sandy : Jul 20th

    How are you doing and your grandma thinking about you and prayers are with you tell Zach hello

  • Sandy : Aug 26th

    Is he finished yet

    • Ashley George : Aug 26th

      I just saw your last comment as well – grandma & I are well, just getting through chemo treatments for her.
      Zach is great and is finishing Tuesday! His parents & I are headed to Maine tomorrow to finish with him and bring home home!!

      • Sandy : Aug 27th

        Yeah great job Zach very proud of you BOTH can’t wait to see you BOTH and here all the stories love to you BOTH Ashley hugs and kisses to your grandma lots of thoughts and prayers for you all

      • Sandy : Aug 31st

        Great job Zach very proud of you great picture live YOU BOTH


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