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.
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!
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!
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