From AT to Aliens – How I’m Coping Being off Trail
One of the thru-hiking side effects is that you fall behind on current events. Apparently we’re storming Area 51. Here my friends are all worried about me coming across bears on the trail when there are aliens afoot!
I expected there to be a transition period after thru-hiking, and had read about post-trail depression, and yet somehow I’m still not sure how to handle things and what to do. Of course, I didn’t expect that I’d be coming off trail with only one state left so I could recover from an injury. Kind of changes everything and, since I’m still hoping to finish this year, I feel like I’m just sitting in limbo.
I have now learned exactly what a pulled muscle is and why it’s so serious. Because it’s torn. Why don’t we just call it a torn muscle? I don’t know. I guess it’s because it’s been pulled or stretched too far, which is what causes the tearing. I have to admit that, because I’ve never done it before, I’ve never taken pulled muscles seriously. Now that I know what it is I totally get why it takes over a month to heal. And, since I kept/keep using my muscle, I will likely be much closer to the six-week mark.
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’
I remember texting one of my friends a couple of months ago saying that when I was back we were going to have to go shopping. I’ve been wearing the same few items of clothing for months and I just couldn’t wait for cotton shirts, skinny jeans, and cute shoes.
But, sadly, my shoes don’t fit. My feet are swollen from all the hiking and have ballooned up. My sister says I have elephant toes.
Luckily, I have a pair of cowboy boots that were a half size too large before. Now I just get to be extra stylin’ walking around in shorts and cowboy boots. I’m basically like Jessica Simpson from Dukes of Hazzard, only without the killer, toned stomach. Too many on trail Pop-Tarts.
Just be Happy!
I actually think I’m experiencing some kind of endorphin crash. After hiking all day every day for four months my body has become accustomed to a certain level of endorphins. The drop in endorphins has been credited as to part of why thru-hikers feel a post-trail depression when they stop hiking. Because, as Elle Woods taught us all in Legally Blonde, “Endorphins make you happy.”
My plan was always to be immediately active in something else after the trail but, of course, the whole pulled muscle thing is putting a real damper on that. So now my endorphins have plummeted and I think I’m going insane.
Trying to Exercise
Regardless, I am still trying to get some exercise in. I have had varying levels of success so far.
My Backpacking Attempt
I did actually try to hit the trail again already. I went out after two weeks. I know. I know. I was told four to six weeks recovery and I gave myself two (note the “not taking the injury seriously” thing). But my leg was feeling better; not perfect, but better. I guess I just figured that I hiked on it for 465 miles already and, with the couple of weeks recovery, I should be able to push through two weeks.
Well, I was wrong. I planned on doing it out of order. I thought it would be a better idea to pick up farther north in Maine instead of hopping back into the hardest section of trail. Then, after summiting Katahdin, I could go back and fill in the gap. The idea was a good one but it didn’t matter. I drove myself up to Maine and managed only 15 miles before realizing that there was no way I could push through two weeks. I’m glad I tried, though. Not to mention lucky that I live close enough.
I gave myself full rest at the beginning but then started doing some short, easy walks. At first I did two miles on a flat, concrete boardwalk and struggled a bit to keep up. But, as time has passed, have been able to walk without difficulty.
I attempted riding a bike. Since lateral movements are the hardest I thought the simple movement of pedaling would be OK. I did just a short 3-3.5 miles just to feel it out. The uphills hurt my muscle but I don’t think had any long-term adverse effects on it.
One thing that I’ve pretty much had to omit is stretching. This always surprises people. But, now that I know that the muscle is hurt from being too stretched out, it makes a whole lot of sense. So stretching is a big no-no.
Which is pretty frustrating. I have tried some light stretching targeting muscles that aren’t the groin but it still seems to aggravate it. It’s almost like the body is all connected or something. But it’s left me feeling overall stiff.
I went swimming. I hate swimming. Nor am I very good at it. And by that I mean, my five-year-old niece is a better swimmer than me. No, really. But desperate times, am I right?
Upper Body Strength Training
I’ve been trying to stay on top of doing some strength training in my upper body (working on that Daisy Dukes flat tummy). I can’t believe how many ab exercises that I can’t do because it involves too much movement or strain in my legs, but I can do crunches and planks. Super fun.
In Other News…
I don’t know how many thru-hikers stay on top of the news while they’re away but I’m not one of them. I’ve now been thrown into the world of UFO’s, the Mueller testimony, and primary debates. Oh. And shootings. It makes me want to run back to the trail and remain ignorant in my cozy tent and listen to the birds. They’re a lot sweeter sounding than politicians.
Planning the Next One
I need a hiking outlet. Right now that can’t be the AT because I’ve basically planned everything I can in regards to the trail and looking at it further just makes me sad as I sit and wait until I can hike again. So, instead, I’m planning my hiking trip for next year. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s felt cathartic to still be able to look at maps and trails and focus on this activity that I love. We’ve decided we’re doing Glacier National Park. We’ve passed through there before but never gave it the time it deserved.
So now I’ve been reading, researching, googling, and looking at pictures. It feels nice and it’s keeping me distracted.
I figured this would be the main activity that I focused on post trail. But riding isn’t like other activities where I can start slow, such as the light walking and cycling I can do. I don’t even think I’d be able to get on a horse at this point; just thinking about trying and swinging my leg over makes me cringe. Sadly, riding will end up being one of the last things I’m able to do again because I’ll have to wait until my leg is at 100%. However, that’s not stopping me from visiting them. Which still makes me happy.
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