The Trail Has Been Great, but My Feet Let Me Down

The last week and a half of this adventure has been quite the roller-coaster. North Carolina has been wonderful, harsh, beautiful, and challenging. I have felt more prepared for the cold and snow; half the battle is in your mind. If you can find something to appreciate, the bad isn’t so bad. The cold hurt but damn it was beautiful.

I have met, and reconnected, with a lot of really great people over the last week and a half. It’s amazing how soon on the trail you can find yourself falling into pace with certain groups of hikers. I still prefer to hike by myself and often spend the majority of the day alone, but I enjoy the company and camaraderie I’ve found with my fellow hikers at the end of the day at camp. However, when the temperature drops it makes for a rather brief window to socialize before needing to hunker down in your sleeping bag in order to stay warm. Cold nights are quiet nights.

The Hike

The Southern Nantahala Wilderness is beautiful and challenging. I can feel myself becoming stronger and better conditioned for the mountains every day. I have definitely experienced soreness and fatigue here and there, but taking a brief break and boosting my calories has seemed to do the trick for most of my body. Unfortunately, shortly after returning to the trail from my zero day in Franklin, N.C., I began experiencing some rather severe pain in my feet. I pushed through hiking two days and it only seemed to be getting worse and began affecting the way I walked. The third day I hiked into the Nantahala Outdoor Center (the NOC) and spoke with a very knowledgeable and experienced outfitter salesman about the condition of my feet and potential remedies. He hooked me up with better insoles for my boots and advised me to hike gently and that further intervention would be necessary if I didn’t feel relief soon. I spent that night at the NOC with friends to give my feet a break.

The following day I was offered the opportunity to slack pack for the first time. Slack packing allows a hiker to continue the trail without the weight of their whole pack; often just snacks and water for the day. Their pack is then driven farther down the trail to another gap by a trail angel to be picked up again prior to camping for the evening. This seemed like a fantastic idea to me, especially since my feet were bothering me so much. Hiking without the extra weight was great and allowed me to pay more attention to each step. I spent all day watching my feet and trying my best to walk carefully and evenly.

The weather was wonderful that day. Sunny and 60 degrees. I had great company on the trail and I really enjoyed the climbs, despite my pain. We met up with our packs near the end of the day, had one more brutal climb up Jacob’s Ladder, and camped for the evening at a fairly busy shelter.

Hiking all of the following day got me to Fontana Dam, North Carolina. I had already planned to do two consecutive zero days in order to rest my feet. I really enjoyed my time there with wonderful people, $2 beer, and a bonfire. I have also officially received the trail name Styx due to having made it this far on the trail without using trekking poles (walking sticks) at all, which I guess is not common. Every day I would run into someone on the trail that would ask me why I didn’t use them. I never really had a good answer; I’ve just never used them before. I didn’t really like the idea of having to carry poles all day.

However, I do plan to get some now as they are supposed to help reduce the impact on feet, ankles, and knees.

While others began returning to the trail, I ended up seeing a doctor about my persistent and worsening foot pain and found out I am the not-so-proud owner of a confirmed stress fracture across my second, third, and fourth metatarsals in my left foot. Apparently, all of a sudden hiking up mountains six to eight hours a day with 30-plus pounds on my back was just too much for my feet. The doctor suggested four to six  weeks of rest. Ultimately, this diagnosis should end my thru-hike.

The Recovery

I am currently on day five of rest, not far from where I left the trail at mile 164.4 north. I have put my journey on pause just short of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I have every intention of continuing as soon as I am able to get back on my feet. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to sit around for so long after getting into the rhythm of the trail. It’s hard to accept that taking this time off now could mean that I may run out of time to make it all the way to Maine by September, but healing is most important. I plan to spend a few more days resting and then getting back out there, slowly, with my new insoles and trekking poles and being careful not to further my injury. I believe that there is plenty more for me to experience on the trail and I plan to keep going for as long as I can, as soon as I can.

I really appreciate all of the love and support I’ve been receiving from home and from the hiking community! Thank you all and I hope to be writing a return to the trail update shortly. There really is nothing like it.

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Comments 4

  • Avatar
    keith wingad : Mar 22nd

    Kate, sorry to hear of your foot problems. I agree, poles will be a great help and I hope you find it so. As to your concern about making it to Katadhin by the time they shut it down, I have a suggestion. Thru-hiking the AT, if that is the goal, does not demand you hike a straight line. You do not have to go from point A (Springer) to B (Katadhin) or vice versa. Like so many others, I flip-flopped. My decision to do so was many faceted but my reasons are irrelevant to the goal of thru-hiking the AT. I completed all the miles and did so in a haphazard fashion. That is, besides starting at Harpers Ferry and going to Katadhin then back to HF and south to Springer, I actually had to skip around by jumping forward then coming back to complete miles I missed. It is an interesting track to say the least, certainly one that did not follow the traditional path. But the latter was not my goal, thru-hiking the AT was. So, I suggest you consider what your goal is and the method you want to, or have to, use to accomplish it. I wish you the best and hope your feet will carry you all 2,191 miles, whichever route you take. COWG 2017 thru-hiker

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Dave Michel : Mar 22nd

    I had many foot issues on 2016 supported NOBO. In 2018 finally went to a Physical Therapist w a lot of experience w running and hiking. Pointed out several things I was doing as I walked, incl supination. Gave exercises, revised walking style suggestions, etc. I made it to Maine, but 117 miles short due to stress fracture. Now hope to do Arizona Trail. Find a good PT. Good luck!
    Trail name Pitchit

    Reply
  • Avatar
    SOLACE : Mar 22nd

    Keep that head up & Spirits Soaring Styx! The AT is going no where.. and.. with a bit more rest.. you, are! I know in the BIG picture it seems you may not make your goal… but my first thru hike i did 11 mile days for 3 weeks… and then started into the 20+ days off and on… HIke SMart, Hike Healthy, Hike Happy… Rooting for you.. all the way… Cheers ~ SOLACE

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ruth morley : Mar 22nd

    Hang in there! As proud owner of stress fractures 3 different times, I can attest to the fact that they need 4-6 weeks to truly heal. I kept walking on one, not knowing what it was, and ended up in a cast for the next 6 weeks.

    As hard as it is to hear, I suggest you accept this and go home to heal. The trail will be there for you when you return.

    I followed that same advice last September, with tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, etc. and now, after a winter of healing and strengthening, I’m going back. I’ll be doing as Solace suggests above: much shorter mileages for the first month, so that I can succeed in the end.

    Give it time, heal at home and return. I look forward to reading future postings. I can hear how much you love the trail.

    Reply

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