The Pre-Trail Trial (or: How To Make The Best Of A Setback)

I can’t dance.

It’s not that I don’t want to…not that I’m even a good dancer.

I just currently can’t.


See, I broke my ankle in a bicycle mishap on Halloween 2015. And I broke it good. Like, exposed broken bone good. A plate, several screws, and a couple of months off of my feet later – I’m cleared to walk again. The doc says I’m crazy, but there’s no reason not to go and thru-hike the AT. But for a while there, talk about feeling like the stars are aligning against my AT plans…


Ramadi, Iraq. Early 2007.

Sitting in the recreation & wellness center waiting to make a call home, I perused the bookshelves that passed for a “library”. A certain lime-green bookspine with an unassuming title caught my eye. It was Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods”. The book traveled with me through the desert for the next few weeks. I did not read it through, nor in order. But it kept me greatly amused at the times that I could open it and read a few pages in peace. Unfortunately, it was pressed into service as kindling. (Sorry Bill.) It did, however, leave a lasting impression: ‘I could do that. Better.’

Later that year I got blown the fuck up. Indirect fire while I was on foot. I should be dead. Vaporized. But no. After some months at Walter Reed Medical Center and a year on-post in the Wounded Warrior Program, the Army retired me out due to combat injuries. I had Iraqi shrapnel in my shoulder, Surgical metal to repair vertebrae in my neck, and had sustained a minor traumatic brain injury. They had said I wouldn’t walk without a cane. I battled speech issues. My balance sucked. There was the PTSD…

And who the fuck was I anymore? My “me” didn’t exist. I was medically retired at 37 years old. I felt absolutely useless. Everything I had ever worked and trained for was said to be unavailable or unattainable. I wasn’t ready for the world. I kept my ruck packed hoping for a reason to go…anywhere. I ruined relationships, battled substance issues, had legal problems, was at war with my mental health. And then I lost my Dad. Talk about a downward spiral.

But there was always The Appalachian Trail. My personal library about the AT and hiking had expanded considerably. (Yes, Bill Bryson – I purchased your book. And yours too, Badger.) Then, sometime early last year, Mom asked, “If not now, when?” And she was right. No more excuses.

Back to Now

So here I am. I walk alot to strengthen my ankle and I’ve got a few shakedown hikes coming up. There are a few extra pounds around my middle that I need to lose, thanks to being laid up. But the broken ankle was a lesson: Slow down. Reflect, alot. Do what you can with what you’ve got and what you’re capable of. Push yourself. Never quit. Move forward. And learn something new every day.

I’m stubborn. I’m driven. I’ve got the “cast stink” off of my foot. I’ve registered my start date with the ATC. I walk. And The Trail, like life itself, is just one foot in front of the other at its most basic. So let’s do this.

I’ll see you out in the Green Tunnel in 2016. No excuses.

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Comments 8

  • Amy Nickel : Jan 26th

    I am so very proud of you! I know you can do this!

  • George Turner : Jan 26th

    See you out there, Patrick

  • Nichole Young : Jan 26th

    Very inspiring! See you out there!!

  • Dave Michel : Jan 26th

    Broke my ankle and hiked (stupid) out of the Whites in 2008. Ankle still hurts some, but have over 1000 trail miles since, plate, screws and all. Twisted and pulled cartilage on other ankle last July on trail. Hiked 120 miles on it. I also will be watching my step!
    Pitchit (NOBO March 21)

  • Annabelle : Jan 26th

    ? you can doooo it! Can’t wait to hear about your adventures!

  • Brian Jaynes : Jan 28th

    As a line medic (infantry Army type) I am now on the heart transplant list because of acute heart failure and was given a year to live in 2012. Heart failure was idiosyncratic which means “of unknown origin” to the non-med speaking amongst us. So here I am almost 4 years later alive and planning a section hike of the AT with my service dog and my father. I plan to be on the trail on the 4th anniversary of my “die by date” (already have plans for my 5th – Im flying out to kick the doctor’s ass in the hospital parking lot). I was rendered medical ‘useless’ at the age of 32 but I decided to do the trail BEFORE I lost my father.

    About the third time I brought up my interest in doing the AT and was told “you cant” I bought a new back pack on amazon. Mostly because there is no greater power/motivation in the know world than telling a soldier “you cant”! I might make it 5 steps or the whole 5 million+ but you can bet your ass that I will either achieve my objective or DIE.

    So for now the gear sorting and shake-down hikes continue. If you see a very-slow guy attached to a VERY large chocolate brown lab with an old guy in front of both of us then you have officially met “You cant”. Shit – I think I just yclept myself as “you cant”: is it even allowed to self-trail name?!

    • Brian Jaynes : Jan 29th

      I have been advised to go the ‘gofundme’ route.
      looking for a service dog charity to partner with or sponsors in this (ahem, Blue Buffalo Dog Food Im talking to you!)

      “you cant” and Tomah

  • Kat : Feb 1st

    I think you may finally have won the battle, brother! I’m so proud of you!


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