The Story of My Red Right Ankle: Damascus to Buena Vista
“It might be time to go full grandma, Artichoke,” Gold Star noted as he passed me for the third time that day.
“This is my full grandma,” I gritted out as I continued to hobble down the trail.
The day was not going well. Two days out of Damascus and Hardcore, I was feeling refreshed and ready to take on anything the trail wanted to throw at me. I guess that’s when injuries happen. Ten miles into our 21 mile day heading into Atkins, I could barely put weight on my right lower shin and ankle.
As I was limping down the trail, I thought back on the past couple of days, which had been beautiful and full of ponies. This made my injury seem that much worse. Sure, I had definitely felt a twinge here and there heading out of Damascus, but aren’t those things that usually just go away? It was certainly easy to ignore when there were ponies to hang out with and beautiful views to see.
Right now, however, I was trying not to burst into tears. Injuries combine two things I hate: being inactive and helpless. So I continued to ignore my injury and hoped it would magically go away on its own. Until I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and I was limping down the trail instead of hiking, the ponies licking my face seeming like a distant memory.
Flame Thrower was in the same boat as I was, so we decided to zero in Atkins. It was definitely frustrating. I felt like I had finally gotten back into the groove of the trail, only to be thrown under the bus by my body. It also didn’t help that I am a hypochondriac, and immediately go to webmd for any type of pain. Strange prickling on my back? My nerves are shot for the rest of my life. Lumps on my shins? Bone cancer.
It turned out all I had was some misplaced shin splints, not the bone cancer I was envisioning, which I think made the injury even more frustrating. I’ve dealt with shin problems since high school, and they have always managed to prevent my enjoyment of my soccer career at the most inopportune moments. The shin splints had come to haunt me yet again, trying to ruin another thing I loved.
A day out of Atkins, I was feeling a bit better. After taking care of my injury for a week, they were almost back to normal. It’s amazing what stretching, a little vitamin I, and some ice will do. I think I was afraid of being left behind, of not being able to hike with these amazing people that I’ve met. But it was just making me miserable, my body was screaming at me to stop. I learned that despite meeting a whole bunch of great people, I am here for myself. Right now, I need to take care of me. I’ll catch up to everyone eventually. I learned that taking care of my injuries isn’t a weakness. I’ve always admired people who are able to recognize when they need to stop. I’m not one of those people, but I’m trying to be.
It seems like the time has flown by since then. I blinked, and I was at mile 600. I blinked again, and now I’m 800 miles into my journey, and still going.
Flame Thrower and I stayed at Woods Hole Hostel a day before Pearisburg, which was a great experience. There was something very comforting and communal about the place. Despite being a hostel, everyone lent a hand in keeping it running. We did yoga on the lawn, and helped make a fantastic dinner full of stew, homemade bread, and ice cream.
Our injuries did mean that we arrived right on time for The Captain’s Fish Fry Weekend. The Captain’s is a campsite open to hikers that the Captain runs. The catch: you can only get there via the trail by zip line. When we got to the other side, we were greeted by some familiar faces: Tunes, Snacktime, Catman, and Weeble Wobble were all there eating the Captain’s fantastic and never ending supply of food. As the night progressed, there was a massive bonfire, dancing, and even full-blown karaoke renditions of “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and “500 Miles”.
The next day, we ran into Selfy, who convinced us to follow his vigorous regiment of 20 miles a day until Harper’s Ferry. “It’s either going to be called ‘The Hype Train’ or ‘The Death March to Maine’. Only time will tell, but it’s definitely going to be worth it,” he said. What resulted was three days of downpours, and only miles in the high teens. Business as usual, then. It was slightly disappointing not to be able to see the views from McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I also ran into a small child at the 700 mile marker, who pointed to it and asked “why 700?”
“It’s 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail!” I told him excitedly, wanting him to be amazed at how far I’d walked, “I’ve walked all of them!”
“Oh.” He said, and walked away. I guess he knew how much farther I had to go.
We woke up in Daleville to Selfy puking in the bathroom. He had norovirus, every hikers’ worst fear. We booked it out of the hotel room, wishing him well, and lathering ourselves with copious amounts of hand sanitizer as we went. I was paranoid the entire day about being infected. Every time I felt slightly off, I thought “well, this is it. It’s got me”. Luckily, Flame Thrower and I seem to have avoided it.
These past two days, we have done our two biggest mile days yet: two 22s, both of them ending before 6 pm, and both without my shins screaming in pain. I was pretty proud of us. I have learned my lesson, however, and we are now taking a nero in Buena Vista to relax our bodies. My mind may have been ready to hike up to the Priest shelter today, but my body certainly wasn’t. Onwards to the Shenandoahs!
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