There’s No Right Way to Hike the AT
Hi friends! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s actually been even longer, because I wrote most of this post nearly two weeks ago when I was just starting the rocky sections of PA, and Now I’m finished with PA, as well as most of NJ, and in New York. I got to stay with a friend in Jersey which was nice (S/O eva and bob!!!) and her dad took me to slackpack and then my brother and SIL stopped by to visit and take me to lunch. I had an old cross country friend from high school reach out to me and offer me discounted replacement Hokas since PA obliterated mine, which was incredible (S/O kenzy!!!!)
I just had/still have a pretty nasty infection from an insect bite on my arm that cost me several days off trail and a trip to both urgent care and then the emergency room, but I’m finally on some antibiotics that are working and I’m hoping it heals up nicely. I’ll be doing a lot of slack-packing out of Poughkeepsie this week for East-of-the-Hudson-River-New-York, and Connecticut.
It’s been a crazy ride on this trail. Leaving the “purist” mentality behind was the best thing I did in regard to actually enjoying my time out here. There are no rules anymore. I can hike, I can take zeros, I can take side quests and do what sounds fun instead of thinking all day “I have to make 15 miles a day with no zeros to get there before October” and then stressing when I get hurt, or get a late start, or want to avoid a storm, or spend a day (or two) at a super cool drive-in theater in Warwick to watch Barbie for the second and third time. The actual TRAIL is actually the least important part at this point for me. I do expect that to change when I need to be a little more serious about my goals in Vermont-New Hampshire-Maine. I do get to make a side quest home for a wedding in three weeks, which I’m super excited for!! (S/O noff!!!)
Okay, so from here, this is a post I wrote about two weeks ago while sitting in a creek. I give a little recap of late May-now, which is basically when shit went off the rails and I stopped being a purist since I had to go home for injury. I’ve also struggled mentally on trail, so I talk about that a bit too. Okay, so put yourself back in time two or three weeks to when I wrote the rest of this and…. GO.
My hike came to an abrupt halt over a month ago, when the pain in my ankles got to the point where I couldn’t really even walk. I have a pretty high pain tolerance (I once broke my arm and played two more softball games after because “it didn’t hurt that bad”) So, I went home, saw my doctor, he recommended three weeks off, I took less than one, then went back to trail and within two days I was headed back home for my ankles, but I was also, and more so, struggling mentally being back on trail. It felt like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t meant to be there. It wasn’t a “I can’t do this” kind of thing, more of a “what’s the point of this? why am I wasting time here when I could just be at home with my parents and friends or back at Yellowstone with my boyfriend, friends, and making money again?”
That was the first time I’d been on trail and actually WANTED to leave. It really messed with my head, because I been devastated to get off trail when I had to for my ankles. So, I decided to listen to the doctor and head back home for a few more weeks. During this time, I took prescription strength anti-inflammatories around the clock, wore my braces most of the day, did lots of stretching, and stayed off my feet as much as I could (that was a lie, I took a side quest to my second home Yellowstone NP to visit my friends and boyfriend).
I had a great time, but then I felt it was time to go back to trail. I’d taken three more weeks off, I wasn’t in any pain walking anymore, I was bored to death at home and all I was doing was selling my belongings and deep cleaning my parents’ house because instacart/doordash weren’t giving me much, and I really, really missed the trail. So I booked a flight to DC and a train to Harpers Ferry, where most of the bubble and my friends were. I decided to skip Virginia for now and go back to it at the end.
I’d never been so bored in my life as I was at home. It was pretty surprising then, that literally day one back on trail, I was looking up flights back home and job applications for my local Starbucks. Luckily, I ran into some people I knew from earlier and they helped me get going that first night. Everything in my being wanted to leave and go be with my family again. I’m not sure if it was homesickness per se, but I felt stuck because I desperately wanted to go home, despite not being ready to give up on the hiking season.
So, I told myself I had to stay out for at least a week, even if I only hiked a few miles a day and just shelter hopped. I used to do that when I didn’t feel like exercising, but knew I needed to move my body. I get started but tell myself that I’m allowed to stop after 15 minutes if I still really don’t want to, but once I get going, I usually get into it and don’t stop after 15 minutes. I don’t think I ever actually have, so I knew it would work, and it did.
That was about 150 miles ago in Harper’s Ferry, WV and early Maryland – I’m now part way through PA. (Edit: I’m actually in New York, but when I wrote this part I was in PA). An incredible trail angel reached out to me before I even started my hike and offered to let me stay with her and cook me dinner/breakfast, resupply, shower, laundry, sleep in a bed, and I got to take advantage of that last week – she even let me bring two of my trail friends and took care of them too. Natalie was one of the greatest blessings on this journey so far. The day she picked me up, we had passed a Mennonite farm where these kids were selling raw milk, ice cream made from it, and fresh produce they grow on their farm. Some hikers even stayed the night with them to milk the cows in the morning! Would’ve been a neat side quest, but I had trail magic to get to. This week so far, we stayed at a free church hostel in the town of Duncannon, where I had THE BEST philly cheesesteak of my life at Doyle Hotel, AND tried to pet several feral cats. One was a teeny tiny kitten that I found in the street, and I was trying to get it to come with me on trail to keep the mice away. I would’ve carried it and its food and everything. I would’ve named him Duncan and he would’ve grown up on the AT. They would’ve made a movie about it on lifetime, it would’ve put Marley and Me to shame. Probably for the best I didn’t catch it, because my parents tend to get mad when I bring random animals to their house and leave them there when I go to Yellowstone. Also, my cat Steve (who yes, is at my parents’ house) would get jealous.
Well, since I got back it’s been HOT. Very hot. Humid and hot. Not fun, lots of sweat, lots of sunscreen, lots of bug spray. I sent my puffy jacket home and sleeping bag (like an idiot) and am currently waiting for them to come back, because even though it’s HOT, it’s also very COLD (sometimes and only when you are not expecting it at night). So, to summarize: hot but also cold. Oh! Also, Rocks. Don’t like them. and I’m not even to the point of PA when they get bad. I’d ask for thoughts and prayers for my ankles, but as we see every other day when we have another mass shooting in the US, it doesn’t do a whole lot. Oops, got political, sorry (I’m not). Well, I’m currently sitting in a creek pretending the water is cold enough to ice my ankles and also taking a bath while I’m waiting for the boys to get to camp. They lost their tent stakes, so I am letting them use mine because I’m a granola master and figured out how to put my tent up with sticks.
Last thing: I’m very hungry. I’m always hungry. Hiker hunger is finally here. I swear it hit as soon as I got home because I was STRUGGLING to eat the first two months, but I’m thankful to have an appetite on trail now. So yeah, that’s what’s going on with me. My NOBO has turned into a funky little flip flop, and I’m hopefully going to end at Harper’s Ferry if all goes according to plan (which is very unlikely) and there’s nothing wrong with that. If the PTTD flares up again, I may have to come off trail again and that will mean I don’t get to Katahdin until after winter season at Yellowstone, but I’m going to stay positive, take it as easy as possible, hope for the best, and just keep trekking.
Edit: I had issues logging in for about a month and couldn’t post this, so I’m actually now almost done with Connecticut.
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