An Unexpected New Route to Katahdin
Ah, my friends, stuff happens. All the carefully laid out plans must sometimes change. That’s life and one must accept it and continue on in a new direction
Quite simply, I have now called an end to my hiking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Even with the encouragement of all your emails and comments and the help of my fine trail partner, Freeman, I am 100% sure that it is time for me to get off the trail.
Why now? I only have about 10% of the trail left, and the final 100+ miles are relatively easy (well, “Maine easy,” according to the new standards up here), with the exception of the ten miles up and down the final triumphal challenge, Katahdin. I have supposedly already tackled the grand majority of the hardest sections in NH and ME. These legs have taken me 1,935 of the 2,192 miles of the present length of the Appalachian Trail.
My primary goal has now changed. It is no longer to experience every mile of the AT. It is to enjoy this grand adventure without permanently disabling my body. All the previous pleasure has recently been replaced by fear and pain. Although the younger, stronger crowd might disagree with me, I am firmly convinced that much of the trail in these last two states is frighteningly dangerous for many hikers. At times, when scrambling up steep boulder beds or smooth slabs of stone as I pull myself up with branches or roots, I have felt very much at risk of falling and breaking something. This is not the kind of hiking experience I enjoy at all.
I feel like I am betraying the upbeat optimism of the other bloggers on this fine website, thetrek.co. But this is the truth as it applies to me.
I am a 66-year-old who has demanded a lot of my body the past several decades. I have run over 50 marathons and ultramarathons; done six triathlons, including a half Ironman; cycled across the US, north to south, west to east; climbed Fuji twice, Kilimanjaro, once; hiked solo 1,500 miles in Europe from the North Sea to the Mediterranean; trekked in Patagonia and the Himalaya; dog sledded five days in the Arctic Circle; and, last but not least, further back in the past, had two babies by natural childbirth, with no anesthesia (and you owe me big time, Becky and Jon!). Before you sneer, men, you try it someday and then come talk to me.
So I’m no slouch. This is literally the first big endeavor I’ve ever begun and not completed. But I don’t consider it “dropping out.” It’s just doing the right thing for my present and future health and well being.
Why now? Why not continue to dig deep, as I have the past three weeks, and “Just Do It?”
Because I value my body. I want to preserve it and walk upright the rest of my life, and I’m not kidding about this. I began this trip with lumbar stenosis (pinched nerves in the spinal column that cause weakness, pain, and numbness in the lower body); scoliosis (a spine that curves sideways and throws things off kilter, notably the right hip); and good old arthritis. As I continue in this journey, I find the right side of my lower body drastically weakening and degenerating, with continual pain in multiple areas of my body. I know the majority of long-distance hikers attempt to valiantly push through pain. However, I can tell the difference between temporary discomfort and true pain that indicates a possibility of long-term damage. I choose to not be valiant.
Do I want to be able to continue to enjoy an active life and the great out-of-doors? Of course. Push a shopping cart in the supermarket by choice, not because of the physical need of support? Yes. Be able to play actively with my beloved granddaughters? Most definitely. Show my love to my husband? You’re darned sure. I’m not going to let the false pride of achieving a previously stated goal at any cost put my health at permanent risk.
I have now hiked in all 14 states of the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia.
I am proud. I am strong. And I’m determined to protect this body that has served me so well as I continue in my active life.
So, in what direction will I move? Here’s where a wonderfully surprising twist in the saga appears.
I promised Freeman we would go to Katahdin together. And we will. However, he will be hiking solo and I will be his linguistic aide and road support crew. After a restorative nero and zero at the homey Pine Ellis Hostel in tiny Andover, ME, I have begun my new role with pleasure. I have booked our next hostel for three days from now, have picked up a rental car in a nearby town, and am now his shuttle driver. Our goal is for him to slackpack as much as possible, for comfort and speed. I will drop him off at a trailhead, with a new lightweight daypack on his back and his heavy pack with tent, etc., in the car. At the end of the day at a predetermined trail/road crossing, perhaps 12-15 miles farther on, I will wait in the comfort of my car, with a detailed road atlas of Maine, a good book, my own snacks and drink, and an ice blue Gatorade on ice, my hiker’s favorite recovery drink. Then off we will drive to the comfort of beds in a hostel, returning to the same trailhead the next morning for more northerly progress.
Some hardcore backpackers might sneer at slackpacking and so many comfortable beds. Let them. It’s our hike. We like it, we do it. He’s hiking under his own power to Katahdin.
Today Freeman already proved that he could cover more ground without a fearful, cautious partner by his side. I’m excited for him in how much progress he will make. He has a family wedding in Switzerland that he will attend in mid-September. There will now be absolutely no problem achieving this time goal.
As for me, I’m once again singing along with Pandora radio as I do my morning yoga. The tears are all done. An excellent sermon at a dear Congregational church this past Sunday morning confirmed my conviction that this is the right thing to do.
I love to help others and also to plan and see plans to fruition. This achieves all of that.
So, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” It’s crazy how life goes. I am energized, excited, and relieved that the pain and fear are ending but the adventure continues. The rewards of helping my friend and trail partner reach Katahdin have already begun.
And after all this? I will always have a love for staying physically active. My plan the past half year has been to head in a very different direction from backpacking: Pilates teacher training. The past six+ years I have enjoyed and benefited from twice-weekly private sessions with Myra, a dear friend and exceptional, perceptive instructor.
I want to fully understand and embrace this method, which I have found to be the most positive thing I’ve done for my body. Will I teach, after I receive certification? We shall see where life leads me. I know now that I will be led in the direction best for me at this point in my life.
Thank you, friends, family, readers, for being my support team. Celebrate with me as this adventure follows an unexpected, exciting new blue blaze, fulfilling in a very different way than originally planned. Stay tuned for the final installment in a few weeks, when we all cheer for my Swiss friend as he achieves the peak of his Appalachian Trail adventure.
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