Long Trail: Accepting When A Thru-Hike Is Ended
The time arrived to make a decision I didn’t think I’d need to make. Do I push through this knee injury and stay on trail for as long as possible, or do I listen to my body (and my gut) and get off trail? The choice to stay on trail was based in fear: of failure, embarrassment, disappointment, weakness, and shame. Choosing to come off trail came from a place of gratitude, reverence, and humility. These are the qualities the trail brought to me again and again. So when push came to shove, my choice, while difficult, was clear.
Southbounding was an intense way to start the Long Trail. And my limited timeframe made me feel pressure to push myself past what my knees could handle. The pain started ordinarily enough, but every day it came on faster and escalated in severity. By day seven I couldn’t bend or straighten my right knee and struggled to walk, let alone tackle the climbing and scrambling I still needed to do. There was a side trail just south of Mount Roosevelt that led to a parking lot, just three and half miles away from me. I took it. My mom met me in the parking lot and that was my last day on trail.
Coming to Terms with Injury
I cried that entire day, from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep. It was obvious that the pain in my knee was not normal and that continuing on could cause permanent damage. And while on top of Mount Roosevelt, the fact that this would be my last sweeping view of the Long Trail on this trip hit me like a ton of bricks. My emotions were (and are still) all over the place, but I am slowly coming to terms with the bigger picture.
The Long Trail was a transformative experience and the decision to come off trail does not change that. It takes maturity and perspective to know when enough is enough (both on and off trail). And at the end of the day, it’s more important that I live to hike another trail than do permanent damage out of stubbornness. The Long Trail taught me how to value and respect where I am. It showed me how to let go of my preconceived notions and embrace the experience at hand.
At the End of the Day
This thru-hike was bigger than me. Together, we raised $800 for Suffer Better and Big City Mountaineers. That is something to be proud of, regardless of whether I hiked the trail in its entirety. I went out there lost and looking for purpose beyond myself. And I came out of those woods humbled, grateful, and knowing myself a little better. The Long Trail gave me exactly what I needed, not what I thought I wanted.
A Lifetime of Memories and More to Come
The lessons I learned from the Long Trail, both in training and during my thru-hike, will last a lifetime. I will always remember the kindness and support I had from loved ones and strangers alike. The beauty and sheer magnificence of the Green Mountains will live in my heart forever. I will always carry the humility, gratitude, and grace that the trail imparted on me. And perhaps the best part of this journey is that it is not over. I will finish the trail in 2021 after Vermont’s mud season. In the meantime, I will work with my doctors to take care of my knees and I will tweak my training to better support the demands of the Long Trail.
So this is not “goodbye,” it is simply “until next time.” Thank you to my support system (y’all know who you are). Thank you for donating so that this hike could be bigger than any one of us. And thank you for sharing in this journey with me. I am so blessed to have had this experience, and I can’t wait to share in many more adventures with you. Happy trails, my friend.
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