Injury By Mile 50 – What Limping Has Taught Me

If you had asked me three months ago what my biggest fear for the trail was, I would have said injury. I didn’t care about mountain lions, rattlesnakes, lightning, or the dark and mysterious night. It was always the thoughts of broken bones and infections that kept me up at night, which was odd because I never had any experience with backcountry wounds. Unluckily, I was awakened to not only one, but two.

One of my worst days of pain – the day I asked for help.

The Beginning of the End

By the time I caught up to my friends at Lake Morena and took off my shoes, I noticed a great, big, beautiful blister on my left foot. It didn’t hurt, but someone advised me to thread it. I didn’t do it right since I took out the thread and didn’t tape it afterward. But at the time, I wasn’t aware of my mistake. The blister became more and more painful as I limped the last couple of miles into Mt. Laguna. Again, I took off my shoes and flashed my foot to everyone at camp. One woman gave me a blister pad meant to stay on my foot for three to four days. I was so thankful for this miraculous piece of first aid because it gave me slight relief from sharp pain I experienced every step.

Wimp with a Limp

Around mile 45 I started to feel a sharp pain in my right foot. I didn’t roll it or anything, so I figured I was fine. This was also my first big-mile day at 19. When I woke up at Sunrise tent site, I couldn’t even stand. Both my ankles were so tense that packing up my stuff was miserable. My friends and I were all trying to make it to Scissor’s by nightfall (another big mile day) and I was pushing myself to keep up with them. After about 11 miles, I saw some of Danielle’s friends. My pride and dignity and whatever else were so far gone that I crawled up to them and asked for help. Angie helped me with my blisters that night, which I am so thankful for. Between infection and straight-up nastiness, she saved me. We made it to Julian the next morning, but I still couldn’t shake the pain in my ankles. I kept telling myself that everyone was in this much pain and I had to push through it. Julian was also the town where people started calling my foot the Beast and me Trench (both have luckily faded as I’ve healed).

Mangled Ankles

Out of Julian, I was in the worst shape I’ve ever been in. Erik walked behind me, and thank God he did. I wasn’t able to do more than six to eight miles to Warner Springs. Doing such small mileage is pretty dangerous in the desert. There were many times where I was risking it by walking so slow with no water sources. We took two full days off in Warner Springs to let me heal. My blister finally healed enough that it wasn’t too nasty, but my ankles still made me miserable. Every single step hurt worse than the one before and I couldn’t convince myself any longer that it was normal and how everyone felt. So I hitched into Idyllwild and skipped 24 miles. Let me tell you, skipping parts of the trail feels like a part of your soul is being removed, but getting healthier and finishing the trail is the ultimate goal. I visited the doctor, who said I wore out the soft tissue in my ankles and also have Achilles tendonitis in my left ankle. He told me to go home. And I told him to give me another option — two weeks off in Idyllwild. Slowly my right ankle felt better and better, and my left ankle took longer, but eventually wasn’t constantly throbbing.

The Progression of My Demise

What I Learned From My Injury

I guess I should mention the point of this blog. “What Limping Taught Me”.

I think I learned more from having an injury than I could have if I were crushing miles. The first thing I learned was that a thru-hike is not a competition. I’m not out here to get the FKT, and most people aren’t. I am here to finish the trail, whether I finish it in five and a half months or six. I was constantly looking at the Instagrams of people who started on the same day as me, or people who I liked hanging out with. Why were they towns ahead of me? Why couldn’t I keep up? I was taking everything so personally. Now looking back at those hundred miles I walked in pain, I did those with an injury. I’m not sad that I went slower, I’m proud that I didn’t give up.

Along with the sappy thru-hike feels, I learned some very concrete lessons as well. Like sometimes medicine is worth taking, letting your body heal is worth the time it takes, and you must eat enough protein to sustain your body’s functions.

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