The Challenge of Listening to My Body
Not every day on trail has been easy. I had achieved my first goal of making it the first hundred and wasn’t ready to quit. I’ve had plenty of times when I was feeling low. There had been times when I was in tears and called loved ones for support. Sometimes I felt like I really did want to go home. But there was always something to keep me on trail. Maybe it was the people around me or the commitment I had made to being a blogger or my posts on social media. Some days it was the promise of a beer or hot meal in the next town. Maybe it was just the next amazing sunset. Whatever it was, I kept hiking.
It was a difficult eight miles out of Paradise Valley Cafe on day 14. I was feeling pretty low. My left foot had been aching for days and I was limping around camp. Ahead of me was Apache Peak and a section of dangerous trail that had already resulted in multiple falls and helicopter evacuations. A local search and rescue team had been at the cafe earlier that day and had warned us hikers about that section. I was nervous but was ready to tackle the challenge.
I awoke early on day 15 and packed up camp. I took ibuprofen and tried to ignore the pain in my foot. This had been totally doable the last few days. But as I set off, it became clear that that strategy wasn’t going to work. I hadn’t even gone a quarter mile when I had to stop and sit down. The sun was just coming up and the mountains were beautiful. Despite this, I did not feel OK. My foot didn’t just feel sore. It felt injured. It was a thought that I had been pushing away since I had reached camp the night before. I decided to call my mom and get her advice. I admitted through tears that I thought I may have a stress fracture.
Listening to your body is such an important part of the trail but I was learning just how difficult that could be. I didn’t want to be injured and I didn’t want to take more time off of the trail. I was out doing what I loved and was having the time of my life. The anxiety I was feeling was overwhelming. I was two days from the town of Idyllwild, where my parents were planning on meeting me but it was dawning on me that making it there safely would be a challenge.
I wanted to push on. The trail is full of hardships and challenging moments that must be embraced. This turned out to be one of my most challenging moments yet. I made the decision to head back down the trail to Paradise Valley Cafe. My parents agreed to meet me there.
The climb the day before had been hard but going back down the way I had come was even harder. I cried and cursed as I slowly made my way back to the cafe. I was beyond frustrated. My foot hurt but the loss of forward progress on my journey was even more painful. I was going the wrong way and I felt like a failure. I passed other thru-hikers on the way down and had to admit to them that I was hurt and was getting off trail. It was my hardest day on trail by far.
Rest and Healing
When hiking the PCT, you have to be flexible. Plans change and things happen. I had already learned this when I rolled my ankle the week before. But the uncertainty I was feeling this time was new. I knew that a stress fracture wouldn’t be solved by simply taking a day or two off to rest and ice my foot.
Even after days off trail, I’m was still feeling that frustration. I was upset when I woke up and my foot still hurt. I would feel hope that I’d be able to walk normally after every session of icing and every Epsom salt soak. Going from walking many miles a day to spending long hours sitting down was a struggle.
After a visit to the doctor we are confident that my pain is from an inflamed joint in my foot, not a stress fracture. Instead of a month or more off trail, I was only going to be off for two weeks or so. I was given a special shoe to wear that would limit movement of the joint and put on a regiment of ibuprofen to help with the inflammation. This is a far better result than the crutches and boot that I had been expecting. Even though the injury less severe than I thought, getting off trail to heal was the correct decision.
The Good Things
Being off trail isn’t easy but it has given me time to prepare for the next leg of my trek. The doctor recommended a change of shoes that would give me more support. I’ve been able to go through my gear and eliminate items that I was carrying and not using. I have been able to build some resupply packages now that I have a better idea of how much, and what kind of food I need. On top of all that, I’ve gotten to spend time with my family and was even home for my dad’s birthday. I’ve really tried to make the most of being off trail.
I have been cleared by the doctor to return to the PCT and I will have to really focus on not going out too hard. I will limit my mileage and take it slow to get my body used to the daily strain of hiking again. I’ve been sitting at home for long enough. The PCT is calling me.
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