We had just crossed the 2016 official halfway point of the Appalachian Trail, which usually changes annually due to re-routing.
I was feeling good about the accomplishment, but not good about my injury. We had gotten a late start since we had celebrated the holiday with a bunch of stinky freeloaders (said out of love), at my home in Maryland, and just got dropped back off on the trail in the afternoon. Most of us were still a little fuzzy from a weekend of celebrating Independence Day, so we weren’t motivated to hike far anyway. We crashed at Toms Run Shelter with Wok, Cautious, and Big Red. Refill hung out for a minute, but decided to hike on a little further.
There was a section hiker there too, who was rather quiet and minded his business. Then there was a group of teenaged girls who had pranced back to the shelter for a little party. They were incredibly obnoxious and loud the entire night. They gathered in a circle right next to where Big Red and Cautious had set up their tents (they were inside of them trying to sleep at the time), and they proceeded to scream and laugh wildly. It was super annoying. We realized that the seclusion of the AT that we had enjoyed was going to be limited for this stretch of the trail.
The next day we hiked on to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The home of the Half Gallon Challenge!
For those who aren’t familiar with it, those hikers that are up for the challenge purchase a half gallon of ice cream from the General Store at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and if they finish eating all of it, they receive a wooden spoon and bragging rights.
I’m not big into ice cream (I’m not lactose intolerant, I’m just weird), so I decided just to eat the Hiker Burger instead. Refill went for the half gallon challenge and although he was starting to regret his decision near the end, he annihilated it!
Since Refill was more of a night hiker now, he decided to hang out there all day rather than hike on with us. Big Red hiked on ahead of us and we thought Wok did too, but he stopped at the swimming hole nearby where we caught him people watching and “sunbathing” in long-sleeves and leggings. We hung out for a little while and checked out the AT Museum with Cautious, then continued on the trail.
The terrain started out as a flat gravel pathways and paved roads, which would soon change to rocky climbs and climbing through rock mazes.
We took a break at the James Fry (Tagg Run) Shelter. I tried stretches, and tried calling the doctor I had seen previously to see if there was any way possible I could get a refill on my prescription of pain pills at the next town. No such luck.
We eventually made it to Alec Kennedy Shelter for the night. I knew I had to make a decision soon. My pain was getting unbearable, and I couldn’t afford to see a doctor every time I needed a refill of pain pills.
There were a bunch of new people at the shelter that night, but we also ran back into Schnitzel who we hadn’t seen since Maryland. One of the people we hadn’t met before, slept in the shelter with us, snored loudly, and flopped around like a fish very violently on his sleep mat the entire night. It was so intense, Frisbee thought the guy might unintentionally clock him in the head.
After a restless night, I made the decision I was dreading to make. While I was still fairly close to home, I decided to head back there and rest for 2 weeks and hope that my injury, whatever was wrong with me, would heal up. If all went as planned, I would get dropped off wherever Frisbee ended up on the trail and make up the miles later. We already had planned to make up the miles down in North Carolina after the wildfires had nearly 15 miles blocked off, so why not? I still couldn’t hold myself together and broke out in tears. I knew this was temporary, but feared it wouldn’t be.
We hiked through farmland to get into Boiling Springs with Big Red. Boiling Springs was a cool little trail town with a lake full of ducks, geese, and swans. We visited the AT Conservancy office, then searched for a place to eat. We ate at Café 101 and called to see if there was vacancy at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse, listed in the AWOL guide as “Your zero-day oasis in PA”, and then I called my dad to see if he could pick me up the next day. We wandered around town as we waited for the local tavern to open so we could enjoy a few drinks before heading to the resort. Wok, Cautious, Frisbee and I hobble up the road to the resort.
As we approached the many buildings that made up the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse, we noticed a lot of “Auction” signs surrounding the property.
We asked the lady at the front desk for a room and about all the amenities. Apparently, the property was up for auction, so it was no longer much of a “resort” or “playhouse.” The pool was even drained and gated off. At least there was a bed and a shower, which was all I really needed at that point. We returned to the tavern after rinsing off and even let Refill catch a shower too before he hiked on. I said goodbye to him, not knowing if I would ever see him again. I was getting more depressed by the minute.
I got picked up the next day. My parents were nice enough to cover the cost of my next doctor’s appointment and for an x-ray which I had been dodging due to my insurance not getting processed and me being short on funds. The doctor suspected an issue with my joint connecting my femur to my pelvis.
I got an x-ray the next day and the news was bad. I had a stress fracture in my pelvis in the inguinal region which is why I had been feeling the pain in my leg. I could return to the trail, but it would be risky, and the pain wasn’t going to go away unless I rested for a minimum of 2 months, but likely much longer. I felt fractured in more ways than one.
I shared the news to Frisbee and told him it would be very unwise for me to return to the trail, although it crushed me to call off my thru hike. I fell into a deep depression. Although I felt like I was dying inside, I encouraged him to keep hiking since this was a dream for him too, and I didn’t want to interfere with him reaching his goal. I was worried he would return home early, not on his own terms, but simply because he felt sorry for me.
I asked him to really think about finishing and he hiked for several days, but soon decided he didn’t want to summit without me, and I picked him up in Port Clinton five days after I had left the trail myself. I asked him if he would be willing to re-hike the whole thing start to finish with me next year. I knew there was the option to just complete the other half of the trail, but I craved that “thru hiker” status! He said he would be more than happy to do it all over again. I’m a lucky gal!
I hate to end my story on such an un-eventful note, but this was how my 2016 hike went. Although I never got to finish and it took about 5 months to fully recover, a lot of good came out of my journey. I met a lot of incredible people along the way, many who I still speak with and whom I made lifelong friendships with. The bond with my husband has become stronger through this experience. I’ve regained a faith in humanity through the kindness of complete strangers on and off the trail. Although I still battle with my demons, I’ve gained a strength, inner peace, and confidence in myself that I never knew I could have. Although I will be on the trail with a whole new group of people, I am confident that my journey will be equally, if not more rewarding the second time around. I thank you for reading, and hope you’ll join me on my second attempt on the Appalachian Trail, as well as the many long hikes I plan to accomplish in the future ahead.
Total AT Mileage: 1,106.6 miles
AT Mile Marker Reached: 1121.0 miles
Additional Approach Trail Mileage: 8.8 miles
Miles Missed Due to Wildfires: 14.4 miles
Miles Missed Due to Injury: 1,068.1 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 81
Number of Zero Days: 20
Average Mileage per Day Total: 13.7 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 9.3 miles (3 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 3.5 miles (mile mark 802.6 to Buena Vista, VA)