Hanging Up My Hiking Shoes… For Now

My Hiking Career is Officially Over

I’m not going to lie. I’m crushed. I’ve made two attempts, both complete failures, at thru hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). I hiked in 2016 and a pelvic stress fracture booted me off after reaching Boiling Springs, PA. That’s passed the official halfway point, but I was determined to try it all over again from the beginning.

In 2017, I returned to Georgia. I even did the 9 mile approach trail again from Amicalola Falls State Park (steps and all), to reach my starting point at Springer Mountain. One month later, I’d be off trail again for another stress fracture. This time in my tibia near my right ankle. I’d take a Greyhound bus home from Asheville to rest it off, then would return 2 months later to Delaware Water Gap, PA. The plan was to summit in Maine while the weather was legit, then make up the missed miles in the fall starting back near Hot Springs, NC.

Besides the typical aches, pains, and minor set backs, my return was looking promising. However, this would be short lived. Shortly after crossing the New Hampshire/Maine border, I’d develop pain in my upper right thigh. Determined, stubborn, and maybe a little stupid, I’d push myself through the 100 Mile Wilderness and up Mount Katahdin’s summit. I wanted to at least touch that sign even though I already knew I wasn’t going to be able to return to the south to make up the 1,005 miles I had skipped this year. I knew I would never be a “thru hiker.” My body was battered; far more than I even realized.

An Unsettling Diagnosis

Before returning to the trail this year at Delaware Water Gap, I had seen many specialists and received several tests resulting in a very premature diagnosis of osteopenia, or “bone loss.” I’m only 32 years young after all, so this is an unusual diagnosis to receive. After returning home from Maine and having another MRI, I’ve been told my pain was as predicted. More stress fractures, this time there were many of them all located in the neck of my femur. My orthopedist informed me that this time, it was extremely serious. If I continued putting weight on it, it might snap in half resulting in surgery. I was put on crutches for a minimum of 5 weeks.

The next day, I’d see my endocrinologist who would inform me that my treatment options were limited given that I was so young, and shouldn’t use up options that would be better used when I’m much older and more vulnerable to bone injuries. Unless I want to give myself injections in my stomach everyday for 2 years, I would have to hang up long distance hiking.

Dreams Erased

I had aspirations to thru hike the AT, which were clearly crushed. I planned to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail next year and then be a triple crown hopeful; nope, no longer an option. As I mentioned before, after I summited Katahdin, I knew my pain was too intense to push through hiking the remainder of North Carolina all the way to the New Jersey border. This being my second go at thru hiking the AT, and also my second time failing to do so, I’ve since realized that I’m not mentally strong enough to attempt the PCT next year as I hoped. I don’t know if I could handle the disappointment of leaving the lifestyle that I’ve grown to love so much yet again because of another injury.

A Fresh Start

So I can’t hike long distances due to a health conditions. So what? There’s still much to love about life and I’ve found passion in other hobbies and experiences to keep me going. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but all is not lost. Maybe one day I’ll feel up to hiking one of the shorter hikes on my bucket list, such as the Arizona Trail. Until then, I’m just going to swallow my pride, and focus on healing and saving money for my next big adventure. I have a lot of destinations abroad in my crosshairs!

12 thoughts on “Hanging Up My Hiking Shoes… For Now

  1. Hi Stubbs, I have so enjoyed following your AT journey and I can’t imagine the difficulty of receiving this news. Thank you for painting a brutally honest portrait of thru-hiking (the ups and downs) and for sharing your story. I am planning an AT thru-hike for 2019 or 2020 and I know it’s a huge amount of planning and anticipation. I just wanted you to know how much I love reading your work and look forward to continuing to follow your future adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Hiking the AT, or just long distance hiking any trail I’d imagine, is life changing. Don’t stress too much in the planning process. Everyone does and they all soon realize that most of it they learn as they go. I’d guess from observation that 75% of people each year have no backpacking experience at all when they start. I think most people even swap out their gear once they reach Damascus, VA while heading northbound after learning what works and doesn’t work for them. You’ll have a good time and will make lifelong friendships, some even stronger than those you’ve had since childhood. I wish you luck and if you ever feel the need to pick my brain, feel free! Thanks for reading! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stubbs, I am so proud of you. You hung in there much longer than you should have. The dream is not over. Here is why. I wanted to thru-hike too, but I was 54 years old and still had a few more years to work. I decided to section hike and legitimately walk every step of the trail. I finished the trail last year at age 60. Once you recover just consider finishing the trail in sections. I saw so many hikers, (young people) taken off of the trail with stress fractures. These are serious injuries. I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself. You have the heart and soul of a long distance hiker. Recover and hike on, just with a new strategy.

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    1. Congratulations on finishing the trail, Sundance! It’s just hard to face when you’ve invested so much into a goal. I was certain I would manage to push through the entire trail this year, but I guess my body is just not built for it. I’ll be back out hiking eventually, as soon as the wounds aren’t fresh. Thanks so much for the support and thanks for reading! 🙂

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  3. Ah pants. You poor thing Stubbs!

    I am really sorry to hear that your bones are attempting to crush your dreams. It sounds like you are taking it well and that you’ll find other super fun ways to explore. If you ever come up to vancouver, there are loooads of day hikes I can show you. Then you’d just need a day pack – would that be okay?

    If not, I’ll think of amazing outdoor swimming options. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is what it is. As long as I can still travel, all is not lost. I wouldn’t mind paying beautiful Vancouver another visit, so I might take you up on that. 😉 A friend of mine who live there tells me they have a lot of super rad hiking trails right near the city.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, keep me in mind if you come this way. We have a spare room as long as you’re not allergic to cats. We have a little dude who seems to have decided the spare bed in his territory…

        Liked by 1 person

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