March 28th will always be a significant date for me. It’s the day I started my journey along the Appalachian Trail for the first time… and the second time! This day delivers many mixed emotions. Thinking back on all the memories I created on the AT brings me feelings of joy towards all the new friendships I developed, all the battles I fought and won, and all the strength I’ve found within myself. It also brings very bitter thoughts to my mind. It’s a constant reminder of my failures. As you may or may not know, I attempted a thru hike two consecutive years; a feat I never accomplished. Each stress fracture I developed didn’t just break my bones, but also broke my heart, my pride, and my soul little by little. I’d like to take this day to reflect on the past two years, and to share where it has stationed me in life in the present.
2016 in Review:
With very limited experience, I starting my journey at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia with my husband, Trevor (trail name: “Frisbee”). Before we even began our journey along the Approach Trail leading up to Springer Mountain, we met several hikers who would become our first official “trail family.” We’d hike alongside these individuals for many miles and share many shelters, hotel rooms, and experiences with them along the way. Experiences such as figuring out how to hang a bear bag, receiving trail magic for the first time, hitchhiking, and hangovers.
I’d hike a marathon’s length of trail into Hot Springs in the name of dry clothes, cold beer, and warm food. We’d also become stranded there while waiting for the wildfires to cease, and to assist others in drinking all the cold beer found in a dumpster. I would become the coldest I’ve ever been (at least up until then), hiking through icy rain, snow and powerful gusts of wind that would nearly knock me off my feet with every step in the slippery mud. We’d gain many more “trail family” members along the way, and party with them during the annual “Trail Days Festival” in Damascus, VA. We’d meet up with everyone again at the tail end of the “Captain’s” hiker feed after petting feral ponies and nearly stepping on a rattlesnake.
Nearly everyone experiences the “Virginia Blues,” however, I’d develop a much deeper case of it as I stubbornly fought off the pain developing in my leg and hip. This would slow me down, but not stop me as I hiked through the scenic “Triple Crown of Virginia,” confessed to “The Priest,” and pushed through the “Shennies“. While crossing over the Shenandoah River into the historic town of Harpers Ferry, tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that I practically hiked all the way home from Georgia.
We’d blast through the flattened terrain in my home state of Maryland, crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania, and would get “kidnapped” by trail angel, “Soggy” for a Gettysburg adventure so our German friend “Refill” could watch Germany beat the Italians in football by a close win. Frisbee and I would do some kidnapping of our own after arranging transportation for some stinky freeloaders to our house for a rainy Fourth of July celebration.
After hiking over half of the trail, 600 of those miles in pain, I’d finally throw in the towel after hiking into Boiling Springs, PA. I thought it would be temporary, but an x-ray would be the last nail in the coffin. I had a stress fracture in my hip that would take many months to heal, and it would be too risky and too painful to continue. I wanted to try it all over again.
Unable to be active for the remainder of the healing process, this incident would result in me finding an outlet. I’d do something I never thought I’d be brave enough to try by signing up to be a blogger on “The Trek” (formerly “Appalachian Trials”). I’d pour my heart out, sometimes completing up to three posts a day, to the point where my status on the blog site was upgraded from “trail blogger” to “writer.” I gained enough confidence in my writing that I decided to start a blog of my own.
2017 in Review:
I’d continue writing into the new year as I prepared to start the AT all over again. We brought our friend, “Panda” along for the ride, and hiked the first three days with our trail friend, “Wokman” from the previous year. We’d recruit a new trail family, start the “Poo Crew Privy Review” in the trail logs, and have a group yoga session after a rainstorm in Georgia. We’d take several zeros (again), in Franklin, and hike through the aftermath of wildfires into “The NOC” where we’d say goodbye to “Panda.”
Just prior to entering the Smokies, I’d develop pain overnight in my right ankle after a night in the “Fontana Hilton.” We hiked a few miles and hung out with former trail fam member “Pharmacist.” Then we’d run into another old friend, “Peanut” whose boyfriend “Cricket” was hiking that year. He’d soon become part the new “tramily.” We’d party down in Hot Springs, catch up with our old friend “Strider” before he conquered the PCT, and I’d only hike 15 miles further before taking the Greyhound bus back home to rest my ankle. It ended up being a tibial fracture.
Frisbee would hike on while I was battling depression at home. I’d visit everyone by driving down for “Trail Days,” then a month later, I’d pick up “Frisbee,” “Gumby,” and “PCP” after they walked into Harpers Ferry. After many arguments over conflicting thoughts and feelings, “Frisbee” would stick around the two weeks that remained in my healing, then we got dropped off at Delaware Water Gap, PA so we could continue our hike with our friend “Gumby.”
We’d take it slow through the surprisingly gorgeous hike through New Jersey, and party down with former hiker friend “Karma” while boating around the lake for the Fourth of July. We’d get lost on the poorly marked, trash-covered trails of New York, and I’d develop a “cankle” after getting stung by a wasp. I’d hit 500 miles in Connecticut, and we’d fall in love with the ridges of Race Mountain in Massachusetts before entering Vermont (nicknamed “Ver-Mud” for good reason).
Although we experienced a lot of rain and slop, Vermont provided the most magnificent sunset (and sunrise) at Bromley Mountain. It also brought the return of “Cricket” to our crew, and is the home of “The Yellow Deli.” They might be a cult, but they certainly provided the best hospitality on the trail! This all was followed by some awesome trail magic which resulted in a lot of hikers falling asleep along a gravel road.
New Hampshire would follow, which had some of the most brutal hiking I’ve ever experienced. We’d run back into “Middle Brother” (who I named back in Georgia), meet FKT trail legend “Trail Dog,” ate a whole lot of eggs provided by “The Omelet Guy,” and become reacquainted with several former hiker friends along the way. Not only were “The Whites” gorgeous, we’d also end up crashing a wedding, and I’d see my first moose before we crossed the border into Maine.
Just when I thought I’d be hiking the trail injury free, pain would slowly develop in my upper right leg. This would slow me down while traveling though the “toughest mile” (Mahoosec Notch) onward, but didn’t put a damper on my joint birthday celebration with “Cricket.” Later we’d live amongst ducks, score a free whitewater rafting adventure, and I’d see my second moose right on the trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness. First thing the next morning, we’d join our trail family together to hike to the summit of Mount Katahdin.
Where This Experience Has Left Me:
Halfway through Maine I would accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to thru hike the AT. Not like it, but accept that this would likely be another stress fracture and that returning to Pennsylvania with Frisbee to finish the missed miles could not be completed in the calendar year. I’d prove myself right after getting an MRI and finding out the neck of my femur was so busted, that it likely would split in half if I hiked on it any longer. I was told to get on crutches and place zero weight on my leg over the next 3 months.
As of now, physically, I’m still not in the clear to hike or run according to my doctor, since after 5-6 MRIs (I’m losing count), there’s still bone bruising in my leg. After taking blood pressure medication, as recommended from my endocrinologist to help my body absorb calcium, I’ll hopefully have positive result coming next month when I’m re-tested. As time passes, I’m accepting more and more that long distance hiking could possibly be a thing I’ll have to give up. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but I don’t want to give my hopes up.
I’ve been keeping busy working on my physical and mental health, and making money for my next adventure, whatever that may be. My husband is currently back in Georgia during our trail anniversary to hike 10-12 days to Franklin, NC with a couple of former trail companions. It breaks my heart that my health won’t allow me to join them; as much as I hate the Appalachian Trail, I equally love and miss it terribly. I don’t think I have it in me to try thru hiking the AT again, at least not anytime soon, but with a little luck and some time, hopefully I’ll be able to tread dirt along some other trails soon enough.
5 thoughts on “Reflection & Acceptance: My Trail Anniversary”
My heart breaks for you. There is nothing worse than when the heart and mind are willing and the body just doesn’t want to play fair. Take it easy and wishing you some new adventures. Mel
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I’m so sorry to hear this. I used to be a long distance runner, but a hip injury ruined that for me. It’s been a few years of PT and resting it, and I still can’t run on it. I’m starting to move on but I’m still really sad sometimes. I hope that your hip heals enough that you can still do all the things that you want to do!
I wish the same to you. Recovery is a brutal process. So is PT! ugh! Has your doc given you any signs that you’ll be able to get back to running again? It truly sucks to be held back from the things you love the most. I’m here for ya girl! I’m in the same boat and I’m looking to keep it afloat! haha!
Hey there – hip stress fracture survivor here as well. Great post. Never allowed to run again, but keeping the pack as light as possible helps me get along the trail as a section hiker. Now if only I could find someone to just carry all my stuff…. Seriously though, work on making the muscles around the bones strong. When we hurt the femur, it destroys the muscles around it all over again so embrace the process and I wish you the highest of peace and hope and light. It’s not over. Just changed a little 🙂
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Thanks for the kind words SloMo! Losing out on completing a thru hike three times to stress fractures has certainly done some damage, especially mentally and emotionally. However my spirit remains strong. I may never thru hike the Appalachian Trail, but I hope to at least finish the whole trail by the end of September as a glorified section hiker, haha! Thanks for reading! 😉
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