Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back to Reality

My 751.1 miles on the Appalachian Trail were an amazing experience. Hiking the trail was “everything”; it was incredible, it was awful, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it was the best decision I ever made, it was an emotional roller coaster. It’s amazing how much I learned about myself once the distractions of “every day” life were stripped away. I gained a lot of confidence. I left a lot of fear and hesitation fall by the side of the trail.

I am really thankful I had the opportunity to attempt a thru hike (that is, hiking from Georgia to Maine in one stretch). A long distance hike is an incredibly tough thing to do; I didn’t realize how tough it would be when I started. Most of the time I was between 60-90% miserable, continuing to hike because of sheer stubbornness. But the few golden weeks that I had where everything was perfect (around Damascus, after the infection in my toe was defeated by modern medicine but before my leg started hurting from my hip to my knee with every step) – that was really an incredible experience.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the trail. I miss the camaraderie and have been desperately lonely at times during the past couple months (despite being surrounded by friends and family). It’s weird to not be around people united by a singular purpose. I do admit I have a bit of “hiker memory” – I tend to remember the awesome things and not so much the misery. Perfect days of partly cloudy skies and crisp weather. Getting to the shelter just before a big thunderstorm. Discovering AWE had packed me some grape leaves and pistachios for lunch. Being able to take a moment and just chill – whenever I wanted. How strong I felt when hiking up Albert Mountain and other steep terrain. How nice it was to stroll into camp and see who of my trail family I’d be spending the night with. There is an enormous amount of independence that comes from carrying everything I need on my back.

I am so incredibly proud of the people who I hiked with who are now very close to finishing. Rainbow Braid is done. M80 & Trooper (along with Willow) are almost there. Clever Girl and Dumptruck are close, I think. Lots of others that aren't keeping journals I see mentioned online...Pumpkinhead, ChinMusic, and Big Yank are still going. Shutterbug seems to be going strong on her flip flop. And every time someone I know finishes, I’m super proud of them. But there’s also a bit of disappointment there, too. That could have been me….if only…

But, it wasn’t. I’m home, back in the arms of my incredibly supportive (and like holy cow we can ACTUALLY GET MARRIED NOW) wife. I’m back in the throes of work and the conveniences of modern life. I really like the place I’m working at, I like the work I’m doing, and I do love putting money in the bank. I’m trying to keep my weight in check (surprisingly, hiking for 10 hours a day does wonder for muscle tone; and NOT hiking for 10 hours a day does the opposite). It’s hard because my IT band still acts up whenever I do anything weight bearing (even after 3 months of solid rest and stretching and PT). Don’t get me wrong – it is awesome to be home. I love air conditioning and running water and a fast internet connection like you wouldn’t believe. But there’s a piece of me that won’t be complete until I summit Katahdin.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

(a pause)

Hey there.

I have decided not to continue with my thru hike. The decision was practically made for me with the realization that if I went back to the trail immediately after finishing physical therapy* in early July, and continued hiking an average of 12-15 miles per day (probably slower in the beginning as my tendinitis is STILL killing me, after almost a month of rest), I still wouldn't make it to Maine until mid-November (and that doesn't allow for any zero days).

* I ended up having a severely inflamed IT band, along with patellor tendinitis and a ruptured bakers cyst.. Oh, and Lyme Disease (which I'm taking medication for). So the good news is - no knee surgery. The bad news is - still in pain.

I did have several options available to me:

  • I could flip flop (go to Maine and start hiking southbound), which is something I've been resistant to from the very beginning. I have in my mind that Katahdin is my end point, and it just doesn't seem as fulfilling to think about jumping ahead & ending my hike in Virginia. I think it would be really hard to complete a thru hike this way. (No offense to those who are flipflopping, though! Hike your own hike!).
  • I could hike north, knowing I would not be able to finish before Katahdin closed.
Both of those options seemed less than stellar. It seemed obvious that my thru hike has turned into one really long section hike (751.7 miles for the first section), with many shorter sections to come. This was my one shot a thru hike, and it didn't work out. But the goal of wanting to hike the entire Appalachian Trail still remains.

Once I made the decision that I would complete this goal as a series of section hikes, I thought about whether I wanted to go back out on the trail and continue to hike north this summer. The answer was a pretty definitive NO - it is getting miserably hot out there, and it seems that one of the biggest advantages to a section hike is that you don't have to hike when it's blazing hot outside.

So we'll see how it goes. I'll keep posting updates here (hopefully blogging will still be a 'thing' by the time I make it to Maine).

Thanks to everyone for your support. I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far. (I mean really, I don't even like to DRIVE 750 miles!). I wish nothing but the best to my trail family - the friends I've made while hiking, the trail angels, as well as everyone who read my blog and sent me notes of encouragement. If you want to follow my 'real' account on twitter, please do so @tinydream. Also, OWL is still out there (well, right now she's on vacation but she'll return soon enough) - so check out her blog as she continues on her journey

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 76: Wilson Creek Shelter to Jennings Creek campsite

17 miles
Hard day today. My knee is really bothering me. Last night it locked as I was rolling over in my sleeping bag, which was pretty freaky.

I've been trying to fill up on water at every opportunity, so I was planning to go off trail 0.2 miles to get to the first shelter. When I got to the turnoff, I saw Owl had left me a note that there was water 0.1 mile north on the AT. Cool! Walked was only a trickle but it was enough. I stopped for a snack and then went on.

Today I crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time on foot. It was pretty foggy so the views weren't that great. The best thing about the BRP is that there are trash cans at the road crossings! I sat down for a moment by one to call AWE and whine about my knee. I don't really know what to do about it. It is pretty slow going today as my knee hurts and ibuprofen wears off.

Caught up to Owl, M80 & Trooper at Bearwallow Gap - they had stopped to soak their feet in the creek. I talked with Owl a bit, about maybe taking a break to rest my knee. She asked if I'd be willing to shuttle around a section to give my knee time to rest, I told her I'd think about it. As you may have figured out, I'm not exactly a purist but I don't want to just blatantly skip sections of the trail, either.

I had just 6 miles to go to Jennings Creek, a swimming hole near a road, with a guy who shuttles just a few miles away. Put on some tunes to help pass the time and hiked on. Saw two more huge black snakes (they are very long!) - even though I don't think they are poisonous I like to give them a wide berth. Got to the creek about 6:30 - enough time to do laundry and have a bath in the river. Talked with M80 for a bit - turns out Trooper is hiking with a partial meniscus tear, and M80 said her doctor said if her knee starts locking up she needs to get off the trail and get it checked out. If the meniscus tears fully, you aren't able to walk (and crawling to a road isn't my idea of a good time). Told Owl I was going to shuttle around and maybe slackpack her until I could go home on the 6th and get it checked out. She was like - don't make things complicated...just go home and get it checked out now. Captain Obvious, that one.

So, I had just enough service to text AWE to see if she could book an award ticket home from Roanoke. Sure enough, one was available. And a guy was available in Roanoke to shuttle me, too. (Side note: I have tons of frequent flyer miles, and AWE's insurance only pays 65% of cost 'out of network'. So it made sense to go home to get it checked out by someone 'in network'...MRIs are expensive...)

I had a nice evening by the creek...gave away as much food as I could...went to sleep with the sound of the creek as white noise. Woke up early to see Owl & M80 & Trooper off...and waited for the shuttle guy. While waiting I discovered that, while I had clean socks & underwear & a mostly clean shirt I'd used only for sleeping in, my pants stunk super bad. They didn't stink too bad for hiking...but definitely too bad for a 'real world' airport situation. Luckily Homer the Shuttle Driver was a super nice guy, and had time to take me by a Goodwill so I could get a pair of jeans. Homer, his wife, and their two kids (at ages 8 & 10) hiked the entire AT a few years ago. They even wrote a children's book about their experience. Pretty neat guy.

And that is the story of how I ended up in the Roanoke airport, with only a nalgene bottle for a carry on.

Day 75: Daleville to Wilson Creek Shelter

11.2 miles

Left at 9am after breakfast. 18 miles to go today. Caught up with Shutterbug & Smiles, they have been hiking together for a few days. Saw Jeremiah, too...pretty impressive since he was partying pretty hard at the mexican restaurant yesterday. We ate a snack at the first shelter, where a group of college kids had spent the night on the first night of their section hike. They had a huge tent that must have weighed 30 pounds, gallon jugs of water, and one kid even had a trumpet.

Soon after morning break we came to a fast moving creek with no footbridge and no big rocks to hop across. This marks the first time I've had to take off my shoes to cross a stream! It is a real pain to take  shoes off/cross creek/dry feet/put shoes back on, so I'm glad I don't have to do it very often. The water was really cold but I managed not to fall in. There were a couple other creek crossings later that day, but one had rocks strategically placed across it, and the other I was able to go upstream and walk across a fallen branch. The streams are full of water because of all the rain we've had recently - there are even streams where nothing is marked in the AT Guide - nice to have water so readily available.

Saw a huge black snake slithering across the trail. It was long - probably 5 feet or so - and I gave a little yelp when I saw it. It's so surprising to see movement on the trail just a few feet from where my feet are. But I'm glad it wasn't a rattlesnake - I've been paranoid about seeing one ever since Greyhound saw a very large rattlesnake on the trail.

Started to feel like rain about 2pm, and I heard thunder about 2:30. I knew I was pretty close to the 2nd shelter so picked up my pace to get there. Literally seconds before the bottom dropped out of the sky, I reached the shelter. Jeremiah, Shutterbug, Smiles, Owl, and Phoenix are all here, waiting for the storm to pass. The storm lasted about 90 minutes, and when it was over we decided to just spend the night here. It was too late after the storm to hike another 7.4 miles to the next shelter (and we'd get there too late to have a spot in the shelter). Plus my knee has been hurting all day and locked up a few times today.

People poured into the shelter, everyone is getting back on the trail after Trail Days. M80 & Trooper are here, so is Big Yankee, Roughneck, Tahlal, lots of others. Jeremiah decided to move on, so did Rainbow Braid, Finder, and a couple others.