No matter how much you plan, you must expect the unexpected. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. As heartbreaking as it is, I must accept that my thru-hike has been cut ridiculously short due to a fracture in my calcaneus (heel). Though the fracture is slight, I cannot continue to hike as it will exacerbate the fracture causing very serious injury. I’ve been fortunate that the damage at this point is minimal and should heal nicely as long as I stay off the foot as much as possible.
This fact is devastating. I’ve planned so long and really put myself out there in front of everyone I know (and many I don’t know). It is disheartening to myself as is, I’m sure, to many who have been so supportive and had so much faith in me to complete this mission. I’m down at the moment, but I’m not out. I plan on returning to the trail after I heal, however I will not be able to complete the thru-hike. I do believe I will have other adventurous tales to tell, but for now it’s a secret.
In the very short time that I did spend out there on the trail (and time I spent in the hotel waiting to come home), I’ve learned some valuable lessons:
- You are your own worst enemy. A positive attitude makes all the difference in any situation. A negative attitude just makes a bad situation worse. I learned this the hard way. I have never been as scared as I was out there on the trail alone and injured. I probably could have averted disaster if I would have remained calm and relaxed instead of pushing myself too far out fear and panic.
- You cannot escape your demons, they must be faced head-on. Part of the reason for me going out there on the trail was to be free of expectations that others placed on me. However, approaching my thru-hike the way I did, I just created the same situation that I’ve been trying to avoid. I put myself out there and created so much accountability that I found myself again, trying to meet everyone’s expectations. Outside of that, there’s a level of expectation on the trail in the sense that you find yourself pushing for those miles to keep up with others that started the same time you did it with those that you’ve met along the way. In my case, it wasn’t to keep up merely because I wanted to do the same mileage as everyone else did (although those thoughts did cross my mind), it was so that I had some sense of familiarity in a world of unknowns and so that I didn’t feel so alone.
- Everything happens for a reason. I was supposed to start my hike at Springer Mountain and I ended up having to start at Amicalola Falls instead. Since Joe was hiking the first week with me, we parked our car at Hiawassee where he would leave the trail and go home. When we got to Amicalola to start the hike, we realized we left out trekking poles in Hiawassee. Luckily, the Amicalola Visitor Center had some poles for us to use. If we would have started at Springer, as was intended, we would have had to trek without poles across ice and snow-packed terrain.
- It’s times of hardship that can make or break relationships. My husband and I have been through some really bad experiences and have survived a near-divorce. It’s those experiences that have strengthened our relationship and even though our first week on the trail was wrought with obstacles (freezing cold, snow, ice, and rain), we genuinely enjoyed it together. We had some folks say that if they were hiking through all of that with their spouse, they would be divorced. I believe that it was another experience that has created a stronger bond between Joe and I that I’m ever so grateful for. I hope we can do a long-distance hike together in the future.
- You can never eat enough while on the trail. I was struck with some strange hiker sickness that prevented me from wanting to eat and when I did eat, no matter what it was, it tasted disgusting. The lack of food caused severe fatigue, amplified every hill I encountered, and made my pack feel much heavier than it was. Apparently, this happens to some hikers. In retrospect, I should have forced myself to eat, no matter what. I’m sure this was a contributing factor to my demise. In general, you are never going to be able to consume as many calories that is needed for thru-hiking the AT, but you have to make a serious effort to try to get as close as you can (that’s generally about 6,000 calories a day).
- Long-distance hiker folk are a special breed of people. These people truly love life and have an appreciation for nature and simplicity that is an example of which all of the human race should learn from. These people are the Olympians of the backcountry and have endurance that parallels that of the greatest athletes out there. They have the mental stamina of the most determined gold-medal winners and in my mind, are clearly underrated when referred to as ‘Hiker Trash’. Even though that term is accepted as non-discriminatory and is even used affectionately among hikers, I find it offensive and feel that it should be replaced with ‘Hiker Heroes’. (Disclaimer: There are those out there, such as those who scatter their crap (sometimes literally) along the trail like a trail of breadcrumbs, those who leave their junk in shelters as they go, and those who have a sense of entitlement and disregard even the smallest of social graces, who should bear the name ‘Hiker Trash’.)
- You never know what you’re capable of until you actually try it.
- Even if you aren’t successful at something, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed as long as you gave it a go.
- Beating yourself up over something you could have done differently isn’t going to change what’s happened. You need to accept what is and move on. ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ as they say.
The biggest lesson learned is that when things go wrong, you just need to keep smiling and know that eventually something will go right.