Jolly off the Appalachian Trail

I’ve been dealing with the extensor injury for a week now — the dreaded downhill from Crosby Knob Shelter to Davenport Gap — and the pain is just too much. Add to that the constantly swollen left ankle and shooting pains up the inside, it’s time to call it quits. If I have to pop a dozen ibuprofen daily just to walk — even after zero days — then I need to stop hiking. I’m also waking in the night to throbbing pain so I’m dropping pain killers to help me get back to sleep. This needs to stop.

I’m calling it a day.

Lola (Cap Dan’s girlfriend) is driving back to NY today, so to kill two birds with one stone, I’m hitching a lift. I can help with the long drive north and gas money. I’ll be back home tonight, and I’m glad.

If you asked me what I’m looking forward to the most, it would be for the pain to stop. It’s been severe and prolonged and even with time off the trail, neither injury is improving; they’re actually worsening. I need to be smart now, not proud.

I’ve had many other thru’ers suggest I take more zeros and ice and elevate, but I’m confident that even if I reduced the swelling to a normal state over time, it would return within a week – and I would be back here again with the ultimate quandary: do I push and risk further (read: permanent) injury, or do I make the smart decision and be proud of the 290.2 miles I’ve tackled and call it a day?

I’ve run through all available scenarios and I’m comfortable with the latter choice every time.

This isn’t an easy decision; I’ve been thinking about leaving ever since injuring my right tendon last week in the Smokies. I’m going to miss my very good friends that I’ve gotten quite close to over the last four weeks, but they’ll be friends for life. I’m going to miss the trail very much, too. It’s become a way of life, an organic connection to something great. I know I’m going to want to return, but not now.

I’ve had an incredible time and have spent many, many days in my own head thinking about my life, what brought me here, and what the future holds. I’m a stronger man for doing this, and for one month I took on one of the toughest trails in the world; and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

A little over a month ago I was standing on top of Springer Mountain with a truck full of balls and absolutely no clue how tough this was going to be. I certainly didn’t think I was going to be calling it quits due to injury. I’m humbled to the core, and have grown to have the utmost respect for the AT and everyone that steps foot on it.

I wish everyone else the best, and a safe and successful thru hike.

Hemlock Hollow, thru-hike sorrow (290.2m)

Not much ankle pain this morning, but I still had to hobble to the bathroom from the sofa.

Around 7:30am, Cap woke up and began packing final items before our hike. I had my day pack set and my regular pack ready for delivery to Hemlock Hollow, a hostel with bunks and cabins 16 trail miles from our Hot Springs starting point this morning. We were slack packing, and I’d spoken with Hattie the night before — the owner of the hostel — it was going to be an easier day without our full ~25lb packs. Excited to return to the trail; hiking helps to warm up muscles and aids in circulating what lubricants I have left in my aching joints.

Coffee, group photo, and we were on the road back to Hot Springs by 8:45am. We stopped at Reggie’s for breakfast on the way which was a treat.

By the time we got to town it was almost 11:00am, so we said our farewells to Lola and we were off.

Four ibuprofen, down the hatch. I still had some swelling this morning.

Steep and prolonged climbs followed, and I was feeling great. New shoes felt superb and I was making a fantastic pace. After the climbs the trail became hill hugging and sweeping through gentle PUDs over some beautiful areas. Green tunnels and easily navigable trail, I was on a roll.

About half way in (8 miles) my left ankle started to tweak, and so did my right extensor tendon. You have to be kidding me, not now.

Three more ibuprofen; I had to keep both the pain and swelling down and keep going – it was close to 3:00pm and I still had another three and a half to four hours to go.

I pushed on and each step began to feel like I had hammers smashing me in the feet and shin. My left ankle was painful on both the outside and inside, agonizing.

By 5:30pm I was hobbling and leaning heavily on my trekking poles, and the downhills — which were aplenty — we’re destroying me.

Four more ibuprofen.

My spirit and determination was waning, and fast. It took everything I had to keep going and I hung back with Alfalfa for the final few miles. I was coming in last. I know it’s not a race, but when I’ve been one of the first to finish each day, this was a big telltale sign of what was about to become the inevitable.

Reaching the hostel at 7:00pm is was in so much pain that even standing still was excruciating. I’d told Alfalfa, Cap, and Tom that I thought today would be my last day, I just couldn’t keep popping close to a dozen ibuprofen every day. They were shocked to hear me speak with such conviction, but they’d all seen how much pain I was in, and how much medication I was taking.

I called my wife and brought her up to speed about me quitting. As usual, she did her best to motivate me, playing to my passion for staying the course; but I think my decision had already been made a week ago coming down to Davenport Gap. I was sick of pushing, tired of being in pain – it’s exhausting, and I wasn’t enjoying the trail anymore.

I’m done.