Foot doctor anxiety

Today is my two week check up with my podiatrist and I’m anxious. The last time I met with him he told me that he wouldn’t recommend a return to the AT for at least two months which was crushing to hear.

My ankle is much better, although there still seems to be a little residual swelling around the joint; I can’t seem to get rid of it, no matter how much icing and elevating I apply.

To be honest, despite what he tells me today, I’m likely to return regardless. I feel like a lazy couch potato and the lbs are coming back, I can feel ’em. I don’t like it, and I’d rather be walking in the woods and set out to accomplish what I started on March 20th.

I feel like a race horse right before the starting pistol goes off.

Seven twenty two

A week ago I was forced off the trail due to a severely sprained left ankle and swollen lower shin muscles/tendons in my right leg (likely the EDL, or tibialis interior).  Taking time off the trail for a rest day isn’t going to mess up your stride too much, but after a week off my feet I’m starting to feel lethargic.

I do love being home and enjoying life’s comforts and my beau, and taking time to heal has been my #1 priority.  The dreams have subsided, which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing yet: I was dreaming of being on a trail (not necessarily the AT), and they were pretty lucid, but I did enjoy them nonetheless.

The swelling has almost gone and I can walk without pain, but my feet and knees are still stiff in the mornings or if I stand after long periods of sitting down.  I’m no longer limping which is a relief, and I’m no longer popping pain pills – which is even better.

I wish I could take my better half on the trail with me, it would certainly make the decision to return to the AT much easier on both of us.  I don’t want to leave (per se) again, it was hard enough the first time, yet I have a yearning to finish what I started.

On another note, I started my trip weighing in at around 235lbs (total lard arse), and I’ve been watching what I eat since coming home – today I weigh 212.8lbs – for a total weight loss of ~ 22lbs.  I feel great, and I have a level of energy that I haven’t had in many, many years.

Being home has given me the chance to be back with the most important person in my life, and to share my stories and experiences with her has been a treat.  My wife’s support throughout the month hiking the trail was the most helpful, and I’ve realized that she’s been my very own personal trail angel this entire time.  I wouldn’t have gotten out of Davenport Gap if it weren’t for her.

Anyway, back to elevating my foot and my daily dose of HGTV.

Thru hike hopes dashed?

Leaving the podiatrist with news that I need to rest for two months before contemplating a return to the AT isn’t quite what I’d hoped to hear today. I’m very upset to be honest. All I could keep repeating while he was telling me was “this is very upsetting news”, ad nauseam. Rolling four times in three weeks is “very rare” and I’m “lucky to not have torn anything.”

While looking at my X-rays he asked if I’d broken any bones in my feet, to which I responded “no”. I’d told him about an old RAF injury when I was 20 that I caused by me missing the curb — while running full pelt — and rolling my left ankle severely. So severe in fact, that I had to go through five months of electro therapy. He thinks I actually fractured a bone that was missed during my treatment and showed me a faint dark line crossing my fibula close to my ankle.

Come to think of it, I remember sitting across my uncle Stuart’s road bike as a kid – ass on the frame with both legs dangling to the right side of the bike — I think he’d tried to make a turn and my left foot got caught in the spokes, while going a good 10mph – my little ankle was dragged in there with quite a lot of force. I can’t believe I still remember that, I was no older than six years old!

To add to this, he’s confident that I have compartment syndrome in my lower right shin; severe inflammation of the muscles in the lower shin area that are building pressure against surrounding muscle and tendon tissue, hence the swelling and pain. Warm compress with Epsom salts will draw out the swelling. Worst case scenario: I don’t do it and I will need to go under general and have holes poked through my muscle tissue to relieve the pressure.

He’s asked me to return in two weeks for a checkup.

What.

The.

F*ck.

20130425-144812.jpg

Deflated yet elated

As I sit on the porch of the Hemlock Hollow hostel waiting for my ride back to civilization, I’m flooded with mental pictures and mini flashbacks of the time spent on the trail. I can hear echoes of laughter from Captain Dan and Tie Dye (my rocks), the cracking of ice falling from frozen trees between Burningtown Gap and NOC, the serenity of Cheoah Bald, my woot of jubilation on top of Clingmans Dome, the fist bumps with other numerous trail friends, the smile on my face each time I’d cross paths with Piper (four times in total), the scent of spruce forests, the gurgling of creeks and streams, and the sheer physical enormity that was the smokies.

I’m very happy to have attempted my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, and I’m ok with my decision to step off.

Will it be for good? I never say never – I may return when I’m back to full strength, or I may not, choosing to perhaps bring my own son or daughter in the distant future instead.

What am I taking away from this? Never underestimate what you are capable of; we are capable of enduring much more than we would ever give ourselves credit for.

My desire to learn more about myself and who I really am was at times a struggle, but ultimately I found what I was looking for on the AT. My journey was always bigger than the actual hiking, and far more profound than the physical demands before me. It was a walk of self reflection and of discovery.

I found that I’m actually a jolly bloody Englishman with a thirst for life and adventure. I’ve enjoyed getting to know me.

Would I do it all over again? You bet I would.

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.

Max Patch, a Walnut, and a mighty Bluff (266.4m)

I’ve been hiking with painful ankles and tendons for roughly five days now, and much to my chagrin, I’m popping about a dozen ibuprofen daily. It’s not the smartest move to be masking the pain, but they do help with reducing the swelling around my ankle and tendons.

My left ankle has yet to heal fully and remains swollen, and I pulled the uppermost tendon on my right foot/shin a few days ago; I haven’t seen a doctor yet, but my own research points to the extensor digitorum longus. It doesn’t hurt at all on the climbs, but going along the flats and especially downhill is agonizing with each step: heel to toe, and when the front of my foot touches the ground it stretches that tendon – sharp pain. I’ve been trying to land flat-footed and it helps, but I’m taking the whole weight of that right step on my right hip now instead of the knee/quad, so my hip aches.

Shoot me.

I’d bought two ankle braces from Walmart while in Newport and have been wearing one on my left [rolled] ankle; it’s been pretty good so far (read: not rolled since). The right tendon issue started during the massive descent from Mt. Cammerer in the Smokies after leaving Cosby Knob Shelter with St. Croix, Blue, and Bitter Goat. The hike down was a 3,000′ descent over 4.2 miles to Davenport Gap. It was long, painful, and extremely unpleasant. Every step pulled on that tendon and yanked at it with such deep ripping pain that my face would wince and grimace on every, single, step. It was the first time that I had to stop and rest going downhill. Imagine for a second: I’m pretty much taking on steep prolonged climbs without stopping, and it’s the descents that are bringing me to a painful halt — all the while I’m concentrating on where I placed my left foot — none of this made any sense to me, I became frustrated and angry. After finding the balls to stay on the trail after the previous day’s ankle roll, I now had this new injury to contend with.

I was waking every hour or so at Brown Gap, and each time I would drop an expletive; I’d completely forgotten to take out my painkillers from my bear bag which was hanging 15′ off the ground over 200′ away from my camp. This wasn’t a mistake I’d make a second time. I dragged myself up at 7:00am and launched into morning mode: bear bag down, breakfast readiness, hammock breakdown, teeth brushing, water guzzling, pack packed, and I was off. It was 9:00am by the time I set off, and it was a doozie of a climb off the bat. Things leveled off and we reached Max Patch in good time. We had complete 360° views, and it was some of most serene landscape I’d seen since Springer. The top of Max Patch is one huge dome of grass, like a hemispherical lawn. Gorgeous.

Downhill again for 5 miles and it was slow going again for me. The ibuprofen I was popping — sometimes 3 or 4 at a time — was wearing off in a few hours and my tendon was killing me.

We passed two women walking south in the AT with their dog, Rusty; one of the ladies, Rebecca, told us that her husband Tom was at Lemon Gap with trail magic. Apparently he was there making bacon and eggs, along with homemade cinnamon buns and biscuits. Our spirits lifted instantly and our pace increased to what seemed a jog. Tom and his truck came into view along with a long row of lawn chairs, and a picnic table full of food, tea, and other goodies. Fist bumps with Tom and we filled our plates with sustenance. I think my favorite thing about the whole scene were the chairs. It was so good to sit, just to park my arse and not move. I was in heaven and so were my feet.

We took a lovely 45 minute break and I literally had to peel myself off my seat. Standing I could feel my knees and feet had locked up. I’d been praying for a hill, a goddam mountain to climb so it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Just beyond Lemon Gap and the incredible generosity of Tom and Rebecca, we arrived at the base of Walnut Mountain. I let out a sigh of relief; finally a climb.

Thank. Shitting. God.

Walnut wasn’t a huge climb, but it was steep in places and I could keep moving, and moving uphill. I wasn’t in pain anymore. It was a descent on the other side and I took it slowly, then I was at the base of Bluff Mountain — fu*king brilliant — 1,000′ elevation gain over 1.7 miles. I was up and at the summit pretty quickly and stopped to take some shots.

We’d decided earlier in the day to hike the 15.8 miles from Brown Gap to Old Road, and our campsite was 3.2 miles away… and 1,971′ down. Come the f*ck on. At this point I was completely and utterly over going downhill. It hurt, and really, really badly. My ibuprofen were lasting two hours at a time at this point, and for the most part doing absolutely nothing for my extensor tendon – nothing.

By the time we got to Old Road I was an angry and twisted old man. Hobbling off the trail I found two trees to set up my hammock and set to work. Not before dropping another three vitamin I’s (ibuprofen are commonly nicknamed vitamin I on the trail). Cap, TD, Tank and I set up shelter alongside one another and we shot the shit for about an hour until I hit the sack about 7:00pm. Hanging and swinging gently, I was out like a light.

It was about 11:00pm the first time I woke up to a throbbing ankle. Three vitamin I’s and I was back asleep again… until 1:30am. Rinse, repeat, four more times.

One good thing: my calves are starting to look like they’re made out of blocks of granite.

20130420-122419.jpg

20130420-122427.jpg

20130420-122433.jpg

20130420-122441.jpg

20130420-122449.jpg

20130420-122521.jpg

20130420-122533.jpg

20130420-122540.jpg

20130420-122547.jpg

20130420-122558.jpg

20130420-122605.jpg

20130420-122634.jpg

20130420-122645.jpg

20130420-122654.jpg

20130420-122704.jpg

20130420-122711.jpg

20130420-122718.jpg

20130420-122725.jpg

20130420-122733.jpg

20130420-122751.jpg

20130420-122758.jpg

Zero #2 in Newport TN

I took another day off to rest my left ankle and a tendon on the top of my right foot; I was also expecting a package from home which had my Warbonnet Blackbird hammock and UQ – so excited to hang again.

Nothing really to report other than I did a little more laundry after a hot and sticky 3 mile walk to the post office to mail my tent etc back home. I was totally not comfortable sleeping on the floors in the shelters, so I can’t imagine I’d be any happier in the tent – I just can’t sleep on those NeoAir pads, they’re too thin. I got a hair cut, also – #1 buzz cut. Perfect. I picked up some tortillas and Babybel cheese from Walmart on the way home.

I joined Tie Dye, Captain Dan, and Tank (formerly just Tom – another hiker I named!) for dinner at a local steakhouse and we polished off an entire plate of ribs each.

I called Melissa to confirm a time for a shuttle back to Davenport Gap: she’d be at the hotel at 8:30am. Sweet.

I got to have some time with my honey over FaceTime, and I loved it. I’m glad I’m done with the Smokies and the lack of cell signal; it’s nice to be able to call home and chit chat with my better half; I miss us.

20130420-071745.jpg

20130420-071801.jpg

20130420-071809.jpg

20130420-071818.jpg

Zero #1 in Newport, TN

I must have slept like a rock as I woke up in the same position as I’d fallen asleep – on my back, one arm on top of the sheets, the other underneath. My watch told me it was 7:15am, and I had no mouse shit by my head – brilliant.

Sweeping back the curtain I gazed upon the 6,000’+ Smokies ridge lines in the distance; my arms goosebumped, I couldn’t believe I was hiking on top of them only 24 hours ago. Majestic, they looked down upon on my humility with a nod of completion. I could stare at them for hours, they’re beautiful, but I’m glad they’re behind me.

My ankle took quite a beating over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been nursing it like a baby. One thing I’ve learned very early on is that my feet are the only things that are going to get me to Katahdin. I can work through the mental stress, and the athletic requirements are becoming easier each day I’m out on the trail; I can’t believe how fit I’m feeling.

I emptied my food bag on the bed and went through everything I have; three days of food, that’ll get me to Hot Springs with no problem. Wifey is sending me some more food items like Ramen and taters so I’ll be set for another couple of days beyond that. I’m also getting my hammock back, this time opting for the Warbonnet Blackbird. I figured I may as well go for the WBBB now as its getting warm and it has the built in bug netting. It also has the foot box in the bottom which I’m really looking forward to; it means I can lie on a diagonal and sleep soundly and comfortably.

Tie Dye and I headed to Sagebrush steakhouse and pounded some appetizers while we waited for Captain Dan; he was on his way.

Seeing Cap walk through the door was awesome – I hadn’t seem him in three days, he’d lost a ton a weight – and looked really great.

Sat here with my two friends, I’m reminded why the AT holds such sentiment for many: it’s the people. Everybody is going through this; the pain, the aches, and getting in our own heads. It’s tough, but it’s so bloody rewarding – and when you can share that with someone you trust, well, it’s pure unadulterated friendship.

I also got to FaceTime with my wife, a complete and utter treat. Each day brings a heavier heart, new thoughts of her, of us. I can’t believe I’m away from our life together in NY; I feel responsible for what she’s going through. Like me, she’s going through her own journey and it’s difficult to know she has bad days – there’s nothing I can do to abate those feelings. Well, there is actually… I could get off the trail. Ironically, she’s one of the main reasons that I’m still on the AT. Her constant and unwavering support is extraordinary, as strong as oak, and she lifts my spirit with her positivity.

My spirits are lifted after speaking to her. We were in great moods.

I’m going to hit the sack very comfortably tonight. Wife, friends, a full belly, and a clean bed sans mouse poop.

20130415-205052.jpg

20130415-205057.jpg

20130415-205105.jpg