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

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.

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