Every journey and adventure eventually comes to an end. For my Appalachian Trail adventure “the end” came much sooner than I had planned.
We took a few days off for a wedding my hiking buddy was in. Coming back, we had high hopes for the next week as far as mileage went. We wanted to try 14, 14, 17, and 12 miles. It may have been crazy, but we wanted to get to New Hampshire before that Friday when we got off for my friends’ wedding (so many weddings, I know). Stepping onto the trail for the first 14 mile day, we were pretty optimistic. It was the longest mileage yet, but we felt ready (-ish) for it.
It was hot and we had a nice uphill in the first few miles which kicked our butts a bit. But we kept pressing on! Around miles 6-8, I began to have some pain in my knees. It started pretty minor. I had a brace on my left knee as it had felt a bit off before the wedding, but my right knee was on its own. As we kept knocking out miles, I started having more pain. I wasn’t sure if it was just my knees protesting the first day back or if it was something more. When we finally collapsed at our campsite it was almost 7:30 pm — the latest we had ever gotten into camp. I tried stretching a bit as we made our dinner in the dark. To set aside any sort of sugar-coating, that night was my worst on the trail. I felt feverish, struggled to stay asleep, was nauseous, got sick, and finally fell asleep at about 4 am. I got up with Corinne in the morning, but after breakfast needed to take a nap before I felt like I could hike on.
We needed to keep going if we wanted to meet our goal (or even make it to the next closest town) — so we took it slow, agreeing to stop and reevaluate at each shelter we passed. Two miles in I admitted to Corinne, there was no way that I was going to make 14 miles, even if we went slow. Mile 2 felt like mile 8. We made it 4 miles. Uphill. Here’s a little snapshot of those miles — thankfully we were blessed with many switchbacks!
The trail brings you up to a shelter and camping area right near the top of what you all probably know as a ski resort mountain — KILLINGTON! There is a trail that brings you another .2 miles up to the summit, where you can then walk over to the restaurant/lodge for a bite to eat. As we started up the .2 mile path, we were met by a hiker coming down who told us — “oh yeah — you’re about to hit the point where I just put my poles away and started crawling!” Uh, what? haha. Let me tell you about that rock scramble. It crossed the line from hiking into rock climbing. CRAZY.
But the views…. WORTH IT.
Needless to say — I wanted to just ride the gondola down the mountain or hide out in the lodge forever. But we hiked (or sat and scooted) down the trail back to the shelter. We spent the night (what would be our last on the trail together), camped next to two cousins hiking the long trail and a group of rowdy, but funny high school campers. I loved it.
Obviously we weren’t going to make it to New Hampshire before the wedding. So, we hiked six miles into Rutland the next day with the plan to stay in town for a few days, pick up our rental car, head to CT for the wedding, and reevaluate my knees before coming back. Those six miles to Rutland hurt every step. But I made it.
Though I told Corinne I wasn’t going to decide if I was done hiking or not until Sunday after the wedding, I knew these were my last miles on the trail. I tried to soak them in as best I could.
Making the decision to come off the trail was incredibly hard. I was going to disappoint everyone following me. I was letting Corinne down. Was I being a baby? Couldn’t I push through if I really wanted to? The White Mountains look scary as all get out. We used to joke about wanting something to happen so we could get off trail — but I LOVE the trail. I didn’t want to end this way. I wanted to get to Maine.
At this point, let me just take a minute to say — Corinne is the best hiking buddy I could’ve had. She was patient, encouraging, understanding and spoke truth to me as I struggled to sift through the doubts/feelings/thoughts in my head.
I’m not disappointing everyone. I don’t need to be ashamed. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. I hiked almost 300 miles! The trail has been an incredible experience that will stay with me the rest of my life.
…So I said goodbye, for now.
As I sit here on my bed, icing my knees, I know that I’ll do other sections of the trail over the years to come. I’m not done backpacking. I’m not done with the AT. But even if I never hike all 2,181 miles — I am proud. I feel fulfilled. I feel stronger. Hiking each of those 38 days changed me. I learned so much that I’ll never be able to put into words. And I am so thankful.
My knees, it turns out, are hopefully just a case of irritated cartilage. Stretching exercises 2-3 times a day, ice, and ibuprofen. It should be cleared up in a few weeks. God is good.