Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Miss the Woods!

I really can't believe I've been off the trail for two and a half weeks already. It has been incredibly painful watching my Trail Family's posts and reading their texts about trail life. Not only do I really miss them, but I really miss the simplicity of trail life. My day is as simple as: wake up, eat, "where am I going to find water?", walk, eat, sleep. My knee is feeling MUCH better, and I really appreciate all of the well wishes and inquiries from everyone about my knee. I have been resting, doing PT, and trying to strengthen my legs. Currently, I no longer walk with a limp (a HUGE deal!) and haven't taken any ibuprofen/tylenol/aleve in almost a week. I'm hoping with another week or so at home, I'll be able to get back on the trail and continue as if nothing happened. Of course, the risk of re-injuring myself is high and is one of my biggest fears. I do feel at this point, though, either I'm going to be able to do it, or I won't. I just need to try it and see. I think if I spend much more time in Vermont I'm going to get complacent, lose the calluses on my feet, and will miss my window to complete the AT this year.

Over my time hiking, as well as my time in Vermont, I've had many moments to think and reflect on life. Particularly the last few months. I'm going to be very honest, when I say that 2016 has not been a super easy year for me. I've been tried. Some things were relatively trivial (even if very annoying at the time) such as losing my phone and wallet in the woods while skiing. Some things were far more stressful and financially costly... like my car dying and essentially becoming worth nothing while in Colorado. Some were far more emotionally challenging, like the pretty tough ending of a relationship - still working my way through that one. To top it all off, I was robbed of an experience I've saved, trained, and planned consistently for two years. Having to come off the trail for an injury has been so incredibly frustrating. All I've thought about for the last two years has been the AT. Staying up late planning, researching gear, worrying if I had everything I needed, wondering if I could mentally handle the trail, etc. I talked about it nonstop, I dreamt about it,  and I breathed this trail. The hardest part about leaving the trail abruptly (aside from leaving my trail family) was that I was just really getting into a routine on the trail. Aside from my knee problems I mentally and physically felt great. I was up by 6am with the birds, hiked all day, and was in bed by 8 at the very latest. To have to get off the trail, become sedentary, and lose my routine was a huge challenge. Not to mention the complete culture shock of having a real bed, warm showers, people all around me, and the ability to travel sixty miles in one hour and not three or four days.

One benefit of being home has been seeing so many supportive friends and family. Everyone has been asking how I'm doing, what my plan is, and when I'm getting back on the trail. The words of encouragement have been endless, and super helpful to my fragile emotional state when I arrived back in Vermont. Along with recharging my physical being with mounds of food, Vermont always recharges my mental state. (Sidebar: in the first three weeks I lost 10lbs. I've since gained back 7.) Vermont is my home, and my favorite place in the world. The mountains, people, rivers/lakes, and mentalities here are familiar to me. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as comfortable as I do in Vermont. This fact has also terrified me while being home. Terrified that I will become so comfortable at home again that I won't have the desire to go back on the trail. Three weeks off the trail is a long time to stay focused and engaged with the final goal.

What is especially hard with staying engaged is that my plan is now totally messed up. I won't be able to return to where I left off in NC, because I would most likely not finish the trail before Baxter State Park closes in mid October. I would also be abandoning my trail family, which is not something I want to do. At this point, my plan is to hit the trail in Virginia fifty or so miles ahead of my trail family and let them catch up to me. They have already walked 540 miles and are doing really big mile days. If I joined them right off the bat, I would never be able to keep up. I'm hoping a week of conditioning by myself will both allow them to catch up, get my lets back underneath me, and allow for a gradual reentry into hiking. This will, of course, mean that I will have about four hundred miles of the trail to make up. My tentative plan is, if all goes well with my knee, to hike to Maine with the gang and then go back to hike the section I skipped. It definitely isn't the ideal plan, but I have been trying to remind myself to roll with the punches, make lemonade from lemons, and do all the other cliche things when unwanted events occur. I have been trying to convince myself that everything happens for a reason. Just hoping there's a damn good reason for this particular set back.

All of this alters my greater life plan as well. It was my hope to finish the trail before a really great internship in the Surgical ICU in Burlington started late this September. It is now almost impossible for me to complete the trail before then, even if my knee is pain free for the rest of the time. If I am able to finish the trail this fall, I will hopefully be able to apply for the same internship in the Spring or early Summer of next year. If I can't complete the trail this year due to my knee crapping out again, I will attempt the trail again next year and will shoot for the internship next Fall. Either way, I am trying to go with the flow in regards to this. I have given up so much for this trail already, that the trail is definitely the priority right now.

So there it is... all of my current emotions all wrapped up into a neat blog post for you. Fingers crossed that I can get a ride/flight to Virginia next week, I can meet up with my friends, I can continue hiking with minimal issues, and I finish this trail. I know I can do it, I just need my body to cooperate. Also... if anyone wants to drive me to Virginia this coming week... let me know. I'll pay for gas and snacks :)


  1. Based on my experience with you, the comment about traveling 60 miles in an hour appears to be a gross understatement of your average MPH.

    I hope you make this happen. You have clearly earned it.

  2. Dear Daniel,
    Wish I was closer, would love driving you to meet your friends, hope you get "lucky" soon.
    Take is easy when you get on the trail again, love you lots, MEMERE

  3. Daniel I have so enjoyed reading your blog post and vicariously living through you. I had some thoughts I felt to challenge you on given all this time you have had to ponder things.
    You stated that 2016 has been a trying year, do you think that you were given those trials as a preparation in order to deal with what you are facing now?
    You said you are afraid you will become stuck in Vermont because it is a place of familiarity and comfort? Do you feel like your trail family has become that too?
    You said you are trying to 'make lemonade' and go it's the flow? Yet in reading your post I can feel your anxiety to get to "where you should be".

    Daniel you are exactly where you should be. Each person who travels the AT travels their own journey. Each person comes away with their own experiences. We often ask ourselves why.... Daniel you are on a pilgrimage to find yourself and you are pondering so many character building problems. Embrace each one that comes your way good or bad.

    Ps- do you find it as ironic as I do that trial and trail are so close in spelling?

  4. Such a tough time, especially after working SO hard to get where you are, on the trail and in life. Sending you good thoughts, healing vibes, and love. I'm so proud to have walked a bit of the LT with you back in the day!

  5. You've been on the "trail" the whole time: it's all just part of the Journey. Hugs and happiness to you!