It is hard to believe the start of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is only 14-days away. Since announcing my plans a few months ago, the universe has thrown several obstacles in my way, and there have been times I’ve had doubts about my plans. Part of me wishes I had bought travel insurance when I booked my airline ticket and hotel for my first night in Atlanta, but perhaps it’s best I didn’t. Having a safety net would make it too easy to pull the plug.
If anything, everything that’s happened in the past few months has only made my conviction to thru-hike the AT stronger. So, there! Take that universe! This is my third time planning to thru-hike the AT, and I am determined to let nothing stand in my way.
Family, my Achilles heel
This past Sunday, my stepfather passed. There I said it, with just over two weeks until my thru-hike, a family member died. This, of course, caused me pause. Should I cancel my plans? How much will my mother need me now?
My stepfather had been in a board and care for over a year, and we recently had to move him to hospice care. So, his passing wasn’t a surprise. He’d been going downhill for the past year and markedly so the week leading up to his passing. And while I will mourn his passing, I’ve only known my stepfather for the past year.
There is nothing that can be done for the dead except to mourn their passing, honor their wishes, and to move forward with life.
It is my mother for whom I am most concerned. There is a lot that goes with the passing of someone, and all of that falls on my mother. There’s a cremation to plan, accounts to close or update, Social Security benefit questions, family squabbling over money to deal with, and the list goes on. All these things fall on my mother who I worry about. She’s just lost her husband, so there’s the emotional pain that goes with that too and throw all the other crap in…hence my concerns for her.
Yes, the timing of my stepfather’s passing has thrown some questions into my plans to thru-hike the AT, but after talking things over with my mother, I am proceeding with my plans.
“Go! Get out of my hair. Besides, I’m looking forward to having the house to myself,” was her reaction. So, in 14-days, I will fly to Atlanta as planned.
What is one of the worst things that can befall a long-distance hiker? While there are a few, there is nothing worse than perhaps plantar fasciitis. Being told you can’t walk or hike, and to stay off your feet for four to six weeks is hard for someone who typically walks anywhere between 12 to 16 miles in a day.
So, there is nothing worse to me than being told I can’t hike. It is also surprising just how easy it can be for something like plantar fasciitis to rear its ugly head.
This past December, I replaced my hiking boots. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I bought the same Merrell MOAB boots I’ve worn for the past few years and didn’t give it a second thought. What could go wrong?
As it would turn out, a lot that can go wrong with an improperly fitting boot, and I didn’t discover it until it is too late.
My problems started on a short 10-mile training hike that I do two to three times per week. The hike up the mountain went fine, but on the way down I noticed a bit of foot pain in my right foot. I didn’t think too much of it and chalked it up to the new boots not being broken in yet.
When I set out on a 14-mile urban hike the following day, my foot was fine; until it wasn’t. My foot went from fine, to okay, to OMG this is f’ing killing me quickly. By mile 12 I was toast. I literally could not walk another step without excruciating pain. Luckily, since I was urban hiking, I called an Uber to pick me up and take me home.
I found myself in urgent care. X-rays and tests showed nothing broken or seriously wrong. The diagnosis was it was just a sprain. I was told to stay off my feet for 3 to 4 weeks, and everything should be fine. But when week 4 came, and I was still in pain, I went back to the doctors. This time I was told it was plantar fasciitis, to stay off my feet and it should clear in a few more weeks.
Needless to say, I was questioning my plans to thru-hike the AT. What if this had happened while on the trail? What would I do then? Since I am prone to this, is it a smart idea to tempt fate and possibly get this again? What if…
The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything
I could get lost in the world of what if, becoming paralyzed by what might happen. I was catastrophizing, lost in the world of worst case scenarios. Having family constantly bombarding me with these what if questions only added to my downward spiral into questioning everything about my AT thru-hike. With my stepfather passing, it was easy to question my plans. Then I remembered something, something vital, perhaps the most important lesson life has taught me in my 53-years in this world:
We don’t have control over what might happen. We can only plan for the worst, hope for the best, deal with what’s given to us as it comes, and keep moving forward.
And that, my friends, is why I will successfully thru-hike the AT; my eyes are on the goal and no matter what, I keep moving forward…