I was woken during the night by something stomping around in the leaves outside my tent. It was a nice evening, so I left my rain fly off and was able to see the forest above me through the mesh. I grabbed my light and shined it in the direction of the sounds fully expecting to see my first bear. Thankfully it was just a deer grazing about 2 feet from my tent. He stomped around for the next few hours clearly unscathed by hikers or a sudden burst of light.
Rain is forecast yet again for today and the rest of the week, so I packed and headed out quickly. I haven’t decided on my evening destination but have chosen to maintain a 1 percent of the trail/day pace, or 22 miles. Today the trail crosses the blue ridge mountain road a few times, making the terrain easily manageable. I came across a trash bin and unloaded my trash at a gap, stopping to enjoy the view.
A car pulled up, and a man named Dave spoke to me for a few minutes. He was very curious about my thru-hike and asked me a dozen or so questions. I enjoy talking about my journey, so I happily chatted. At the next gap, I ran into some trail magic and grabbed some Gatorade and a halo orange. The angel was Roger, a Navy vet and now trail maintainer in the area.
I stopped for lunch but was only able to eat about half of it due to nausea from the heat. It’s easily 90 degrees, but Jennings Creek is only 3 miles away. I repacked and headed out in hopes to jump in. Upon arrival, I dropped everything and walked straight in. The water has warmed up from its bitter freezing temps and is now warm enough to actually stand in. The area has a lot of water snakes but I pay them no mind. I did see a fair amount of trout swimming as well. They are a beautiful fish, and I think this may be the first time I’ve seen them in the wild.
I spotted a sign boasting a free shuttle to ice cream and cheeseburgers, so I called after drying off. Sharon rolled up in a minibus and drove me to the Middle Creek campground she and her husband run. She cooked me up a cheeseburger and some more Gatorade before having her son Matt bring me back to the trail.
Another 3,000′ climb stood before me and my shelter for the night. I’m thankful I didn’t feel nauseous while climbing it. With the heat and 100 percent humidity we’ve had for days, sweat beads and rolls off you like it’s coming out of a tap. I hit the shelter at 5:30 but opted to push a little farther to the next one.
I arrived at Cornelius around 7:30. The tenting area at this shelter is massive and could accommodate 50 tents easily. There are six people here including myself. I met Dragon, who had set his tent up in the shelter as he was in it alone. I’ve seen his signature in the logs the last few days, as he makes it bold/black and signs it with a Night Fury type logo. Dragon attempted a thru a few years ago but was pulled off for injury. He’s out now on a short trip with his parents. Edy joined us about an hour later. The three of us all slept in the shelter.
Today I hiked 25.7 miles, now totaling 774.9/2199.7.
I feel as if I’ve been in a tunnel for days without an opening, so it was a welcomed relief to reach the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. I could finally see out into the world again, but it’s rife with storm clouds. The air is so thick with humidity and water it fogs everything. I came across a large FAA station on the top of the mountain.
Shortly after, I had to go under the Guillotine which was a rock formation that just screamed 127 Hours.
I’ve been trying to take breaks during the day to keep my body temp more stable as well as rest my ongoing tendinitis. They at least help with the temperature portion.
The not-so-distant rumbling of thunder pushed me onward to the James River, which has the longest footbridge on the AT. Many people jump from the bridge illegally into the water.
I made it to John’s Hollow Shelter at 6 but decided to do the next climb tonight rather than first thing in the morning. It’s easier, and safer, to do a climb when my muscles are warm and loose rather than in the morning when they are tense though 3,000′ is still never an easy climb.
I made it to the top of Bluff Mountain around 8:15. The sun had already set, and I was quickly running out of light. The view still was worth pausing for. There is a stone monolith for Ottie Cline Powell where they found the body of the then 4-year-old boy. He’d wandered over 7 miles away from school and sadly passed away on top of the mountain.
Running out of light and too stubborn to take out my headlamp, I descended the mountain to Punchbowl Shelter. There is a large pond here, and the frogs were screaming at this point. It actually hurts your ears because of the volume. Earplugs are necessary for any sort of sleep here. Making it here, I completed my second 30-mile day, walking 30.4 miles, now totaling 805.3/2199.7.
My shin hurt the worst it ever has this morning. I know my long days don’t help the situation, but resting didn’t either sadly. Up until this point, the pain had been manageable for the most part, but now painkillers can’t even put a dent in it. I packed slowly and limped my way down the trail. Today I crossed 800 AT miles!
I came to a gap with a trash can and unloaded what I could. A camper was parked near me, and a man emerged to let his dog out. We chatted for awhile. He’s a marathon runner, and his wife is section hiking her way back to Daleville. He drives the camper between gaps to pick her up each night. He offered me some Lara bars as trail magic, which I happily accepted.
From the gap, I dropped down 1,000′ to the creek. The descent took me over an hour because I could hardly walk. My pace has slowed to around 1 mph, and the pain has become excruciating. I dropped and cried knowing my hike was over. Tendinitis of this level can take weeks to recover from, and then I’d have to get back into hiking shape and could never catch my friends again even if I hiked 40 miles a day.
The waves of anger, pain, and disappointment came full force and did so for the next two hours while I limped my way to the next gap. I broke down at least three more times so furious with myself for failing.
I stopped at the road where it’s easiest to hitch or grab a shuttle. I called all the shuttles, but none answered and the local cab company couldn’t come get me for at least four more hours. Edy arrived at the gap, and I told him the news. We waited around for awhile, and a car arrived, and Sherwin hopped out.
The driver asked if we’d like a ride into town and we accepted. His name is Tom, and he’s the head of the local community development board. He dropped us at the budget-inn, probably the most trash place I’ve ever stayed in my life. I split the room with Edy, Fuzzy, and Wuzzy. We ate at the local and even legitimately authentic Italian restaurant for lunch and then had Mexican for supper.
I spoke with Achilles, as he was planning to be in the area tomorrow to give us all trail magic prior to starting his cross-country road trip. His first solo stop is actually Mt. Rushmore, so I asked if I could split the ride with him as far as my home to grab my car. He happily accepted, and I planned to see him in the morning.
Today I walked 11.3 miles, making my total 816.6/2199.7 miles. Here is where my journey ends on the Appalachian Trail. I promise I will return to complete it.
What’s Next–and Random Thoughts
I’m so sad to pause my hike. Words cannot describe the heartbreak and failure I feel even knowing full well I’ll return to complete this hike. I’ve never had my body give out on me when I’ve asked it to do something, and that reality is a little frightening in and of itself. Walking down trail today, I’ve noticed my head leaning forward as if my brain is pulling my body down the trail like a toddler attached to a parent’s leg. My mind is ready to do this hike, my body just cannot. I have run of the mill tendinitis in my right achilles tendon and a major issue in my left shin. The issues in my shin is exasperated by a fall I’d taken earlier. This is what it looks like currently.
My sides have been cut up from my belt running along my now bony hips under the weight of my pack and now look like this.
This doesn’t even bring up the blisters on each foot and the remaining wealth of debilitating issues caused by prolonged hiking.
Amidst all of the pain, I still want to hike. To me that says something profound of the magic of the trail and more of the human spirit. I told myself I’d never quit the trail unless I had a good reason. Being tired, running out of money, and even no longer wanting to hike weren’t reason enough for me to stop. I’m soured that something as simple as this can end it for me considering I twist each ankle a dozen times a day and keep walking. Not stopping can get me into some dangerous hiking situations and cause permanent damage–neither of which I’d like to do.
I’ve grown more fond of the beautiful gift of nature God has so undeservingly bestowed upon us. I appreciate little things so much more than I used to. I’m very happy with all the gifts the trail has brought to me in new friendships, patience, understanding, personal growth, and a wealth of life lessons. I set out to hike the trail to get many of these things, and by all accounts, I’ve completed my goal. In fact, I’ve done so ahead of schedule and under budget, as I’m not even halfway to Katahdin! I know I’ll return to walk the remaining miles if for no other reasons than my own stubbornness.
All sadness aside, I’m so very excited to return home to sleep in my own bed, shower with things like soap, and use a flushing toilet. And did I mention shave?! Sweet Jesus I’m so excited to shave even though I’ve gotten far too many “keep the facial hair” comments. I realize that hikers have small dreams when returning home! I’m happy to see my friends and family–many of whom are welcoming new babies to the world!
I want to thank everyone for following along with me on my journey. Your encouragement has been most welcomed and is incredibly helpful! I hope you’ll continue to follow along as I heal and hit the trail again. God bless everyone, and thank you for reading!
I’ve been doing multiple ice baths for my leg since I’ve returned home. Two days trapped in the car helped a lot as far as healing my leg goes. Constant icing, stretching, rolling out, and rest made me confident enough to try a hike again as of May 23, 2018. My new shoes came in the mail today, which help immensely. I’m confident the tendinitis issues are from my shoes being worn out. Despite them looking almost new, the padding on the inside of them is destroyed after 700+ miles.
The tendinitis issues appear to be resolved in both legs, but there is still a pain in my shin. Sherlock is suffering from what appears to be the same ailment. He was a member of the Hong Kong professional rugby team’s medical staff and has dealt with these types of injuries often. He is pretty sure he pulled his Extensor Digitorum, which is the quick fire stabilizing muscle in your leg that catches you when you stumble, so your face doesn’t connect with Mother Nature on a more intimate level. There is a great chance I’m in the same boat. Thankfully I can walk pain-free now, and the bruising seems to be minor.
I went for a 10-mile slack pack hike around Sioux Falls today. All went well, and my legs felt great and happy to do some work. My legs have grown accustomed to walking at least 20 miles a day, and now that I’ve done less than two for the last five days, I can feel the energy stored in them waiting to be used.
I’ve booked my plane ticket and shuttle to Harper’s Ferry. Harper’s Ferry is the psychological halfway point on the trail and is about 200 miles north of where I left the trail in Buena Vista, VA. I intend to meet up with Minnesota and Rampage and hike with them forward, as much of my group will be leaving the trail in the next few weeks to return home or to weddings.
Following my hopeful summit of Katahdin in Maine, I will return back to Harper’s Ferry and hike southbound to VA60 outside of Buena Vista where I left off. As a purist, I will not skip an inch of the trail, but extenuating circumstances have caused me to adjust my hike into a mini flip-flop. I’m just happy to be returning and hope my leg holds out for the duration of the remaining 1,300 miles I have left.