If week one was about learning how the trail would treat me, week two was about learning how I would let the trail treat me. I had to remind myself that (unfortunately) all hikers do not have an appreciation for the natural world that surrounds the trail. I had to remind myself that crying would get me nowhere, unless I kept hiking while I cried (I did). And I had to remind myself that I am capable.
I arrived to the general store as every thru hiker was finishing their ice cream. With no hiker hunger to get me through the half-gallon challenge, I chose a hamburger instead. We all spent the next few hours in a haze of satisfaction.
It had only been a few days since my last shower, but the decision to stay in Pine Grove Furnace State Park was decided as soon as I saw Ironmaster’s Mansion.
The plan, ten miles. At ten miles, I couldn’t imagine stopping, so I pushed myself for more. The next shelter was five miles away, and I felt confident I could do that. I regret it. I regret not giving Vice my phone number when we parted ways. He later told me he would have texted me a warning. Those last five miles were hell.
I stared at a rock maze with Pinecone Sitter for ten minutes. Neither of us could spot the next blaze, completely missing the arrow right in front of us.
When I stumbled into shelter at 7, I didn’t feel powerful. And hour later, when I had eaten and prepared camp, I felt accomplished. My longest day on the trail at 16 miles!
Trail Magic is a funny thing. Hikers are always thrilled to find a road crossing with food, or a cooler at a trailhead, or gatorades floating in the creek.
And then there are those days when you really need it, and it makes itself known to you. I spent a few hours at the “backpackers campsite” in Boiling Springs, a desolate patch of grass along the railroad tracks.
Arriving in town as the Memorial Day parade was occurring, and sitting to watch the ceremony that followed reminded me of the life I am lucky to have. The people that greeted me and invited me to a nearby picnic turned my bad day into an incredible one.
I took THREE zero days once I arrived in Boiling Springs. My achilles tendonitis was getting worse as they days wore on, and I hoped these three days would help.
When Stefanie dropped me off in the morning, I was ready to go. I had made a decision to skip about nine miles of the trail (through the Cumberland Valley) to cut my first day short. I knew I wasn’t going to be 100%, even after three days of rest, and didn’t want to push myself too strong.
One mile in, I was feeling my foot again. Two miles in, I started to limp. When I finally made it to shelter, I was happy it was almost empty, I wanted to pop some ibuprofen and relax. I knew more people would show up, and being in a shelter surrounded by people didn’t seem fun. Rain was coming so I rolled out my bag and had a bite to eat.
When I was joined in the shelter by Toiling Midget, Trillian, Greyhound, Veggie Stew, and Hawk, I remembered that this was one of my favorite things about the trail. The evenings surrounded by people who are completely different then me inspire me to keep doing this.
I woke up in pain, but stretching for a half hour seemed to help.
I was limping again by the time I made it back to the white blazes. The guys all passed me quickly, and I promised I would meet them in Duncannon. That promise wasn’t fulfilled (sorry boys!).
From Hawk Rock, I was greatful to start descending. And then the rocks showed their true nature, and I hobbled my way down the stone steps, relying heavily on my trekking poles, stopping to wipe the tears from my eyes.
I Hope This Isn’t the End
I’m lucky I was dealing with this injury nearby family. Stefanie hopped in the car immediately and met me at the trailhead, and I’ve been at her farm for the last week and a half.
Immediately after getting off the trail, I was heartbroken to think this was the end of my hike. I’m still not entirely sure it isn’t, but I’m hopeful that in a few weeks, I will be back in Duncannon. Achilles tendinitis is a difficult thing, so I have to continue to be careful and cautious.
At this moment in time, my goal is not the entire trail. I’m thinking small again, and I simply want to finish Pennsylvania. My two short weeks on the trail have made me realize that hiking is in my soul (even if it isn’t always in my feet), and I will finish this trail, one way or another.