It’s been exactly one week since I departed from the trail after injuring my left shoulder. What I have failed to write in my daily journaling, but will always remember, is slipping on a wet bridge and with one swift jerk, hyper-extending my left shoulder whilst falling by the weight of my 30 lb. pack. It is frustrating to play out those moments in my mind; they only remind me of the agony of defeat and the excruciating pain that accompanies an acromio-clavicular separation. I currently write in between accident/ER examination and MRI/official verdict. I remain hopeful that my current moratorium from the trail is only a temporary one!
I will add that my wait will only last until Monday when I will undergo an MRI and learn the true extent of my shoulder injury. I hope that it will not be as devastating as the day the doctor told me that I would not be able to hike anymore. She was perfectly sympathetic and understanding to my situation. Yet, as gently as she broke the news, I could not hold back the tears. I felt like all my efforts, all my physical strain, and mental battles had meant nothing. To put it into perspective: I made it 1,600 of the 2,200 miles, conquered 11 of the 14 states that encompass the trail, and came within a month of completing the entire Appalachian Trail.
It’s been a week since that tearful moment of realization. My shoulder has improved drastically and I have revisited civilization long enough to know that I need to get back to the trail desperately. Please keep me in your prayers and warm thoughts that on Monday, I get the go ahead to get back on the trail and finish that which I have set before me. I am so close to finishing this epic goal. This is my appeal to you.
Although I have spent this last week in the company of my loving and supportive family, I have come to the realization that I must address an important topic that every thru-hiker will eventually face. Every one of these entries, thus far, addresses or captures moments on the trail; I suppose it is time to describe the life of the hiker when he or she leaves the trail and enters into the “real world.”
Last Friday, I was thrust into the bustling civilization of Albany, NY when I arrived at the airport to fly home. It was very intimidating to be around so many people. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smells that each person emitted; deodorant, shampoo, perfumes–they all mixed together in what felt like a toxic cloud that choked me. As a hiker, you grow so accustomed to not wearing any of those luxuries; they are so rare that the slightest hint of fragrance is like a bottle of spilled perfume–obnoxious and sickening. Eventually I got used to the smell, but I could feel eyes moving over me; I could tell that I was getting funny looks because of my clothing and appearance. Everyone was dressed nicely in their designer jeans and matching accessories. I was just thankful that I had taken a shower; I was wearing the same clothes that I hike in every day. I felt very much like a side show freak as I walked around with my hiking pack, trekking poles, and boots. People just felt content to stare at me oddly. I wonder why?
I also learned (and I guess never really realized) how so many people in the “real world” lack any regard for others around them. I heard loud, mindless, and self-absorbed conversation. Peoples’ harsh voices melded together into a cacophony of ruckus and indistinguishable hoopla. I hated how people maneuvered around blindly, completely oblivious of the others around them. When I was waiting in Charlotte for my last flight we had a delay because they couldn’t find a pilot to fly the plane. Instantly, everyone started complaining and freaking out about it. I just sat there, watching everyone make a fool out of themselves. I looked at my ticket; it said the flight was roughly 600 miles long. I thought to myself, “If I leave now and start hiking to West Palm Beach, I could be home in 4 week +/- the flat terrain.” Haha. I watched the masses grumble and squawk–I knew we were going to leave eventually, why was everyone acting so ridiculous about it? Then this blond lady got up and started yelling at the stewardesses. She proceeded to run down the boarding hall and into the plane. In a comical display, the stewardess chased her down and threatened to have her kicked off the flight! I suddenly missed the trail and the courtesy that most hikers displayed. I sat there, missing the quiet of the wilderness and fought back tears. It was one of the most overwhelming and bleak situations I have ever looked upon. I sat there, my shoulder in excruciating pain, and realized how difficult it would be to transition from the AT to the “real world.”
In these last few days I have witnessed countless displays of disregard and discourteous behavior towards others. I guess it took leaving the trail briefly to understand how generous and caring most thru-hikers are to others. Don’t get me wrong; there are the occasional jerks, but most hikers seem to adhere to this unspoken code. They look out for others and daily choose to consider the welfare of other hikers and the spaces surrounding them.
Coming back to society has been a difficult task. The world sounds louder and smells are smellier. People seem more crude. Oh how I long to back back on the trail! As for tips on successfully transitioning after completing your hike–I have nothing to offer. Sorry guys! All I can say is to just be patient and find a place that you can run to when things get overwhelming. You know, a park, a river, some kind of outdoor space. I was fortunate enough to go to the Smoky Mountains in TN for that last few days. They were just what the doctor ordered!
I came to one more interesting realization when I left the trail. It is the realization of perspective. When I booked my flight it said that I would be flying 1,300 miles in a little under 5 hours. I then thought about how it took me 3.5 months to hike 1,600 miles. We really covered some ground, but in a matter of a day, I was going to undo 3.5 months of hard work and diligence. It was all very trippy to say the least. I laughed when the pilot came on the intercom and said “well folks, we’re about 100 miles out from West Palm Beach, so we’ll be landing in approximately 15 minutes.” Seriously? I takes me 5 days to walk 100 miles! Nonetheless, time and mileage all become very warped to you. You find yourself thinking “only 21 miles to the beach? I cold walk there in 5 hours, no problem.” Of course, you wouldn’t really do that, but it does cross your mind. It is an amazing and scary thing to understand the extent of the adventure you have just undergone when hiking the AT. I think I’l be doing a lot more walking for now on and conserving fuel use…it will be my contribution to cleaner air. haha.
Here’s to a good doctors visit and getting back on the trail in New Hampshire next week–wish me luck!