It had not been a good night. Chased by thunderstorms across a stone-studded landscape, I finally collapsed after a dozen miles onto a log. “I can’t go any farther,” I told John. The pain in my foot was simply unbearable. That, and the darkening sky, killed my ability to move. “I’m done.”
I’d been in pain every day for a couple of weeks – my legs are in deep pain, every step jarring the bone – I’ve turned both ankles multiple times, wrenched both knees, jarred my pelvis, and I can’t sleep at all night without mega-doses of ibruprofen.
He quickly set up the tent while I cooked a simple dinner. By the time we were both done, the thunderstorm hit. I dove into the tent and we ate out of our one pot, the wind shaking the trees around us as it poured.
When we left in the morning, I couldn’t think straight. John called my attention to a snake that slipped between two rocks I was stepping across; I never saw it.
The flip side of living in the moment is when the moment hurts, it’s impossible to distract yourself from it. Foot pain takes over the brain and there is nothing you can do to ignore it. Reading, eating, writing, discussion … nada. Your head just wraps itself around the pain and won’t let go. Will it end? How can I make it go away? What’s broken? Why do I hurt so much? The mind jabbers on and on.
I don’t remember much about this day. When I take so many painkillers, I walk like a zombie. I can’t think, I can’t absorb, I can’t enjoy. All I can do is hurt. And hurt.
It didn’t help that the guidebook was inaccurate for the first time, nor that a spring was dry. It didn’t help that it was my sister’s birthday – she would have been 49, and I was making my first plans for a thru-hike over a decade ago when she was diagnosed with cancer.
It didn’t help that a hand-scrawled note at the shelter turnoff said the privy was full. Nor did it help that the shelter was much farther off the trail than I expected. While we were there, John slipped almost all the gear out of my pack and put it in his. I didn’t find out until hours later. It didn’t make a difference: I still struggled to put the pack on, to carry it, to clamber up rocks up an unexpected knob, and to walk across more boulder fields.
The downhill slide into Port Clinton was our steepest descent yet, and it seemed appropriate to how bad I was feeling, hitting a new low. It took every ounce of energy to keep from tumbling head over heels down a slope at a ridiculous angle, stepping down giant rock steps that had slid out of place to form huge gaps. A train whistled in the distance, and I thought of my Dad, who we lost a couple of years ago. He would have been proud of my daring to take on the AT.
But I knew I was done. And it hurt.