Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vitamin I

Okay ... this journal is intended to be about the Appalachian Trail, not about this hiker. It's supposed to emphasize what the trail offers, in all its wild, exuberant variety.

This trail reporter likes to remain part of the background - just another tree in the scenery. Think newspaper reporter: it's about the story, not about the teller. But every now and then a reporter's personal experience makes a good story. This seems to be one of those times.

Now, I'm not one to make heavy use of medication. I remember the shocked, even incredulous reaction from my expedition buddies in Bolivia when I announced, after a week of hard climbing, that I might take an Ibuprofen tonight. Several of them confessed to eating the stuff they call 'Vitamin I' like it was candy.

Well, so far on this AT hiking adventure, after 42 days of long miles, I've managed to avoid the need for any medication, not even a band-aid. But here on day 43 (February 15th), that changed. Overnight my left Achilles tendon swelled up - apparently a delayed reaction to a misstep yesterday. It got so painful that I couldn't sleep - bad as any toothache - pain intense enough that you can't ignore it.

So at 3AM I gave in and took a pill, then continued through the morning taking the dosage recommended on the bottle. But the pain wasn't going away. I could barely walk ten steps - and that with a severe limp. How could I hike the trail today? Is my body giving out? Is this the end of my grand attempt? For the first time I had real doubts.

But I resolved to give it a try. Often the routine morning aches and pains will fade once I get into the rhythm of putting one foot in front of another.

So I headed out at sunrise, as usual, but taking it super-slow, babying the injury, limping like a cripple. It was embarrassing walking up the busy highway from Mountain Harbour B&B to the trail crossing. I could feel the passing drivers staring - I could imagine what they were saying: "Ha Ha! Lookee there, Clem ... a hiker what cain't even walk!"

They shoot lame horses, you know - put them out of their misery.

It was a slow and morose first couple of miles. The scenery seemed colorless - all I could see was the end of my dream. To add to my dour mood, I was passing through a section of trail that is resented by some of the locals - an apparent long-standing feud with big, heavy-handed government. Here I felt like an intruder. Here the trail and its users are not welcome, or so it seemed to me today. There were ATV tracks over the foot trail. There were beer cans strewn about. There was even some vandalism of white blazes (overpainted blue) at a confusing side trail intersection - a clear effort to misdirect the hikers.

But my best hopes were beginning to realize - the tendon was loosening up. The pain was not getting worse but less! And the scenery began to regain some of its color. By the time I topped the rolling open meadow at the high point between Bear Branch Road and Buck Mountain Road, I was actually enjoying myself! How could one not! The temperature was soaring into the 60's, sun blazing, wind calm, spring birds were singing.

Then I left the contentious section of trail and plunged into the deep woods, headed back to the Elk River and a rendezvous with the truly spectacular Jones Falls (at right and in the detail up top). By this time I was free of pain and walking at close to a normal pace. I couldn't believe the change, and how quickly it came. Just in time to fully immerse myself in the beauty of this waterfall. I wished I could stay there forever.

The logistics of the upcoming trail access points dictated that today had to either be a massive 22+ mile day including a huge 3000' climb up Hump Mountain, or an abbreviated 12 mile day. The decision to do the latter had been sealed by my injury. So it was mid-afternoon when I marched triumphantly back down the busy highway to the Mountain Harbour Hostel with nary a trace of a limp. "Lookee now, Clem - a right proper hiker fella!"

Do I have Vitamin I to thank for the transformation? No. Decidedly not. I stopped taking the medication two hours before I finished hiking, and the pain and swelling have not returned. Instead, I have the immeasurable grace of my genetic and spiritual imprint to thank: The Ancestor Gods, if you will - their genes as well as the deep-rooted cultural influence that gave me the trait of dogged perseverance. I am richly blessed.


Here's the GPS track of today's limp/walk. Click on the title for more photos and more detailed GPS information:

AT Day 43 - Jones Falls at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

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