Trail Injuries...So Far
Here’s a quick status of the injuries that I have already sustained in the first two weeks on the trail.
The Big Toe
They say you’re not a true thru-hiker until you loose a few toenails. True thru-hiker, here I come!
If you read my previous post about beginning the Appalachian Trail, you saw my horrible toenail photo. The blister at the root got even bigger and finally busted several days ago. Through the wrinkly, burst-blister skin, I can feel the back edge of my toenail. I really don’t think anyone should be able to feel that. Fortunately, the toenail is no longer a throbbing source of pain, but I’m still pretty sure that I’m going to loose it.
I also have a few three other toenails that are currently black and blue under the nail, but no blisters, so I think they’re going to be fine.
My right knee was a bit sore on the right side for the first two days. It was fine for about the next week. However, several days ago when I was pushing a 20-mile day to beat an impending storm, my right knee starting hurting in a new location, above the patella. Downhill was very painful.
The next morning, my knee was stiff. Despite that, I pushed a 25-mile day to beat that horrific rain/sleet storm that was being followed by freezing temperatures. Once I got ahead of the storm, I used the method that drives doctors crazy: self-diagnosis via Google. Seems I now have quadricep tendonitis. Basically overuse.
Good news is that the nonsurgical treatment is massage it, support or brace it, and take anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aka “Vitamin I” to thru-hikers). I’m doing all of that. Also, nowhere did Dr. Google specifically say that I must stop hiking the Appalachian Trial, so I think I’m good to push on. 🙂
The shoulder rash I mentioned in my previous post is still present, but diminishing. I didn’t consult Dr. Google, but I’m pretty sure it’s just contact dermatitis because that’s a term that I heard my ex (who is an actual doctor) use a lot, and it seems to fit. Self-diagnosis is awesome—just make up whatever you want.
I think it’s decreasing because my pace has slowed, so I’m not sweating as much. Plus, I have been planning my resupply stops to coincide with rainy days to I’m nestled in a nice dry hostel while the rain pours down.
New Shoes (Twice)
With the brutal toenail damage, I took a zero day (i.e., hiking zero miles on the trail) after only three days so that I could get a new pair of shoes. The small Mountain Crossings outfitter right on the trail at Neel Gap didn’t have boots my size but did have a pair of shoes, size 12. Normally I’m an 11. The size up has gotten me farther up the trail without further damaging my toes. Unfortunately, the shoes are mesh trail runners, which saturate my feet in the rain or with the slightest misstep at the numerous stream crossings. And they certainly aren’t going to get me through the snow.
Thus, a week later, I took another zero day in Franklin, North Carolina to hit up Outdoor 76 outfitters, both to get new boots and also to avoid that horrific rain/sleet storm and freezing temperatures. There I got a schooling in my shoe size. Apparently, your foot width plays a part in your shoe size, too, and I am definitely a 12. Hmmph.
Outdoor 76 had a huge boot selection, and I spent quite some time wandering around the store in different boots, going up and down their little ramp to check rub points, and jumping up and down on the slope to test toe jam. I finally settled on a pair of size 12 Altra boots with a huge toe box. They look like clown shoes, but they seem to be working for me. I spent the rest of my day washing my stinky clothes, grocery shopping, and mailing my previous shoes back home.
I am so glad that I found a new pair of boots, because that storm was crazy. Those mesh shoes definitely would not have handled plowing through the three-foot high snow drifts caused by that storm.
Even though I managed to avoid the brunt of that horrific rain, sleet, and snow storm that blew through, it did test my mental fortitude. I passed with flying colors. Let me explain with some boring (but astonishing) facts.
To complete the Calendar Year Triple Crown, you need to hike almost 22 miles every day for an entire year. But that doesn’t allow any zero days for travel between the trails, trips into town to resupply food, wash clothes, and bathe to wash off the potent “hiker stench”. Thus, you really need to hike about 30+ miles per day. While carrying a 30–40 pound backpack. I can’t hike that far in a single day yet (and my pack weighs more than that), so I’m building up to it. Pushing 10–15 miles for the first few days, then 15–20 mile days, then 25 miles, then hopefully 30+ miles on a daily basis within the first month.
A few days ago, I decide to do my first 20-mile hike. Took me until after dark to reach camp. On the way there, I see rain in the forecast. 100% chance of rain in three days, followed by another day of rain, and then freezing temperatures. Yikes!
I look at my map. The NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) is 50 miles away. It’s a big hostel for hikers, and also an outfitter, so I might be able to get boots there. Unfortunately, I don’t know when the storm is arriving yet. Early morning means I only have two days to hike 50 miles. Evening means I have three days to hike it.
The next morning, a fellow hiker Ice Bear told me that right before the NOC, there is a rocky ridge with steep drop-offs on either side. Yikes again! And I certainly don’t want to exit at a point before NOC, then have to hike this steep ridge when it’s iced over. My goal: get to the NOC before the storm no matter what. (Spoiler alert! This where the mental fortitude comes in.)
I look at my map again. Based on the camping sites between me and the NOC, I need to do another 20 mile day, then either a 25 or 30 mile the next day.
So remember my quadricep tendonitis? That started on that 20 mile day to the NOC. Painful but I did the 20 miles. By the next morning, my leg was so stiff I could barely bend it. Forecast said rain was going to start at 10 AM. I need to make the 30 miles so I can wake up and do the last mile in the morning. (Don’t want to roll into NOC at night and have them be closed like what happened to me in the last post.)
I’m normally slow, but with this sore knee, I was hobbling along at barely 1 mph. I’m super slow uphill anyway, but now downhills were excruciatingly painful and slow. Even on flat trails, I was hobbling stiff-legged like I had a full length leg cast on.
I persevered. Onward I hobbled. My body was constantly tense from the anticipated pain of each step, and then tensed even more when the actual pain hit. It was exhausting. Still, I pushed onward against the protests of my body.
All day I hobbled. Sunset. I pull out my headlamp and hobble on. At about 11 PM, after hiking/hobbling for nearly 15 hours, I pass a shelter at the 20-mile mark. I heard that fellow hiker Beez was planning to stay there, and sure enough he’s there, sound asleep. I’m hungry and tired, but I don’t want to disturb him nor be tempted to sleep because at my current pace there’s no way I could make the 10 miles before the storm hits. I push onward.
Into the morning hours I hobble onward. At 4 AM, I finally reach the shelter at the 25 mile mark. It’s empty. I stop to eat so I have enough strength to make the next 5 miles to the shelter just before the NOC.
I’m amazed that I’ve made it this far. I’ve been hiking in pain for 20 hours straight to beat this impending storm. 25 miles down, a little over 5 to go.
I check the weather again. Start of the rain has been pushed back to noon. Noon…woohoo! I can do the 5 miles in the morning. I mean, it is morning right now, but I can sleep here for maybe 3 hours and still get up in time beat the storm.
And so I slept. And just a few hours later, I woke up and hobbled to the NOC ahead of the storm. By the way, that rocky ridge…it wasn’t so bad. I was envisioning a long knife-edge ridge. This was more like steep, winding stairs without railing. But yes, possible death if you fell at one or two particular spots.
Unfortunately, after all that, the NOC did not have the boots that I needed, so I headed next door to their restaurant to eat while I made hotel and shuttle arrangements to Franklin. While I’m paying for my overpriced burger, sky growing dark from the impending storm, I thought, “I did it. I had a goal that I needed to accomplish. Through the pain, through the night, I persevered. This Triple Crown is gonna be easy.”
Then the rain hit and hit hard. That impending storm that drove me to push my limits had finally begun. But you’ll have to wait until my next post to hear about that story and my first snow on trail. Meanwhile, enjoy some pre-storm photos.
Seriously, activate your gluts. Your brain can only allow spasm on one side of a joint at a time. When your quads lock up, start with hip extension and glut activation. Then add a hamstring curl, or bent knee, while lying on your abdomen. It is natural to place a lot of weight on your toes when carrying a pack which stresses the patellar tendon and quads. Activating your gluts when you stop to break will give your quads a rest. If the terrain allows digging in your heels as you walk downhill, you shift to your gluts and alleviate the stress on your quads and patellar tendon. You did a good job with your self diagnosis! Unfortunately, the best methods for quick musculoskeletal repair are not easy to find online…oppositional strengthening and counter-strain technique.
Whatever, Dr. Google!
Seriously, thank you, Gina. And using my glutes more will tone those muscles and make my ass look even better than it already does. Win-win.
Readers, let me introduce you to my ex-wife. She is an amazing doctor who spends the time to address your actual issues and solve the underlying cause instead of just prescribing drugs to mask the symptoms. That’s why she has patients driving in from neighboring cities, 4 hours roundtrip, just to see her. If you are anywhere near the San Antonio area and in need of a doctor, I highly recommend you lookup Regina Lee, MD at Family Health of South Texas. She’s so good that even her ex-husband recommends her.
It’s been a while but she is pretty awesome! Good luck with everything Bennett and I have been loving your adventure!
Best ex ever, Bennett! If anyone can do this after 50, it’s you! We are living vicariously through you….well, I am living vicariously. I do not think our mutually shared offspring will ever attempt such a thing.
My AT thru-hiker brother says that the first 1/3 of the AT is a physical challenge. Clearly that’s where you are. If you can make it past the first 1/3, you can make it all the way, barring injury or illness. The second 1/3 is mental. “I’ve got sooooo far to go; my damn toe still hurts; I’m tired of the rain; I miss my mommy.” You ain’t there yet. The final 1/3 is nutritional…if you don’t eat right, that’s where it’s going to catch up to you. So eat right, and hike on!
Bennett, I lost my toenail on my big toes on Orizaba. When going downhill, I would point my toes downhill. This jammed the big toes in the end of the boot. I found what to do was go from side-to-side on the trail when going downhill with the side of your feet being on the downhill side. This prevented the toe jamming. I learned this by watching the guide (Eric Simonson) when he went downhill.