I guess it’s time for an update. Since I wrote last my path has been changed greatly, which I suppose is to be expected of the trail. I’m not writing while zeroing in a small town off the swath of dirt and rock that I follow everyday but rather in my home city of Philadelphia. Two weeks ago I injured myself pretty good, well, pretty bad I guess. After one of the most amazing weeks on the trail spent with possibly one if the best groups of people I’ve traversed with, I broke my foot unbeknownst to me. And so here I am writing to you from my parent’s backyard.
I’ve been injured before on the trail. I nursed a pretty hefty groin pull on the PCT last year and suffered some IT band issues and shin splints like I’ve never experienced. On the AT I felt a lot of foot pain a lot of the time and luckily until two weeks ago didn’t have any serious physical problems. The trail is hard. It’s hard on the body. I felt as though I was finally beginning to find a rhythm and acceptance of physical pain and mental self deprication. My friends and I were doing a lot of long days. And although they felt hard, the brotherhood of our friendship seemed to allow me to perservere. The morning I woke up in such agonizing pain, I did what I usually do. I tried to walk it off. That day I found the limit of pain I could take and after 25 miles I knew I had to stop.
I want to take you back to before that day, because I think the brotherhood of the trail is so important to talk about. On the trail you meet so many amazing and wonderful people. They seem to ebb and flow daily. It is when you find those that you wish to never leave that the brotherhood begins. I feel like it’s almost comprable to falling in love,you just know. I’d been with Yogi for hundreds of miles already. Everything with him was always magic, and it was easy and it was love. I felt safe and always happy with him in a sense. We worked well together. I think we both yearned for something new and exciting and when Space Cadet and Ganja Man came into our world everything changed. It expanded. And there was a light that was brought about that I’m still trying to process. We were all just very close and it became apparent that we wanted to walk together for a spell.
When you connect with certain people in life it’s as if time comes to a halt without you noticing. The world around me began to look different and almost even, more beautiful. These two guys would change my perception more than I could see on the trail. Our friendship and closeness was something I’ve never had in such a capacity. I genuinely looked forward to all of my moments with them. We walked through some of the most hellacious weather and had some of the nicest days . Their voices and laughter still bring a smile to my face as I miss them now . I guess it just wasn’t my time. But I’m grateful for their love and for the way they opened my eyes and really, my heart. Nothing is permanent and change is constant but the effect some people can have on you can be everlasting. I almost wanted to keep going, destroy myself just to stay with them as long as I could. But I couldn’t.
As I’m sitting here in the city I grew up, I’m homesick. I miss the trail everyday and am bombarded with social media assaults of all of my friends still crusading the ever present white blaze pathway. It’s hard to be constantly updated on their observations, their struggles and their discoveries out there, at home. I look at photographs, read descriptions and see the dynamics change. In two weeks I can see physical changes in their bodies. Two weeks of trail life is equivalent to maybe three months of “real” life. At this point everything I was doing has been deconstructed for so many reasons. When I’m able to get back on (hopefully in one week) I’m essentially going to be starting all over. And alone.
Right up until I broke my foot things seemed to be moving forward. I was doing mostly big miles and I was spending a good amount of time laughing, learning and becoming more in tune with the trail. The things that bothered me weren’t as much of a nuisance and the things I loved were becoming numerous. The rain still kicked my ass but with my brotherhood it was more tolerable. My bretheren and I spent a particularly life changing Nero in a field, relaxing, drying out all of our gear and just lounging around enjoying the day. We shared a connection that day that will stay with me always. We transcended space and time and that day felt like a multitude of days filled with light and color and love…and change. I remember thinking when we fell asleep that night that everything would be different after that day. Call it a gut feeling, but i just knew I’d have to hold onto that time for the time it was.
I woke up the following morning and left before everyone else. The first six miles were liberating and sweaty and lovely. I wanted to just climb alone, and go alone and be alone and find my companions later. Ganja Man caught me first and I knew he’d surpass me. And he did. And he was beginning to find his own rhythm. I broke my foot later that day, trying to catch up and keep pace when I most likely couldn’t. And I didn’t even know. I walked 25 miles the next day on it, and the first 11 were painful but the last 13 were downright brutal. Feeling pain and dealing with it are one thing, knowing something is wrong is something else entirely. Accepting it is the hardest part. I accepted it and my friends supported me in the worst of it. They stayed with me and lost miles because of me. I have never been able to ask for help or show such weakness in front of people in such a way and they made me feel validated and strong. They helped me. They watched me cry. They refused to leave me. They taught me so much with such simple gestures of love and kindness. They allowed me to accept the fact that I couldn’t keep going. And so I didn’t.
Coming home was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in awhile. After being out on the trail, in such immense beauty, surrounded by lush vegetation, the elements, and the never ending chatter of birds talking always, the last place I wanted to be was a massive, surging, sweaty, struggling, oppressive metropolis. Philadelphia is a sprawling city. It has a meaty beating heart and half functioning organs in a giant dysfunctional body. I spent most of my life here and my relationship with it could be described as less than healthy. I’ve always said it’s like being involved in an abusive relationship. This city loves me and beats the fuck out of me. It builds me up, so swollen full of love and then smacks me down hard and breaks my heart. It’s a bipolar mess for me. So manically up and so destructively down. I know every part of it, and I move across it like a familiar lover touches every part of their partner’s body. Gliding across North Philadelphia on the elevated train still brings me close to god in a way that I cannot describe properly with words. I know every street, every smell, every too loud sound. I feel like a ghost here. Bodies move past me quickly. Everything is too much. There is too much pain. It’s too much. So much suffering. So much everything. After my introverted masochistic but retrospective time on the trail I felt so lost and confused. My senses weren’t prepared. I was overwhelmed.
I was so happy to see my “actual” family. I was happy to see my friends. But my heart felt empty. I longed to be back to the day when time stopped. To the nights falling asleep with my trail family. I wanted to walk through the forest every day and not know exactly what to expect even though i knew exactly what to expect. Coming back to this mayhem and being immobilized was pretty much the exact opposite of the reality I had come to know. It was honestly just devastating. I tried to look on the bright side. I spent much needed time with my parents and siblings. I revisited painful pieces of my past and put them behind me. I saw people I love and told them so. And I rested. Which is the hardest part I guess. I tried to make my body be idle.
After hiking 20 plus miles a day, to suddenly STOP is a shock to the system. I literally had a hard time sitting still. My limbs for the first week felt restless and almost uncomfortable. It actually hurt to sit still. I couldn’t sleep. I felt anxious and almost sick. I’m so lucky too, I have so many people in my life who just wanted to see me. But. I. Was. Depressed. I couldn’t relate to so much of being here anymore and I’d find myself daydreaming about being back on the trail. Man. I was fucking everything up. How people didn’t just slap me in the face was beyond me. I’m injured but my life isn’t over. And people love me. And my life is pretty great. And SHUT THE FUCK UP.
I started riding the train all the way from the beginning to the end, to pass the time, to make sense, the watch the light change. I watched people and their faces. I got lost in them. I made up stories about them. I visited my friends. I slept in beds, on couches and on the floor. I fantasized about sleeping on park benches just to sleep outside. I went to church. I prayed to god. I kept going. Today I went fishing.
I have one week to find out my fate. If they tell me my foot is better (which was my orthopedic’s plan), then I go back out onto the trail on Saturday. I’ll start in Pennsylvania and keep moving north to Katahdin and make up the miles back to where I got off (Pearisburg, Virginia) from Pennsylvania. If my foot is still broken. If my foot is still broken. Man. If my foot is still broken. Well. I have to stay off of it another three weeks. And I’ll get back on at the end of July in Katahdin. And I’ll southbound all the way back to Virginia. Not the end of the world but certainly a drastic change in plans. And monetarily I have yet to figure out how the hell I’m going to make that work. I worked my butt off all winter for this thru hike. And after not working, not hiking and paying out of pocket for a broken foot, well, you know. You know.
But things always happen for a reason. I’m trying to be productive here. I’m trying to be positive. I’m “home” but i just want to be home. I know this sounds slightly depressing but I guess it’s just how I feel right now. I’m not down or sad or anything really. I’m just waiting. I miss the blaze. I miss the trees. I miss my friends out there. But I’m not there. So I’ll be here. And I’ll be grateful for all that I have (which is alot). And I’ll keep riding the train and walking the grid and listening to the sounds and feeling the sweat and hoping for the best possible outcome this Thursday. I’m going to finish the AT this year. It just depends on when.