Let’s Try This Again

I started my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail on April 22nd of 2017. It was a long-time dream of mine; I had been obsessed with the trail ever since I met my first thruhikers when I was 7 or 8, and had been actively planning for it during my final years of high school. Even before thruhiking, the trail and backpacking were a huge part of my identity, a part which grew even more as I began hiking and became fully immersed in the trail culture.

The trail was beautiful.

I am 18. I have never fallen in love, but I fell in love with the Pacific Crest Trail. I fell in love with the mountains, and walking in them every day. The sunrises rising up from the crooks of the hills, the sky at first black, muddling into gray, blushing pink. The sunsets, the sky like marbled, shattered glass. The trekking pole scuffs lining the path north like ribbon. The crunch of sand underneath my feet. Moments indescribably beautiful as I’d crest a ridge during golden hour or come upon an overflowing spring, making my heart swell and dance and sing. Sweat drying on my shirt, the fabric stiff and cool on my arms. Clinging to the roots of Joshua trees in the heat of the day. Stopping to madly write love poems about it all, brushing away mosquitos and stamping my feet, laughing. Zipping up my sleeping bag at night, the pines ringing the stars. Whispering “I love you” out loud when I was alone.

On June 8th, just 622 miles into the trail and less than a hundred miles until the Sierra, I got off trail due to what would turn out to be a stress fracture in my foot. I’ve tried to write about what getting off trail felt like many times, but I always get stuck here, with a rather clinical sentence about getting off of the PCT. There seems to be simultaneously so much and so little to express. In fracturing my foot I’d lost a huge part of my identity, my community, my direction, my dream, my hobby, my release.

A lot has happened with my foot the last year, but here’s the gist of it- I got home, and went to the urgent care, where they took non-weight bearing X-rays of my foot and didn’t see a break, declaring my lame and swollen foot “probably a bad sprain.” We went to the orthopedic clinic a couple days later and got weight-bearing X-rays that showed the stress fracture in my foot. It was honestly kind of a relief after not knowing for sure what was wrong, and not knowing how soon I would be able to get back to the trail. So. I got a big boot for 4 weeks, and a post-op shoe for a couple of weeks after that.

It wasn’t feeling right, like there was a sock bunched under my foot, or a pebble, so I went back to the orthopedic clinic and the condescending incompetent nice person of the doctor told me that I had a Morton’s Neuroma. It’s basically a heavily irritated nerve in between the joints in the ball of your foot, and so she gave me metatarsal pads and sent me off.

I tried the metatarsal pads for a month or two, in a haze of depression and existential crises and grief and fear. I was unable to walk without pain. My entire foot would swell up for a week if I walked for just a little bit, 2 miles even. If I stood or sat too long it would swell. I didn’t know how I could move forward at all. In desperation to get any sense of direction in my life I got a job and had to quit after the first day because my foot had swollen up like a medical glove filled with water and turned into a weird, foot-shaped, bloated water balloon. I cried a lot, and was afraid. It wasn’t getting better. I was terrified of not being able to walk without pain or hike ever again.

I finally went to a podiatrist for a second opinion. He took one look at my X-rays and told me that my metatarsals (toe bones) were too close, and that my break had healed wrong so that they were almost touching together. He had me try an injection to calm the nerve first, but after the second appointment we set up a surgery to re-break my bones and move them apart, and possibly remove the irritated nerve. That was at the end of October, 4.5 months after getting off-Trail.

So, I did the surgery. I didn’t have a Morton’s Neuroma and my nerve was completely fine (thanks orthopedic woman). I was in bed for another month, which was terrible. Then I started walking again, in a post-op shoe. It still didn’t feel good, so I went back and got the go-ahead for physical therapy to break down all the scar tissue from surgery, work on mobility, and correct a hammer toe which was causing me pain. I did PT twice a week for 3 months.

During the summer and fall we hosted and gave rides to a bunch of hikers coming through Reno, some hikers I knew, some not- I got to see Kelcey again, now named Rapunzel, and Hitch and Spider Mama and Tetris, and Outlaw, and Colleen, and Alpo.

Of course, it’s not all that simple, but it’s late in this hotel room in Tehachapi, the same motel I stayed at when my foot was in the first stages of injury last summer. I spent the last year, ever since I got off, desperately planning how to get back to the trail. I missed it every day, but it also kept me going. It was a goal that I could have and work towards when I had nothing to works towards, and no direction.

So now I’m here, driving down to Campo again. My mom and brother and a trail friend from last year, Drippy, who we hosted at our house after his hike ended, and who’s also trying again, are driving down with me. Rick, now Ziploc, is also starting the same day. Swayed is starting the day after. Twerk is already on-trail and a hundred miles in.

My foot isn’t a hundred percent yet, but it’s good enough to try. It still gets irritated and painful sometimes, and it’s always very slightly on the edge of un-comfort. The hammer toe is still there, albeit better. I have to tape it down, and I have a bunch of other strategies to keep most of the pain away. But I’ve got to try. I have to.

It says a lot about me that I waited almost year until I could write anything about this. I’m a terrible procrastinator. Anyway, it’s late.

Goodnight. I’ll see you out there, foot willing.

-Picnic