Appalachian Trail statistics are telling. Around half of the 2,000 or so hikers that begin at Springer Mountain only make it to Harpers Ferry, WV, with around a quarter finishing at Mount Katahdin.
Quitting is the norm on the AT, much more so than finishing, when looking at the figures. If you would’ve told me as I made my way toward my first white blaze at the beginning of April that I’d soon be quitting, I would’ve told you that you were crazy.
Yet, here I am, back home with a sore back, numb leg, and hurt psyche.
After my first week, I started feeling numbness in my left leg above my knee. Eventually it grew to encompass my entire thigh, with an accompanying pain in my back.
Trudging up mountains was becoming painful, both mentally and physically. It was the farthest I had ever backpacked and the miles were starting to wear on me. “I’m supposed to be having fun,” I thought to myself. Instead, I focused on my physical state and my mind drifted to home. Suddenly being alone in the woods wasn’t something that beckoned. If anything, being in those mountains started to push me away the more I pushed myself.
I made it to Franklin, NC, for a rest day to figure everything out. I always told myself I didn’t want to leave on a bad day. By the next day, I was still feeling banged up, and was worried about what was causing my leg numbness. My mind was made up: I was going home.
I rented a car and was home within a day. It was the strangest feeling being home when just two days ago I was climbing mountains all day. I can only imagine the feeling after 6 months on the trail.
After almost a week of rest my leg started to get back to normal and a strained back muscle is starting to feel better. Could I have rested up a week in Franklin, continued on and made it? Maybe. But I feel I made the smart move for my physical well-being and my wallet (hotels are expensive).
Putting a life-long dream behind you isn’t an easy one, believe me. It was more painful than any physical discomfort I was having at the time. I don’t look at this as a failure or the end of my dream of walking to Maine. Rather, I see it as the start of one day finishing. It just wasn't my time, yet. I’m proud of myself for having the courage to undertake such a momentous adventure by myself and also having the insight to realize pushing on would be the wrong move.
The trail will always be there when I’m ready to give it a shot again.