Hiking the Appalachian With Only One Good Knee: The Tale of Timex

12:28 PM Life in Between 0 Comments

January 11, 2016

This was only my second night of sleeping in a tent...in my entire life. Somehow, I had managed to escape the wonder that is sleeping in the dirt for 25 years. Day one was filled with awkward positions--a fight with a tree root. In fact, we didn't begin the first "day" until 1 a.m. when we reached our starting point. We walked and walked until 4 a.m. with nothing but the light of our head lamps and the high of our excitement. By night two, I was so exhausted that sleeping on a bed of nails sounded inviting.

I couldn't move my legs. After 12 hours of endless hiking through the Appalachian Trail, my right knee had finally decided it was done with me--it had given up miles ago and was probably waiting for me at a coffee shop until I finished this insane adventure. I talked to my left knee like she was my only hope of getting out of this alive. "Please," I whispered. "Only seven more miles tomorrow and then I'll let you sit on the couch for a month."

It was the end of August, and the only sleeping bag I could get on such short notice was meant for subzero temperatures. My cousin had bought it for her trip to New Zealand and threatened to end my life should I return it with any damages. At that moment, I felt like my life was ending anyway. My body was in no position to hike 21 miles in a day and a half.

That night, all of the hikers in our group decided to camp outside of shelter because a snake decided it wanted the whole building to himself. Although the snake didn't say anything, we were pretty sure he did not invite us to the slumber party by the way he refused to relocate.

So, we had hiked an extra mile from the fire tower, only to end up sleeping outside of shelter. Everyone else gathered for dinner around the fireplace where they added water to their Mountain House Pro Pack meals. I shoveled peanut butter and apples into my mouth and drifted off to sleep before anyone could convince me to join them. Only an hour later, another hiker offered me her leftover beef stroganoff before she and our group leader hiked a mile back to the tower to watch the stars. I would have gone, but I couldn't move my body.

As the two bounded off like they hadn't just spent 12 hours hiking, the other hikers put out the fire and left me alone in the tent. The forest was dark and full of shadows. When I was finally comfortable enough to drift off, it was a challenge. When alone in a tent, especially for the first time, every noise you hear is threat. Every rustle of the leaves and crunch of the dirt creates a frightening image in your mind of getting torn limb from limb by an angry mountain bear. I immediately thought of ways I might reason with it. "Okay, bear," I thought. "I'm only here for the night, I swear. I'll gladly give you my Snickers bar if you will just give me a head start running." Maybe it would be a nice bear. The kind I could discuss my favorite Food Network shows with before he kindly shared my breakfast with me. Yes...somehow, this seemed like a good plan.

The next day I was set to complete the last 7 miles of the hike. I woke up with the sun and surveyed the damage to my feet. My right big toe was missing skin, my left heel was crusted with blood and my right knee was still not working properly. After a handful of trail mix and some dark chocolate bars, I wrapped my feet like a war victim. I would be lying if I said I didn't look at my battle scars with pride. They were earned. But I wasn't sure how I was going to make it home.

The first mile I managed to maintain a steady pace. My trekking poles served as crutches and everything was uphill, so my knee wasn't in terrible pain. We passed beautiful things that could only be truly appreciated if you were there. Most notably, a tunnel of rhododendron that blocked the sun and cooled us as we breezed through. Our guide told us about the local plant life, and we occasionally stopped and rested long enough to grab water from our Camelbaks.

(If you ever have a chance to hike a portion of the AT, I highly recommend it. It's absolutely beautiful, and the views are stunning.)

"The rest of our hike is downhill," our guide warned. "I better go ahead of you guys so you know where to step." I must say, I am still thankful he took the lead. The path was steep and winding down fast. My feet struggled to find balance with my giant backpack full of too much food. I had completely overpacked and had enough food for a 4 day hike. Suddenly I stepped, and a sharp pain shot through my body. I winced and looked down at my swollen knee. I felt like I had aged 40 years on this hike, but I wasn't going to quit. I pressed on.
The trail we completed on the hike.

My guide explained to me that on the trail everyone receives a trail name. Which made a lot of sense, considering I had been hiking with men who only answered to "Briar Patch" or "Jabez". He looked at me. "You know," he said. "I am going to call you Timex. You can take a lickin' and keep on tickin'." So, I became Timex, the most broken and determined wannabe hiker on the AT.

As I rounded the final loop, I could see and smell civilization. I was hobbling on my good knee and pushed every step of the way until finally my feet had reached a paved road.

Timex had made it.

I'm not entirely sure what motivated me to hike 21 miles in one weekend. Actually, no. That's a lie. I do know. I needed an escape. I needed an accomplishment. There is a power in knowing you can overcome something difficult. There is a power in knowing you ultimately decide what you are capable of. For me, that was enough to keep going.

(Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.)

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