Appalachian Trail – September 8, 2013
On the night of September 7, I collapsed back onto the floor of my tent and lay still, dreading the removal of my shoe and sock. I knew my foot would feel better once I removed the constricting wool sock, but the thought of peeling it from my raw flesh was almost debilitating. I had discovered that no matter what I did, the sweat, combined with the seeping fluid from my wounds, always resulted in the bandages sliding around the sides of my foot and ending up in a wad in the bottom of my sock. Over the day, no matter how often I reapplied Band-Aids and tape, they always floated free in a wash of foot fluids.
I finally sat up, gritted my teeth, and resolutely went to work. I gasped a little as I peeled off my sock, and a swollen purple lump that had been my big toe pulled free. I just sat and stared at the offending appendage. What appeared to be a sizeable swollen blood blister covered half the toe and had begun to move down the side of my foot. The rest of the toe was several shades of a deep purplish hue. No wonder it had hurt so much to walk. I just sat and stared at the colorful toe, and I swear it began to pulse with pain as if it knew I was staring at it. I was going to give it a night and see if it magically healed overnight.
It did seem to look a little better the following day. The swelling had gone down and was much less colorful, so I ate my pop-tart, packed my gear, wrapped, mole skinned, duct taped the toe until it looked like a proper toe mummy, and then stood. I stepped forward, let out a small grunt, and stumbled backward a step before collapsing onto my rump. I pillaged through my toiletry stuff sack, pulled out the Ibuprofen, and poured a couple more into my hand. This was going to be a tough walking day.
I reached the Co-op in Hanover as it opened that morning and purchased what I needed for resupply. I sat on a bench and packed everything while I chatted with a border collie that some NOBOs had tied to the court. Those are the best dogs, and other than a Heeler, they have got to be the best trail dogs. They are brilliant, and this one was no different, cocking its head back and forth throughout our conversation.
Resupplying did not take long, and I was back on the trail (sidewalk) headed for Lou’s for breakfast. Just as I remembered, breakfast was excellent, and the waitress commented on the volume of food ordered. The Dartmouth boys next to me watched as the food arrived and asked if anyone was joining me. I just smiled and shook my head, at which point they laughed and said there was no way I could eat that much food. Sadly, I quickly ate every bit, knowing that this appetite was permanent and I would pay the price later. Hiking had warped my metabolism at a very early age.
I finished breakfast and headed through town on a clear blue, sunny day, watching college life spin around me. Seeing all the kids so excited about the beginning of school was fun. I wanted to run into the bookstore and wander up and down the aisles of books, pretending I was buying for classes. That was always the first and last exciting day of all my semesters, picking out the books I would need for grace – ambitions of studying, writing, and learning, soon to have been overridden by long hours of work and dreams of the mountains that constantly tugged at my thoughts.
I headed across the bridge out of Hanover and entered my third state…VT! I had finally entered the form I had been looking forward to for days. I had heard stories of large rolling hills, smooth trails surrounded by old-growth forests, and friendly, albeit expensive, trail towns with grounded residents and excellent, healthy food. Finally, I was officially leaving rocky, rooty, rugged New Hampshire.
The road walk was not too bad as far as road walks go. Enough Ibuprofen makes anything tolerable. I passed a cooler some trail angels had left next to their mailbox. It was full of cold watermelon and homemade zucchini bread, just what I had expected from VT. I did not take any as I was still stuffed from Lou’s, but I signed the log and thanked them for the healthy “trail magic.”
I finally reached the trailhead and left the asphalt for the forest I had anticipated. I grinned as I passed through giant old hardwoods sprinkled with bits of painted gold, flashing softly on the trunks as gentle breezes rustled the ancient guardians’ leaves. This was why I hiked, I thought as I took deep, refreshing, oxygen-rich breaths of air. I softly bounced across the subsequent rise and slowed as I noticed two silent golden retrievers standing on the hill just ahead of me, watching in pensive silence. I stopped and lowered my head slightly, not wanting to appear as a threat. They were Golden, but a dog is a dog. A moment later, a third Golden came from the woods to my left, followed by a fourth one to the right. I was now surrounded and about to be mauled by a wild pack of Golden Retrievers.
One of the two in front growled, and I slid my hand into my pocket to grip my small pocket knife. I was unsure if the blade was even the length of the thick blanket of fur, but grabbing the little handle made me feel better. I breathed a sigh of relief as a woman came into sight, walking up behind the two dogs ahead of me. She gave me a friendly smile, and we chatted for about 20 minutes before she and her killer pack of Golden departed. Golden Retrievers are always so lovely, and I love dogs. This group, though, was guarded and very protective of its owner.
As I walked, I pulled out my Guide in the pouch on my pack belt and noticed I would reach the Full Belly Deli in about 4 miles, along a piece of the road walk I had coming up shortly. That was perfect since Lou’s breakfast was back-digested. It was good that multiple restaurants were rare, or I would leave the trail fat.
About 5 NOBOs were slack-packing at the Deli, and we chatted for a bit. They were friendly enough, but I am definitely a solo hiker, and after exchanging logistical information with them, I headed inside to inspect the menu. I ordered a nice fried meal, sat to eat, and swatted at flies simultaneously as I ate. There are always far fewer bugs in the woods. They know where to go for food.
I left and headed for Thistle Hill Shelter but stopped to camp about a mile short. I could not walk much further due to my foot, so I stopped to sit up to take care of it. Upon unpacking and settling in for the night, I removed my bandage and frowned. The ugly toe did not look good and did not appear to be something I could rest a day. I turned on my phone and called home for a bailout. It was time to get the foot checked out by someone that knew more than me.
The night was tough as I tossed and turned, mostly just trying to keep my foot from getting stuck to the sleeping bag. The following day, my foot did not look much better, and I left early, needing to be at a road crossing to catch my ride near Woodstock, VT. I was disappointed, but I thought my foot might be infected, and although stubborn as a mule, I was going to let good sense prevail.
An hour into the hike, I came across the Hobbit couple. I had not seen them in a couple of weeks, and we caught up on trail gossip before they moved down the path. I could not keep up and wished them luck as they moved ahead. I would see them at the road crossing where I met my ride, but that would be the last time I saw them on this hike.
I showed my foot to the friend that drove four hours to pick me up, and she exclaimed, “GROSS,” before heading straight to the ER. I can’t say I blamed her. They examined my foot, cleaned it up (ouch), and put me on an antibiotic IV drip before running a bunch of tests. Unfortunately, I had a pretty good infection. Due to its resistance to the first rounds of antibiotics, I would spend the next two weeks on my back, stuck up in the air, before finally returning to resume my hike.