“Oh, you’re the hiker?”
The receptionist handed me a clipboard through the sliding window pane. A week prior I had stepped into the Berkshire Physical Therapy office to make an appointment for my ailing left-ankle. A different receptionist had been staffing the post that day, and I had flustered her when I wished to make an arrangement to be seen – No, I did not have a doctor’s referral, I hadn’t and couldn’t see a proper doctor – Yes, I would be paying out of pocket and up front – Of course, I realized the situation was a little odd. Heather’s inquiry made it apparent that word of my odd little situation had gotten around the small flourescently lit office in Pittsfield, MA (in my opinion, artificial lighting is more absurd than what brought me into it, but then again I’ve been living in the woods…).
It’s an accurate description of my life since I started walking – A little odd. Except I haven’t been walking for about a month. Not on the trail, anyway. Once again blown out of time. I’ve been so off trail that I’ve also been offline – here’s a short recap of how I got here, what I’m doing here, and what’s happening next.
Rolling one’s ankle isn’t an uncommon occurrence on the trail, and I had done it many times. Although these injuries were insignificant and quickly subsided, the repetitive strain lead to enough micro-tearing of my tendons that when I did significantly roll my ankle, it rendered me unable to walk at full capacity (which in this case, means at least 10 miles a day on mountainous terrain carrying 25 pounds). At first the injury merely slowed me down, which lead to my first experiencing night hiking – never in my short life have I experienced such a quiet and enveloping darkness in the lower belly of the forest, but soon I couldn’t even walk a mile.
And that mile, during most of which I hobbled and held back tears, lead me to Great Barrington. The decision to get off trail was difficult but surprisingly well timed, in terms of our geographic location. We were in the Berkshires, where I have an extensive network of friends from a summer spent working at Shakespeare and Company.
After filling out my paperwork and seeing the physical therapist in Pittsfield, I know that my injury is not irreparable. In a regimented and controlled way, allowing for adequate rest, I am rehabilitating the scar tissue in my ankle that is causing my pain, and then strengthening both ankles to prevent injury. On a hopeful timeline, this puts me back on the trail in the middle to the end of September, when Milam and I are flipping back down to West Virginia. So I’m a bit gone from the blog for the time being – not that I’m not having an adventure. Since I’ve been in the Berkshires I’ve ridden a motorcycle for the first time and kayaked on the Housatonic. It’s been difficult for me to revisit the last few weeks of trail that are unaccounted for on the blog, and I spent quite a bit of time being sad about leaving it. While I was processing this grief, Milam reminded me of two core reasons why I started walking in the first place.
The first was to establish a healthy relationship with my body that I’ve never had before in my life. It was really easy to see that relationship forming on the trail. Compared to a year and a half ago, I’ve lost about 50 pounds – 30 of them were shed on the trail alone. But healing my ankle is a part of forming that relationship – learning about my limits and weak spots, and what I need to do to remedy and strengthen them so that my body isn’t messed up for the rest of my life.
The second reason was to write – and while I’ve been absent from the blog as I’ve lacked trail to chronicle, I’ve rewritten most of my current play commission and am making major developments on the script that will prove to be important for my education and career. Before Milam finishes solo-hiking the northern section of the trail, I’ll have a reading of the play here in the Berkshires. This chapter of my adventure has become something of an isolated writer’s retreat. I do intend to journal about the time I had on trail prior to become a temporary resident of Lenox, MA – a spattering of miscellaneous memories, including the story that lead to Milam finally getting his trail name, but for now I’m focused on healing and reading the encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine cover-to-cover. Not exactly narrative-advancing stuff.
But stay tuned.