Last year I spent my birthday on Franconia Ridge. I promised myself I would be back there to celebrate my birthday this year. There was no way for me to know it at the time, but I was making a promise my body wouldn’t be able to keep. I made plans to spend a week on the Vermont Long Trail and then a week in the Whites. Then Flame came for a visit with his dog and I moved my cat’s litter box to a different room so the dog had space to play. I’m not sure how my back managed to carry a 30 pound pack for six months and never hurt, but apparently lifting a litter box was just too much for it. I have a severely herniated L5-S1 disc that requires surgery. The bright side is that it’s a minimally invasive magical laser surgery with a short recovery time!
I shortened my trip to New Hampshire down to one week and promised my worried husband I wouldn’t hike while I was away. Low Branch picked me up from the airport and we went to a little hiker party at the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, VT. It was being thrown by The Dude, a hiker I’d met and given a ride to at Trail Days in May. He’s also from Houston and he didn’t know I was coming so I surprised him with a 6-pack of Texas beers from home. I love surprises! I met a ton of people, and even though I couldn’t hike, I felt at home surrounded by hikers. I met so many and I wish them all the best of luck. When we left Dude Fest, Low Branch and I spent a rainy day at a nature center oohing and ahhing at owls. We, unfortunately, had an argument we couldn’t agree to disagree on so I asked him to leave.
I spent the rest of the week in Miss Janet’s van watching her do that thing she does. We picked up hikers. We dropped off hikers. We picked up more hikers. We dropped off more hikers. We kidnapped one or two and held them hostage for a couple of days. We made trips back and forth from Killington, Rutland, Woodstock, Hanover, and Glen Cliff. We spent the night at a mist-covered lake under an incredible moon, watching shooting stars, listening to loons, and putting our hearts on our sleeves. We ate maple candy. We had a nighttime dance party with a bear on Killington to the superb ski lift music that was still blasting from the speakers. We gave a jump to a van of hikers with a dead battery. We felt tiny, high above Quechee Gorge. We drove through lengthening shadows in the setting sun, always with a new destination in mind, but slowed down long enough to take pictures of fields of sunflowers and cows sniffing sheep butts. We drank the yerba mate.
I spent my last night in a tent in Hanover and wanted nothing more than to start walking north. I voluntarily slept without a sleeping pad so I could feel the ground beneath me. I loved every pebble, every pine needle, every root, every clump of dirt, and every twig, as if it was the finest pillow made from the finest fabric in all of civilization. But I can’t walk north. Some days, I am in constant pain and I can’t feel half my leg. I didn’t have the birthday that I dreamed about for the last year and I lost one of my best friends, but I realized something very important on this trip.
It’s all going to be okay.
I’ve been reminded lately to be where my feet are so that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m here. I’m in Houston. I’m enjoying the time I get to spend with my family. Instead of wondering what would be happening if I hadn’t hurt my back, I’m going to embrace what is going to happen instead. I’m going to have surgery. I’m going to recover like a champ. I’m going to start my new job at REI. I’m going to do my physical therapy. I’m going to drop 5 lbs from my base weight. This time next year, I’m going to be looking at my birthday feet somewhere on the Pacific Crest Trail. I can’t wait to share the next thru-hike adventure with y’all!