Not how it was supposed to end

Two months ago I stopped posting on the blog. Our thru-hike schedule didn't allow me the time to write and publish. My summer sabbatical was the first time in many years that I haven't maintained a writing practice.

As I struggled with closing shop for the summer I imagined what it would be like to start posting again at the end of September, at the end of our thru-hike. I knew the featured image I would use - our Katahdin summit photo - all five us smiling, exaltant and exhausted, happily clustered around the famed brown northern terminus signpost of the Appalachian Trail.

That was to be my re-entry to blogging, my re-entry to regular life.

That dream was not meant to be.

I re-enter blogging and "normal life" one month earlier than planned, alone, heartbroken and body broken. There is no jubilant photo.

There is just this: sitting in a cafe in New Hampshire while my family carries on north through the formidable Presidential range of the majestic White Mountains.

My injury, which as best as we can determine is a stress fracture in my foot, was sustained somewhere back in Connecticut. Not knowing, I hiked on, but only a little bit as the pain was too uncomfortable to continue. An aching, searing pain so unlike the muscle soreness I had grown accustomed to. This was a pain I could not walk off in the early morning hours, but one that intensified through the day till I was hobbling into camp.

And so I got off the trail and rested, applying comfrey and ice; soaking in warm epsom salt baths; wrapping my ankle in a compression sleeve. I saw a doctor who compassionately wanted it to be a soft tissue injury as much as I did but professionally advised me that it probably wasn't. He supported my plan of more rest, followed by a gentle trial hike and ultimately listening to my body.

Hearing my body speak "stop" and choosing to listen was not an easy decision, but I do feel it was the right one.

I cried for days. Not at the pain in my foot. That only hurts when I shoulder a pack and start climbing.

I cried for my loss and disappointment. Bawling in the Hanover coffee shop, sitting next to the college student and advisor discussing course options for the fall. Blubbering when greeting the friends and strangers who came to our aid in getting me off trail and back to our car in Maine. Choking on tears while my mom comforted me over the phone. Crying in my husband's arms before he shouldered north in the company of dear trail friends and our three dependent children. And at the end of it all, the final decision made, weeping in the shower, hoping the running water would muffle the sob.

My journey now is not on the Appalachian Trail, but beside it. Driving our car and meeting my family at road crossings, supporting them and others with the perspective of a former thru-hiker, someone with intimate knowledge of what a thru-hiker needs and wants. I want to meet needs where I am able while I meet this most basic need of mine to heal. Taking care of my people, my community; taking care of me.

This was not how I planned to come back to writing. On a late August morning in New Hampshire, the leaves of the mountain maples just starting to turn, and the grey clouds obscuring the ragged mountain tops from my view in the driver's seat.

The triumphant photo on Katahdin is still in my grasp. Not because I will have hiked this whole trail, at least not this year, but because this is, and always has been a family journey. A journey of discovery and personal growth for each of us. And when I join my family in late September to summit Mt Katahdin I will have completed the mission. I will have given my very best to see this through to the end.

This post was published after shuttling my family (plus Nana) back to Crawford Notch from North Conway, New Hampshire, where all of us (and 6 hiking friends) took a zero day hosted by the the wonderful and generous Potter family. To follow the story of our hike, injuries and all, subscribe to the Beyond our Boundaries video series.

« A Summer Sabbatical
Off trail »
  • Misti

    Misti on Aug. 25, 2014, 5:20 p.m.

    Ah, man. :( I'm sorry and bummed for you. With three people I've following have stress fractures, it has been a rough summer for hikers. One of them has somehow managed to continue on, but the other (Hemlock) has not. I'll be thinking of you as you continue supporting your family as they hike north. There's a story to tell (stories to tell) and I'm sure the words will flow when they are ready.


  • Fred Kirch

    Fred Kirch on Aug. 25, 2014, 5:23 p.m.


    Sorry to hear the news. But, things do happen on the trail and not always what we want to happen. You've already hiked a longer distance than most people do in a lifetime and have had great experiences along the way. As I've written before, it is the journey, not the destination. 

    By the way, when you add the sections that you had done previously in New England, with what you've done this year, I suspect it will make you a 2,000 miler.

    Good luck and I look forward to seeing you and your family back in Quebec and having the pleasure of being able to compare trail experiences.



  • rachel wolf

    rachel wolf on Aug. 25, 2014, 5:41 p.m.

    Oh, Renee. Sending love and light your way. Sometimes our biggest and best lessons come wrapped in great hearbreak and sorrow. Holding space for your broken dream today in Wisconsin. x


  • Alison

    Alison on Aug. 25, 2014, 7:01 p.m.

    I'm so sorry to hear this. You have charted so clearly on your blog the biggest journey - that of coming into hiking as a family, and making it part of your lives. I trust that being able to be with family in a support role will help bring things closer, and that you will get your chance to do those extra miles when your foot is ready for you. Praying for you all. Take care. A x


  • Kelly

    Kelly on Aug. 25, 2014, 7:41 p.m.

    Sounds like you are starting to make a little peace with it. How very hard! So glad you are okay though and able to be with them in parts! Much healing and well wishes to you!


  • Jeanne

    Jeanne on Aug. 25, 2014, 7:58 p.m.

    Hi Renee - I have been following your updates on FB and Instagram and I'm not surprised to hear you have gotten off the trail because of your foot. I hope the fracture heals quickly for you. 

    Let the tears flow as they come. Preparing for and doing the hike has been such a family/group effort and not being there now is clearly a disappointment. I'm sure you are missed out on the trail. Peace and blessings to you!


  • Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz

    Anastasia @ Eco-Babyz on Aug. 25, 2014, 9:02 p.m.

    I am so sorry it isn't working out as planned! But remember that our plans are not always the same as God's plans, He knows what we need and as I've learned in the past - sometimes better than what we had in mind. But yes, it's really hard to let go of a broken dream and something I'm actually experiencing right now having to let go of something that's been so important to me (my blog of 5 years, that I am not sure I'll be able to keep because my photography business is taking off). 

    Oh you're so close to me in NH! I'm in north Massachusetts, just over the border :)


  • Melanie J.

    Melanie J. on Aug. 25, 2014, 9:04 p.m.

    My heart aches for you, Renee. Your family continues to inspire, perhaps even more now, because when I saw that Nana was joining the family for the last leg, all I could think was "dang, I pray I'm in that kind of shape when I'm in my 60s!" Sending healing energy your way, sweet lady!


  • Brynn

    Brynn on Aug. 25, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

    A thru-hike is defined as hiking the entire trail regardless of season or timeframe.  People often tend to forget that last part.  There is no part which states that section hikers, bi-season hikers (those who are forced to take two years and splice together), or single season hikers have any heirarchy needed. 

    Finishing out might be in your future.  It might not.  But that does not make you any less of a thru-hiker.  Those who tell you otherwise have created a situation where they find themselves larger than you due to their own insecurity.  God works in mysterious ways to teach us all we need to know.  There is purpose here, even if you cannot see it right now.


  • Mama

    Mama on Aug. 26, 2014, 1:28 a.m.

    I am sad for you Renee, and yet inspired by your courage to make the right decision no matter how hard. I keep thinking about what I could say to encourage you, and can't quite seem to find the right words. Just know that my thoughts have been with you, and my prayers as well. What a joyful reunion the grand finale will be! Blessings to each of you!


  • Rana

    Rana on Aug. 26, 2014, 12:50 p.m.

    Renee I am so sorry to hear about your injury.  I'm so proud of you and your family.  This has been an amazing adventure and it's not over yet.  You should be proud of yourself and the example you are setting for your kiddos.  They see mom not as a quitter, but as someone who is strong, knows her body and her limits and when to push thru and when to take it easy.  You are an amazing strong woman and I am so glad that I have gotten a chance to get to know you through your blog.  I can't wait to see the photo of  you standing with your family as you come to the end of this adventure. 


  • Lisa

    Lisa on Aug. 26, 2014, 1:15 p.m.

    So sorry you had to make this tough decision. So impressed your family and mother will continue on with you as a support member. Selfishly happy you are BLOGGING again! I missed your words, although I enjoy your voice on videos. 


  • Mystie

    Mystie on Aug. 26, 2014, 2:28 p.m.

    Oh, Renee! I'm so sorry for your injury and that it's taken you out of this journey with your family. I'm glad you still get to travel with them, even if it's in a different way than you'd wish.


  • se7en

    se7en on Aug. 26, 2014, 9:34 p.m.

    I was so pleased to see a blog post in my feed, I have so missed your writing. And now that I have read... oh my I am so sorry for you, you must be grieving so. What a dissappointment. Well done on a difficult decision... and I hopre you heel so fast. My heart is with you from the far side of the world. Sending love.


  • Tim Bailey

    Tim Bailey on Aug. 27, 2014, 1:28 p.m.

    Two years ago today, I was alone at the bottom of a ravine in the backcountry of Olympic National Park.  I was on a solo 3-day hike and fell 150 feet, shattering my ankle.  I ended up spending 5 days down in the ravine before I was found by a search helicopter.  With two years of perspective, I can say that brokenness was the greatest gift I ever received.

    Two years ago, I was a barefoot runner who ran everywhere, did CrossFit, and was training to run my third marathon.  I had to keep moving because I was running away from the pain inside, pain from a lifetime of always doing the Right Thing, pain from always doing and never resting in being Loved.

    I've spent the last two years learning to be still.  I still love running (now just a couple blocks at a time), I plan to get back into CrossFit (not yet), and I would love to do an IronMan someday (this may be years from now).  This quotation from Dallas Willard summarizes what I'm learning every day, The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it's who you become.

    May your gift of brokenness be as great a blessing to you as mine has been to me.


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 29, 2014, 8:59 p.m.

      Tim, thanks for this comment and sharing your experience. Brokenness was a theme of my hike, something I allude to in my next post and hope to unpackage more in future writing. It totally threw me. I wasn't expecting brokenness from this experience, but there you have it. I do pray that this "gift" will be blessing in my life and the life of others.

      And thank you for that quote. 

      all the best, Renee


  • Jessica

    Jessica on Aug. 27, 2014, 4:43 p.m.

    Oh Renee!  I am so very sorry.  This post is beautiful and has a million applications.  Thank you.  


  • Knowing The Light

    Knowing The Light on Aug. 28, 2014, 11:19 a.m.

    Dear Renee 

    I am so sorry to hear this, my heart broke for you when I read this, and I have held you in my thoughts and prayers. 

    THere are not any words which can offer you comfort I am sure .

    Like Tim Bailey above (although not to the same level), I was running half marathons, training for a full, swimming outdoorss etc and now I have chronic fatigue as a result of a long standing illness which I have ignored for years. I started my new blog (I normlaly comment here as Dark Purple Moon, albeit occasionally) as I try to turn towards the light and learn my new life with limits in a positive way. 

    I am still in the railing against the world part at the moment. It is probably important to know and accept you will almost go through the 7 stages of grieving. I hope God gives you strength to continue supporting your family and allows you to start to heal. 

    Jen KTL


  • Maryam

    Maryam on Aug. 29, 2014, 1:05 p.m.


    This brought tears to my eyes, Renee. I'm feeling for you and my heart is with you. This post, along with your next post after this, really speak to me on so many levels. Thank you for your honesty, now as in all of your posts before this. I hope your body and heart heal soon. ~M



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