Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Maine to Boston

Even being off the AT, we wanted to pack in at least a bit more adventure as we progress further into waiting/healing mode. Luckily Andy turned 25 just in time for us to rent a car, and just as luckily the family we were staying with was able to drive us to Portland (a couple hours away) to pick up our rental. It was a snazzy new Ford Focus in which everything was mysteriously operated through a computer screen. Even changing the radio station the first time took more random button pressing than my pride was prepared for.

From Portland, we headed to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. After our three days of slackpacking past Rangeley, we were about five more days of hiking from Gorham, the town at the northern end of the Whites. By car, it took just a couple of hours. One of the stranger aspects of being off the trail but still in the vicinity of the trail for so long is that it gave us a much clearer perspective of the areas we were (or in this case, would have been) hiking through. Not only does it all look very different by road than it does when you're in the woods (we were suddenly looking lazily up at peaks that we would have been gazing down from, muscles burning), but we could see just how strangely the trail winds and curves. Not that a direct course is by any means the point when you're looking to walk through the woods for half a year, but it is a strange feeling to zoom past miles after mile that you know has the potential to contain so much exhaustion, exhilaration, and adventure.

I should probably mention that our main reason for going to Gorham, rather in wallowing in what could have been, was to pick up mail both there and in nearby Franconia. We hoped to be able to drive up Mount Washington, too, as it's said to be the most spectacular peak in the Whites, but Andy's GPS said the drive would add three hours to our trip and it was just too late in the day. It was really too bad--the Whites, and Mt. Washington in particular, are notorious for bad weather and that day was as beautiful and clear as could possibly be hoped for. But of course we'll be back, both to finish our thru and likely just to vacation.

In Gorham, we had one of our massive resupply boxes from Andy's mom waiting (full of extra delicious snacks that she threw in!), and we also got a package from one of our blog readers! It was so exciting that I didn't want to wait to dig out a knife--we sliced the tape on it with my credit card. Inside were a bunch of hiking goodies in perfect travel sizes--including two of the most adorable mini tabasco bottles I've ever seen. Pretty awesome, since Andy had been missing hot sauce on the trail! Thanks so much, Peter!

Next up was Franconia. I don't think that Franconia is a very common trail stop (it only gets a small mention in our guide book), but we had sent our bounce box there to avoid the more expensive lodging of North Woodstock/Lincoln. And then it was off to Massachussetts with a perhaps fitting greeting of gridlock rush hour traffic. Luckily, my friend Michelle lives outside of the city and we were able to skirt our way around most of it. The mass of cars and people and tightly packed spaces was sort of like a mini culture shock--a sensation that took a few days to start wearing off.

I might have mentioned this in an earlier post, but it was sort of unbelievable that Michelle offered to take us in. We were good friends in high school, but for college our whole group spread out around the country and some, including the two of us, haven't seen each other since. Anyway, it was really great and we ended up staying with her for about two weeks. In that time, she took us to a lot of places we'd never otherwise get to go and made an appointment for Andy to see the most legit orthopedist yet. And in an extra bout of luck, Andy's dad was in the area for a business trip and was able to meet up with us. He took us out to lunch at a marina and dropped us off at Andy's appointment. It was wonderful to be able to see him, especially with all the craziness we've been going through since getting off the trail.

One of the things that we kept remarking on during our visit is how funny it is to be in an area with so many different states nearby. In Colorado it's not necessarily hard to get to another state, but odds are good that you'll just find flat dusty nothingness when you get there. In Massachusetts you get on a highway for a couple hours (rush hour traffic excluded), you could hardly help but cross a state border. Taking advantage of this, Michelle took us to Rhode Island twice. The first trip we went to Providence where we walked around a park that must have contained about 15 wedding parties and the second trip we went to Newport Beach, where we drove past massive houses, got solidly burned on the beach (oops), and walked around a very cute downtown.

We didn't do a ton in downtown Boston, but we did walk around some and visit the science museum. We've been kind of torn on this time off as to what to do with ourselves since 1) the budget needed for city roaming is a bit different than the one we have for mountain roaming and 2) walking probably isn't the best for a broken foot (and the crutches hurt, too). But we did do a lot of pack weight cutting, even returning our much-loved tent and ordering a much lighter one. Andy's parents even bought us summer-rated sleeping bags for our birthdays that are also significantly lighter (our current ones are rated for 15 and 20 degrees, the new ones for 40). Regardless of whether we can get on the trail again this year, we've definitely learned a lot of what we do/don't need when we get going again. Hopefully we can get Andy to another doctor next week for a new x-ray and a healing update with good news!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


It's difficult to describe the myriad of feelings that the events of the last several weeks have brought on. In the last few miles that we hiked into Rangeley, the lump on my shoulder had become so big and so painful that I had to loosen my pack for it to hang awkwardly, achingly off of my hips and left shoulder. Then, after visiting the medical center, sorting through our overwhelming amount of mail and being found by the most generous trail angel imaginable. After a few days (under an antibiotic, doing hot and cold treatments, and carrying nothing) had gone by and my shoulder still hadn't improved, Andy suggested that we should start thinking about the possibility of needing to get off the trail. I had to push down the tears I could feel welling up, knowing that he was right but also unwilling to give up on this dream of our thru-hike. And then, incredibly, it started feeling better. The bump wasn't budging but the pain receded. Dawn took us on our fantastic weekend trip that included my first visit to a lighthouse, tons of beautiful views, the very cute town of Freeport, hanging out with some of the nicest people ever, a visit to a really great beach, and, of course, the downfall of Andy's foot. In the couple of days after it started hurting, we finished up our plans for the Whites and organized our food, packed our bags, my shoulder thing started getting smaller... and then realized Andy's foot needed more serious medical attention than ibuprofen could offer.

I really can't say enough about how wonderful Dawn and her family were to us in Rangeley, right down to making Andy a birthday cake and helping us keep our chins up while we hung in limbo over our hike. Her parents even drove us a few hours to Portland so we could pick up a rental car and head a little further south. Now we're here at another wonderful friend's home. Michelle and I went to high school together in Illinois, but when we graduated I headed west, she went east, and I'm pretty confident in saying that this is the first time we've seen each other since. And yet, being the awesome person she is, she's taken us in and let us more or less take over her Boston apartment while we plan our next move.

It has seriously been the most bizarre mix of good and bad luck that we have experienced--because although the nurse who helped us at the Rangeley medical center called our injuries 'the strangest' she had ever seen, Dawn and her father are a retired nurse and doctor and Michelle is an administrator in a part of a hospital that includes, as luck would have it, orthopedics. Go figure. So she was able to get Andy an appointment that finally included a less casual take on healing--namely, a hard-soled boot, a pair of crutches, and some pain meds. After the first doctor suggested we go ahead and hike and see how it goes and the second doctor said wait 4 weeks to hike but it's ok to walk on, it was a strange relief to hear this third doctor say to stay off of it as much as possible, get a follow-up in about a month, and not even consider the possibility of hiking for 6-8 weeks. That was about a week ago now, which places our earliest hope of returning to the trail at mid-September. If the doctor gives the go-ahead, we'll probably need to start back up around Harper's Ferry (the trail's unofficial halfway point) to try and finish before December. I'm sure that hoping to get back out there sounds crazy--if it were last summer and I was reading a post like this, it would probably seem pretty crazy to me. But we both want it so badly that neither of us is ready to give up just yet. So we're cutting pack weight, reworking the timeline and budget requirements, and... we've still got some summer to enjoy!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fractured Plans

Today, the mysteries have been solved. By a specialist. Go figure. My left foot is fractured in at least one place, possibly two. The doc was able to find a small cloud coming off my third metatarsal on the x-ray (check out the picture below) and identify what he called "the wake" of the fracture. He said I was lucky, that these kinds of fractures sometimes don't show up on a normal x-ray for 2 weeks. I also circled n' question marked the place where he said the second fracture may be. 

Can you see it? Three other doctors couldn't. 
So what's next? We're asking ourselves the same question. Mentally, nothing has changed, we're still thru hikers in our heads. Mentally (and 99.9% physically) we're ready to go. Our stuff is packed in a storage locker which has been paid through January. The trail is calling. 

But I was told it will be 3.5-4 weeks before my foot will be healed enough to hike on and possibly 6-8 weeks before I stop feeling pain. 

Right now we're working on where to stay and what to do while I heal. Since starting to plan our hike I've wanted to visit my grandmother in New York and take Jess to see the city and surrounding area. So the next month has turned into a jigsaw puzzle of putting together how to get from place to place to place and then back to the trail once my foot is ready to go. So our plans are to make our puddle jumps, then get back on the trail in New York and hiking from there to Georgia. We'll have to make plans to come back and complete the section of the trail from New York to Andover, ME. Of course by doing this, we're missing Mahoosuc Notch, the Whites and Mt. Washington. All of which I had been very excited to see. I know, I know, they'll be there next year. Maybe even the year after that too. 

Having taken 2 weeks off the trail and with at least another month to come, our dreams of being able to thru hike the trail are over. Guess we'll have to save the complete thru for the PCT or CDT. The best we can hope for now is to come back and complete our hike next year. Two chunks isn't so bad. If we're able to complete everything from New York south this year, added to what we've already done, we'd only be leaving approx. 500 miles for next year. Completing almost 1700 miles of the trail still sounds like a decent accomplishment to me. 

Our time in Maine has been great. We are very lucky that we found someone kind enough to take us in in our time of need. Not to mention letting us stay for almost 3 weeks with us doing nothing in return other than some dishes and gardening. We got to see the coast (even if it did break my foot), the monster L.L. Bean store, a fort, a lighthouse and make tons of new friends and connections. For now we are going to find a way to keep our trip alive. 

Our countdown to hiking will start again anew, and we're even going to try and find an REI along our way and see about losing some pack weight. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Just Give Me a Pegleg

Well...we didn't leave today. Obvious, as I'm posting this when we should be at Baldpate Mountain Lean-to right now. Last night my foot took a turn for the worse, swelling is as big as ever and the pain was enough to wake me up several times in the night. This morning I could hardly put my shoe on.

Trying to avoid any further delay my only hope was to make the drive an hour away to the ER in Farmington, ME. So we did. More x-rays and more "I have no idea what could be the problem!" The doctors there were extremely kind and helpful. They understood my situation and offered me a final solution. To avoid a specialist I could take an antibiotic and we could assume that this is Cellulitis, which they said there is about a 10% chance it could be. If it is Cellulitis than I should see improvements in about 3 days. If it isn't Cellulitis, the antibiotics won't do any harm, but it will be time to see an orthopedist. Which, aside from avoiding some kind of surgery, will most likely mean 4-6 weeks of recovery.

We are praying (a word I rarely use) that the antibiotics will work and will not be trying to figure out what to do instead of continue hiking.

It's so frustrating. Jess's shoulder is all but healed. Mentally we're ready to hike. 98% of my body is good. But the foot. At this point, it's got to go. Chop it off and give me the prosthetic already.

Under doctor's orders, I am to be off my foot with no strenuous activity until Monday. The appointment with the orthopedist is set for Monday in case, but the intention is to gloriously call and cancel it, while pulling a victorious set of Mr. Bojangles worthy heel clicks. It will take almost all my strength to avoid spitefully renting Saw and watching the scene where the doctor cuts off his foot over and over again.

Thanks again, everyone, for all your thoughts and emails. Amid all this helplessness the trail still calls and we will do everything we can to get back out there. Until Monday...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Flat Tire

Good news: The x-rays were negative and there are no breaks nor fractures in my foot.

Bad news: My foot didn't hear the news that it wasn't broken and is still acting like it is.

The swelling and pain haven't yet subsided, but we are planning on being back on the trail tomorrow morning and pushing for 8 miles over the Baldpate Mountains. Vitamin I is about to become my new best friend and my jaw muscles are about to receive one heck of a cringe-workout. That's OK though, better than taking a full two weeks off the trail, which is what we would have to say should we be staying through tomorrow.

On the bright side, we will hit Mahoosuc Notch (in case you haven't been paying attention this is the hardest single mile of the AT) on Saturday and the forecast is extremely favorable. Fingers have been crossed in preparation. Rangeley has also decided to send us off in style. Today there was a craft fair in town with all the local artists displaying their best, and the BBQ place which had been closed due to faulty plumbing has reopened. It was worth the wait, though certainly not on par with The Rib House & Georgia Boys BBQ back home. So far from the hubs of BBQ, though, it hit the spot.

We are anticipating a slower pace now, with my flat tire. We're hoping to be in Gorham, NH in 5 days and done with the Whites in 14-15. Mount Washington is looming in the future and only injury and weather can stop us.

It is exciting to know that we will be experiencing New Hampshire a year older! I turn 25 August 5th and Jess follows two weeks after on August 19th! As a shameless birthday plug, anyone who wishes to send us a birthday cake (or something a little more trail-applicable) can use either of these two post offices, depending on ship dates:

Andy Jensen/Jess Quig
C/O General Delivery 
Franconia, NH 03580 
ETA August 16th 

or Hanover, NH 03755
ETA August 23rd

Thanks to all for your thoughts and well-wishes these past couple of weeks as Jess healed her shoulder and I continue to work on my foot. Her shoulder is almost completely healed and only a small bump remains! The next we post will be from Gorham, New Hampshire, across our first state line!