A World of Pain: Sufferfest and the End

From reading my blogs about this year’s hike up to now, I realize that I might make this sound kind of easy. Well, this is going to be a complete 180 from that. The last week or so of the Cohos Trail was a SUFFERFEST.

The Mental Game

Being from New Hampshire, I have lots of friends around the trail. So when I got off for resupply at Dixville Notch to go into Errol, I got to stay with some folks I’m close with. It was a great time; food, drink, fire, relentlessly picking on each other. Eventually it had to end, and the next day I went back to the trail.

I tried really hard to stay positive on the hike up to Table Rock. I was going to see TABLE ROCK for the first time! These thoughts proved to be as weak and transient as the morning fog, and were soon overwhelmed by my increasing anxiety.

I don’t even fully know why I was getting so overwhelmed. I missed my friends. I’d been thinking a great deal about how transient I’ve become in my seasonal lifestyle. I’d been considering becoming more fixed, because every time I move I feel so lost and alone. I think my anxieties on this day were more of these thoughts. Either way, by the time I’d made it halfway up to Table Rock, I was sobbing and I could not breathe.

After calming myself down, I continued hiking. Even still, I could feel that I was not in a good space mentally. Around lunch, I realized I had left my spoon in Errol. I would have to carve up a stick to eat with until I could get a new one. Still working really hard to hold it together in the face of this new challenge, I promptly decided to completely forget about it until dinner, when I’d actually need a spoon.

Getting to dinner, however, proved to be yet another challenge. The trail followed some dirt roads for a couple of miles, and I took not one, but two wrong turns. Adding god only knows how many miles to my already stressful day. Needless to say, by the time we got to the first shelter, a mere seven miles from where we started,  I was ready for the day to be over.

The Physical Game

Let’s take a minute to remember waaayyy back to the beginning of the Long Trail when I was having issues with my knee. Those issues disappeared after Killington, but returned with a vengeance right around the same time I left Errol. Being the stubborn idiot that I am, I thought to myself, “Oh it’ll be fine. I’ll just stretch a bunch and take some vitamin I.”

Spoiler alert: it was not fine.

Despite my efforts to manage the pain on trail, each day it only got worse. I would wake up, have a couple of nice hours of hiking, and then slowly the fire would creep back into my joint, reaching a crescendo right at the end of the day. This continued up to the day we entered the Kilkenny. That night, just lying unmoving on my sleeping pad in the shelter, the pain was still there. The only thing that got me through the next day was deciding to take a zero in Lancaster.

I think I might have left the hotel room for a grand total of three hours all day on the zero. I was either stretching, massaging, or icing my knee. After this, we’d have two full days of hiking and a nero to the finish line. I couldn’t back out now. The zero helped, but by no stretch of the imagination was my pain gone. I put my head down, gritted my teeth in spite of the pain, and I kept going.

Pain for Pleasure

This last week was TOUGH. I’m not going to downplay that. There are no “buts” about it. There is only acceptance and an understanding that yes, it’s hard, and yes, I’m going to keep doing it. Knowing that in two and a half days I’d be able to get all the rest I needed made it bearable. I was not so involved in my suffering that I couldn’t look around and love where I was.

The last few days of the Cohos Trail are easily the most spectacular. We are finally breaking out of that green tunnel and onto mountaintops with panoramic views. Yes, in spite of my pain, I found the last two days to be wonderful. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; it could be worse, I could be working.

The Finish Line

The Cohos Trail ends at the Bemis Bridge at the south end of the Davis Path on NH Route 302. There isn’t a sign or a monument or anything that tells you “you made it.” You just have to know. I knew it, and boy was I ready for it. I’m happy that I came back and finished what I started. I’m also so so relieved that it’s over and I can rest my knee and enjoy the comforts of town life. It doesn’t feel weird to be off trail yet. After being in the woods for a month, I thought I’d be more disoriented. It’s only been a couple of days though. I’m sure once I feel strong again I’ll start wondering why I’m still in town.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who’s followed along with this journey. Although I’m not new to thru-hiking, these trails have provided a truly unique experience. This is not the end, simply the closing of another chapter. There are huge things coming in my hiking future, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along.

As always, you can find me on Instagram at the.spitfire or shoot me an email at [email protected].