May 13, 2017

My sister informs me that I need to let friends know “the end of the story” of my collarbone.

“Oh no,” I protest.  “Surely everyone is sick of reading about that broken bone.”

My sister’s voice takes on a patient tone.  “People want to be reassured.  Are you truly all the way healed?  What’s happening with you?”

So, I’ve decided to do a bit of housekeeping, letting friends know what’s up in my life, and answering “behind the scenes” type questions about hiking the AT.

1.  Clavicle – I broke it six weeks ago.  Spent two weeks camping near the Dismal Swamp of North Carolina during the most fragile part of healing.  Then spent two weeks hiking in a sling, going slowly, grateful for Jay’s help.  Two weeks more of hiking without the sling, slowly regaining the use of my arm and shoulder.  Today I gave the sling to Goodwill.  Hurray!  Just a normal hiker now!

I’ll be swinging from vines soon!

2.  Food – We resupply every four days, whenever we come near a store.  We don’t carry a stove, and we eat the same food three times per day, every hiking day.  This simplifies our life tremendously!  Other hikers do not eat like this.  Many carry stoves, and most seek variety.  However, being bored with our food has so far been impossible when hiking eight to ten hours per day.  Hunger is the best sauce!

What do we eat?  We eat a mostly paleo diet on the trail.  Sardines packed in olive oil, extra sharp cheddar cheese, dark chocolate, cashews or pumpkin seeds, and raisins.  We also sometimes carry one unusual item for a leg of the trip.  One week it was toasted coconut from my parents.  Once it was a bag of figs and dates from a hiker box.  A small bottle of home-made molasses from our friends, Alan and Mary, lasted five days.  Yum!

Sardines, raisins, cheese, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and one spoon! The ultimate hiking diet and utensil!  (This is enough food for one person for three days.)

3.  Sleep – The Appalachian Trail has shelters about every eight miles.  These three-sided structures are used by many hikers.  We prefer the comfort of our tent, which is bug-free, rain proof, and private.  Every 100 miles, we stop in a town and stay at a hotel or a hiker hostel, doing laundry, getting a shower, and sleeping in a real bed.  Ahhh!

Home sweet home!

4.  Shoes – We hike in zero drop trail shoes, light weight and with no built up heel.  Our old shoes have now hiked nearly 700 miles of the AT, and more than 400  miles in Nevada.  They are done for!  Hurray for new shoes!

These shoes are done with walking!

How to Hike with a Cracked Clavicle

April 25, 2017

Hiking while healing a broken bone is no joke.  It takes a great deal of energy to hike in the Appalachian Mountains, and it takes a great deal of energy to heal a bone.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting to hike with a cracked collarbone:

  • First, spend two weeks recuperating in a quiet place.
  • Second, find a hiking companion who will carry your food and community gear.  The term, ‘sherpa’, may or may not come up in the negotiations.  If you are lucky, the hiking companion is a much-loved husband (Jay) or wife or sister or brother or friend.
  • Third, find an engineer to redesign your pack with only one shoulder strap, preferably across your good shoulder.  Jay took the straps on my ArcHaul Zpack and rigged a y-shaped harness holding the pack onto my back.
  • Fourth, wear a really good sling.  I’m very grateful to my doctor for insisting upon an excellent sling for my arm.
  • Fifth, listen to your body.  The third week of healing, and simultaneously, the first week back hiking the AT, we only walked about eight miles a day.  I knew it was time to stop when the fire and brimstone would start glowing inside my broken bone, usually sometime during the last mile of each day.
  • Sixth, walk slowly, stopping often to admire the scenery.  Walk slowly, stopping often to talk to your sherpa, um, I mean loved hiking companion.  Walk slowly, stopping often to just sit and rest.  Walk slowly.
  • Finally, try not to gag when people on the trail say, “Oh, you’re so brave to be still out here hiking!”  I am not brave.  Bravery and courage happen when one takes action even though the action scares one silly.  Although there are scary situations on the AT, especially regarding weather, I do not see hiking with a half-healed clavicle as scary.  Perhaps I just have an astonishing lack of imagination.  So what adjectives describe hiking while healing?  Persistent – possibly.  Pig-headed – probably.  Set upon one course – certainly.  Obstinate – obviously.  But the adjective I like best was given by a local man walking his dog today.  “You are one determined woman!”  Yes, determined – definitely!



P.S.  At all times, maintain a sense of humor!

Houdini and Cashew make an arch of trekking poles as I process down the trail!

Persistent or Pig-headed?

April 23, 2017

While recuperating from my broken collarbone at Merchant’s Millpond State Park, Jay and I met a couple from Quebec. Robert and Liliana were camping from the back of a motorcycle, a feat which aroused my admiration. They, in turn, were intrigued with our goal of walking 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed a morning of conversation, with a smattering of French, lots of slowly spoken English, and a great deal of mime to help bridge the language challenge.

At one point our talk touched upon my broken collarbone, and my determination to continue hiking. Robert told me, “I don’t know the English words, but we say there is a fine line between ‘acharnement’ and ‘entetement’.”

That sparked a lively discussion as we endeavored to puzzle out the English equivalents. For ‘acharnement’, Robert came up with the cognate, ‘perseverance’, which led Jay to contribute the word ‘persistence’. As we wrestled with the word ‘entetement’, Jay and Robert thought perhaps the word ‘stubborn’ might be the translation, but was there a better word? Liliana and I looked at each other, and spoke on the same breath, “Pig-headed!”   “Tete de cochon,” Liliana added, laughing.

That conversation has stuck with me these past nine days as I hiked with my arm in a sling and only one usable shoulder strap on my pack. In order to finish 2,000+ miles in one hiker season, one MUST be persistent. But when does persistence change to pig-headed stubbornness? Many of my family and friends think I am risking too much by hiking after only two weeks of recuperation. And yet, I am following the collective knowledge of our years of hiking experience, and the wisdom of our doctor. (“Do I think you will spend the next weeks doing nothing? Not in a million years! Just limit your mobility, add activities slowly, the way I’ve shown you, and DON’T FALL!”)

Jay and I have hiked 85 miles in the past nine days, dawdling at viewpoints, ambling through flower-strewn forest, picking and eating ramps (a wild-growing Appalachian delicacy), and just taking our time. Daily my collarbone and shoulder have hurt less and become more mobile. It has been exciting to feel it healing while experiencing the beauty of spring and know I am still making small progress upon my self-imposed goal of hiking the AT.

So, to all my friends and family who have told me, “Be careful, be safe, take care, don’t risk,”… thank you from the bottom of my heart for your concern and love. I feel very lucky to have such caring people around me! However, I think of my last words with Liliana, and I know, “It’s time to CHOOSE LIFE!”

On the Trail Again!

April 13, 2017


I saw the doctor today.  She gave me a yellow light in terms of hiking … proceed with caution!  She said my collarbone is healing well, and is much less fragile than a week ago.  I may hike, while taking a few precautions.  Hike fewer miles for a couple of weeks.  Proceed slowly and gently.  Protect the shoulder.  Give it supported exercise.  Don’t fall on it!

I can hardly wait to start walking through spring again!  We leave for Erwin tomorrow!  Hurray!

Cracked Clavicle

March 29, 2017

I am two miles from Erwin, TN, our next resupply town.  Jay is a good ways ahead, and I am alone with warm sun in a bright, cloudless blue sky.  My pack is light, birds are singing, the trail is wide and mostly level.  Life doesn’t get better than this, and I am unequivocally happy!

The trail begins a steep slope downward, and I think, “Pay attention, Sarah!  Just because it is a beautiful day, you still need to watch your feet!”  And so I obediently watch my foot land upon some leaves, feel a golf-ball sized rock roll under the leaves, under my foot, pitching me head first down the hill.  Down I go, trying to protect my head as I approach the ground, and I know, right as I land – it’s a bad one.

The world whirls around me as I lay in the dust.  I groan, and take inventory – head fine, right arm fine, right knee bleeding slightly, left leg fine, left arm – not okay.  Fire and brimstone have suddenly taken up residence across the length of my left shoulder, dripping down my back and arm.

Slowly I undo the straps on my pack and struggle to sit up.  There, amid dirt and rocks and leaves, I cry a bit.  It hurts so much, and I can’t believe I’ve fallen on such an easy section!

Jay and I have crossed ridge tops where wind threatened to shove me over the edge.  We’ve hiked through thunder and lightning on mountain balds where the rain made the muddy trail so slick, Jay dubbed it ‘trail snot’.  We’ve slipped down several miles of ice-packed trails, struggling to maintain our balance as physics overcame shoe leather.  HOW could I have fallen on THIS easy section?

I stand, and pick up my pack.  Lucky it is so light, for I can barely swing it across my right shoulder, and there is NO WAY my left shoulder can take its share of the load.  Slowly I limp down the trail, sobbing when I occasionally jar my left side, and sobbing with relief when I finally see Jay, returning up the hill to find out what was taking me so long.

We have reservations with Mike and Peggy at Cantarroso Farms, so we call to ask for a pick up.  Then Jay carries my pack toward Erwin, and I walk, holding my arm against my side.  Mike from Cantarroso Farms hikes in a little ways to check on me, and carries my pack the last few hundred yards.  His comment on the lightness of my pack – “Now this is a lady who knows how to pack!”

Mike carrying Sarah’s pack under his arm while Sarah hobbles behind.

Mike takes us to Erwin Urgent Care, where I am x-rayed.  The doctor there is charmingly frank, “I’m a family practitioner.  I won’t be able to tell you if it’s broken until the radiologist reads the x-ray tomorrow.  I don’t even like orthopedics!  Wear a sling, and go to Johnson City or Knoxville for an expert’s advice.”

March 30, 2017

We spend the day at Cantarroso Farms, drinking in peace and quiet, watching the chickens, listening to song birds, and learning about bees!  The owners, Mike and Peggy, kindly let us watch and assist as they split a bee hive and feed their bees.  It is fascinating!

Erwin Urgent Care calls and I hear the verdict of my shoulder – “You have a cracked clavicle.  Yes, that is your collarbone.  It will take four weeks to completely heal.  You might want to consult an expert.”

March 31, 2017

So, once again, my sister becomes trail angel extraordinaire.  She drives four hours round trip on Friday after work to bring us to Knoxville, and Monday she takes me to see an expert – a doctor at Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic.

The doctor describes the break.  “The skinny part of your collarbone has crunched into the knuckly end part, with several bits and pieces cracked, like a cone scrunched onto a scoop of ice cream.  It’s not a simple little hairline fracture.  You should consider this a thoroughly broken collarbone.”

The good news?  All the pieces are in the correct place, so, as long as I give it plenty of rest, it should heal very well.  However, the doctor does get rather agitated when talking about the importance of not falling.  “Those bits and pieces are almost impossible to put together surgically, so keep it calm, and whatever you do, DON’T FALL!”

A follow-up appointment in 10 days is made.  In the meantime, what am I to do with myself?