I’m laying on the couch with a cold drink in my hand, watching the latest daytime show. I’m wondering whether or not the weird-looking guy on the screen is the baby daddy. This was what was on my mind the first week after returning to Denver to recuperate from an injury I got in my last 25 miles of hiking in New Mexico. I made it to Cumbres Pass, CO, before hitching to the nearest town to resupply. That happened to be back in New Mexico at Chama. My left foot was completely swollen, warm to the touch and had turned some nasty colors. I knew this wasn’t good and figured in the back of my head that this was not going to heal overnight or even after a couple zero days. In a town of only 1,200 people, I knew finding a doctor wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew there had to be one nearby.
The waitress who was working that morning in the restaurant below my rented room gave me the number of a local doctor who she thought could help. She mentioned that he was older and worked a “flexible” schedule, which, I later found out meant when he wasn’t fishing, hunting, painting or doing anything else with his day. The other option was the vet clinic in town but since I’m not a golden retriever I didn’t think that was reasonable. I walked the couple of blocks to a local trail angels business and asked for her advice and she said there was a clinic about 20 miles away. There was no bus or shuttle that could take me, but she did volunteer her elderly mother who, she said, would be happy to take me there. I hesitated, at first, because I didn’t like the idea of bothering someone to drive me that far and then have to wait to drive me back. I decided to call the clinic before making any decisions and they said I could come in as a walk-in, but they didn’t know how long a wait I would have. I relayed this to the waitress, but she said, “ it doesn’t matter, she’s not doing anything anyways”. I looked at my foot, looked at her and then looked again at my swollen foot and accepted her offer. Her mom was there in 10 minutes. She really didn’t have anything to do that day. I got into the car slowly and started profusely thanking her for her kindness, for taking the time out of her day to drive me to the doctor. She just said, “No problem.”
We drove the 20 miles to the La Clinica del Pueblo, a local clinic that had only two doctors and lots of patients. I filled out the paperwork and waited my turn. The lobby was crowded, so I started playing “what’s wrong with that person?” One guy I figured for Diabetes, another with heart problems, one guy looked a little nuts and then there were the couples of pregnant women and their supportive boyfriends/husbands. After about a 1-hour wait the nurse started asking me all kinds of questions. I explained what I was doing, how it might have happened and how I was feeling. I was lead to a larger room and waited for the main doctor who turned out to be a woman who has worked at the clinic for years. She looked at my foot and knew it was infected for sure but she also thought it was possible Gout. Unsure of what it was, she did what she called “sloppy medicine” which means she treated me for both. Sloppy or not, the two injections in my ass hurt. I walked into the clinic with just my foot hurting but now I was walking out with my ass hurting as well! I got a total of 2 injections of antibiotics and another injection of something else, which I didn’t ask about. They also took x-rays of my foot and said I had soft tissue damage. This was no surprise to me, since I did just walk 600 miles across New Mexico.
We drove back to Chama with a Ziplock bag full of meds and a $300 medical bill. I said good bye to the lovely ride, giving her $20 in gas money and an offer for lunch the next day. Now there was only one thing to do; decide if I wanted to stay the next two weeks in Chama laying in a hotel and watching my bank account dwindle or find a ride to Denver to recover. The thought of staying in Chama for two weeks wasn’t appealing so I started searching for ways to get home. Chama had no bus service, no Amtrack, no car rental service, not even a horse and buggy. The nearest car rental place was in Pagosa Springs but they didn’t want to rent me a one-way car. Finally and fortunately, I ended up getting a ride from my awesome sister who came to Chama and picked me up and drove me the 5 hours back to Denver.
The first couple of days felt like I was in some parallel universe. There was TV, running water, electronics, sliding glass doors, a fridge full of food and a toilet. I realize I didn’t come from the moon or some barren planet, but to go from walking 25 miles a day in the woods for the past 6 weeks, to this was kind of a shock. I found it really hard to just sit on a couch with my foot elevated, taking meds and watching TV. Before I left I would watch TV or play video games all the time, but now it had become this weird activity. I was no longer on a great adventure, but sitting in my sister’s living room. Honestly, I didn’t do anything that week. I just rented movies, caught up on all the episodes I had missed from my favorite shows and played around on the internet. I found myself getting depressed like I had been before the hike. Of course, I was mad that I had gotten injured and knew I would miss a huge chunk of the trail in Colorado. I would have to come back and do over again. It really is true that exercise is great for depression because when I’m out there I don’t feel depressed. I don’t have the anxiety I had in the city, the negative thoughts and self-loathing I had felt before. Being active as I had been does do something to your brain; releasing chemicals that change you and make you feel good. My body wanted to feel good again and it wanted to move.
After 7 days the swelling was mostly gone but the pain persisted. I couldn’t walk far without the pain beginning in the front, bottom portion of my left foot. I would try to push it, but it hurt and I didn’t want to cause any damage that would take me out of the game completely. I took it easy. I saw friends for happy hours, lunches and dinners. I got to watch every game of the Stanley cup and NBA finals. I got to catch up with friends and learn what was happening in their lives instead of just thinking about what was happening with me. Everyone has been very supportive of my trip and sorry I got hurt, but they all encouraged me to accomplish my goal. I have a great family and group of friends supporting me.
So, its now Wednesday and and I’m getting out of here. I’m getting back on the trail in Leadville, CO. I will miss about 300 miles of the trail which I will make up once I get to Canada. I’ll make a beeline for Cumbres Pass, making Leadville my official end to the CDT. This is NOT what I had planned for my hike but this is my hike now. I’ll go from being in the rear of the CDT herd to the middle. I want to get my strength and speed back so when my friends catch up to me I can hike with them the rest of the way.
I’m so ready to get back to the CDT. Its been hard for me because I love the day to day of my life on the trail. Every day is different. Every smell is different. I lift my head in the morning, not knowing where I will put it down again at night and I like that. I will make it to Canada and I will finish the sections I missed. I know this isn’t my last setback, but I’ve learned from this experience and know it will make me stronger and more determined than ever.