Day 63 – broken dreams

A visit to the Urgent Care clinic in Daleville confirms a broken foot and a doctor’s prognosis of, “You’re not going anywhere.”

This is not an easy post to write.

I have been struggling with increasingly significant foot pain and reduced function for the last few days and used my town stop in Daleville to visit the (excellent btw) Velocity Urgent Care Clinic to have it checked out.


Before I go on, some advice for future thrus, especially non-Americans, who I know read this blog: buy good health/travel insurance before the trip. Make an effort to get a policy with zero excess (co-pay) because then you don’t mind going to see a doctor. And you don’t mind if you need tests or scans. Because it’s all ‘free’. And make sure the company is easily contactable by an American-time-zone clinic, don’t save a few bucks by buying from some obscure online-only company with limited office hours.

Back to the story. I was registered and seen by a doctor even quicker and more smoothly, if possible, than back in Franklin NC. Dr Tim McKernan examined me and did various hands-on tests to my worse right foot while comparing the findings with my less-bad left foot. His specialist training is in critical care, so ER stuff.

The examining room

I had at least 6 significant problems with the right foot alone. Chronic plantar fasciitis, ankle tendon sheath inflammation, Achilles tendinitis, a tender lump on a ligament on the sole near the instep he couldn’t explain, tendon sheath inflammation along the side of the heel – oh, and a fracture of the 5th metatarsal (the bone that connects up from the main body of the foot to the visible toe, in this case the little toe).

I’ll never know for sure but on the balance of probabilities the break happened 2-4 days before I got to Woods Hole and was told it was too painful to touch so I should see a doctor. That would mean I have hiked 120 miles on a broken foot. It was badly bruised then, I mentioned it at the time. Now it’s point sore at the metatarsal joint meaning you can touch a specific place and get a significant pain response.

Apparently – who knew? – overuse or stress fractures don’t usually show up on x-rays unless they are displacement fractures. Still, I have no excess (co-pay) on my health insurance so I pushed him a bit and we got it x-rayed anyway. There also might have been something else there that could be caught by the scan. We were on such a run that it seemed a shame to stop at just 6 problems. Dr McKernan didn’t mind organising the scan but it was “definitely a stress fracture” regardless.

Empire Mind Probe. Or X-Ray machine.

As he had predicted there was no break visible on the X-Ray but he was anxious for me not to take that the wrong way. He emphasised to me that it would only get worse without rest and it would need 4-6 weeks to heal. He said it wasn’t his place to tell me what to do about the trail but his opinion so I was clear was, “You’re not going anywhere.”

I got it. I didn’t really need much persuasion. I had been feeling worse and worse over the last few days and it was actually a relief to find out why and a relief to not have to put up with it any longer. To not really have a decision to even make, at least not with 1400 miles still left to go. I was done.

Since I was already near the shopping centre in ‘this half’ of Daleville I crossed the road and went for a coffee, then did a little bit of shopping and got a haircut and bead trim from Betty in Supercuts who did a grand job. At least I looked better now.

Betty the Supercuts hairdresser.

That was the last significant action of the day, the rest of it just spent in my room resting and considering my options. I decided to stay a bit longer before flying home and tackle a further 6 miles to bring me up to 730, just over a third of the whole trail. I can just walk 6 out and then turn round and walk back again in a comfortable short day. At least then I’ll have that accomplishment.

So although I’m not quite done yet I’d like to both thank and apologise to everyone who invested the time to follow my journey, especially those that made comments here and emailed me offline. As I am trying now to tell myself, I hope you find the actual journey that was completed to be interesting and positive rather than just feeling you wasted your time altogether.

I’d also like to pay tribute to those that go on further without me and those that have completed the trail in the past. It is an incredible achievement, especially for older hikers, and I admire them greatly having walked a bit more than a mile in their shoes.

[Pick up my journey when I continue my AT hike in 2016 after ~700 zeros...]

37 thoughts on “Day 63 – broken dreams

  1. I am very sad to see your journey end this year, but hopefully you can make it back soon to finish the trip.

    Thanks for blogging your daily travels. Your posts really helped make my days in the office a bit more enjoyable.

    Safe travels back home, and take care of those feet.

  2. So sorry you’ve been forced to stop. Don’t apologise, you have completed more of it than most people would ever dream of. Safe journey home. Xx

  3. 700 miles is nothing the sneeze at! Look at it as a great 1/3 section of the AT, and know the rest of the trail will be there if you get the chance in the future!

    Thanks for the posts, which I enjoyed reading, even if I was just introduced to you recently.

    Be proud of the accomplishment of 730 miles! No one can take that away from you!


  4. To me anyways, it’s not about finishing the trail but the journey I’m on while hiking it, if even for a week. You hiked 120 miles on a broken foot which in the long run, is really cool to brag about. Thanks for sharing your journey with so many of us who will probably never get the chance to take. Quite the accomplishment I must say.. Have a safe journey home Sparky…

    If you get the time, check out this new Movie about the PCT..

  5. I’m one who found you via Wired and have been following you ever since you met up with her. I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope you’re healed up soon and have a safe trip home!

  6. Thank you, thank you for your amazingly candid view of hiking the AT. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. I am so sorry for your injury and wish you a speedy recovery.

  7. Great posts. I also found you through Wired. Thank you for taking the time to share your adventure and I wish you a speedy recovery.

  8. So sorry to hear of your condition! I also started following you on your adventure after Wired told us about you. You make for an interesting read and I hope in the future you will come back and finish your ‘hike your own hike’. It wasn’t because you are a quitter ( you are very strong willed to do this) you are a WINNER for giving it your best and we are all cheering for you to heal quickly and give it another try in the future. Please let us know when you will be here again!

  9. So sorry about you foot! Still, I hope you view your journey as a tremendous success. You should be proud of your accomplishment. Mike and I wanted to let you know how much we have enjoyed your blog. Mike is severely disabled as a result of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which has progressed to the point of quadriplegia and dependency on a ventilator. We can’t physically hike the trail so we look to travel in a virtual manner. We have loved tagging along on your adventure. We often felt like we were on the AT with you. Thank you. Safe travels!

  10. Dude… so sorry to hear about the foot :( I can only imagine how much that must hurt (and I don’t mean physically) But I’m so proud of you for completing this many miles (painful or otherwise). Look forward to catching up soon – please do shout if you want any help at all. Be kind to yourself – you’re more of a hero than 99%+ of the world.

  11. Sparky,
    So sorry to hear about your foot. I found your blog from Wired also and have enjoyed hearing about your travels. I’m sure leaving the trail is a disappointment but look back at all you did, things you saw and the people that you met. Praying for a speedy recovery!

  12. Sorry to hear the news. I’ve enjoyed following your journey. Just make sure not to consider this a failure. Nothing you could do about a busted foot. You can always come back in the future and finish .

  13. I’m so sorry your AT hike was cut short. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your blog and don’t consider the time I spent reading it wasted. I’m so glad I found it thanks to Wired. If it wasn’t for folks like you I wouldn’t get to “experience” the trail. I hope one day to hike the PCT, but until then will read blogs like yours to fuel my dream. Heal yourself and try again later if you can. Take care and thank you for sharing your hike.

  14. Hey Sparky. Birdy here, sending you big fat hugs and lots of love. Yogi Bear says hello and speedy recovery and hopefully will catch up with you in the UK.

  15. Oh Phil my dear sorry to hear of the injury which is ending your plans prematurely..however look what you have achieved and the amazing people you’ve met and your personal journey both physical and actual…wow! I hope you heal speedily and completely and try to keep a positive outlook…and I bet that at some point you’ll be back there completing the AT..perhaps in smaller ‘chunks’..who knows. See you back in the UK and we’ll have a drink or two :)

  16. What did you take your pictures with? The quality is really good!! I found your blog from Wired. I thank you for sharing your journey with us. It was nice to see what real life on the trail was like. Congratulations on your 700 plus miles. I hope you have the chance to come back and finish the trail. I wish you a speedy recovery. Safe travels and many thanks!!!

  17. I am sorry you got stopped in your journey, but as you say, at least there is a definite decision, and there is nothing you can do or could have done in the last days to avoid having to stop. It sucks in its own way, but your broken foot took the decision out of your hands. We all know you would have persevered if it would have been possible (especially considering what ailments you have conquered already) and I am sure you will be able to finish the AT should you ever decide to gice it another try.
    Thank you for sharing your amazing journey with us, it was a pleasure to see the AT through your eyes and I had a blast following you.
    I wish you a speedy recovery and a safe trip home. Take care, all good wishes!

  18. Nothing about walking 730 miles is to be considered a failure, it is far, far more than 99% of most people can even imagine walking. I’m so proud of you and your achievement. I’m sure that you would have gone all the way if you could have. Your blog has been an inspiration to others and you’ll always have incredible memories. Come home and heal now.

  19. If this were literature the character of “Sparky” is one that the reader is emotionally vested in and would want to see succeed. In this case succeed is get healthy. Take some time and get well and if the mood and stars align and you have another adventure then add more blog entries.

    You do not need to apologies to us. Every morning I would read your post and vicariously I would be hiking the trail. Thank you very much for writing this blog and I [we] wish you all the best in the future.


  20. Phil, I am so sorry to hear this. You have done amazing, I am so proud of what you’ve accomplished and I hope at some point, you can feel the same way.

  21. Best wishes to you for a speedy recovery. It has been very fun to follow your journey! What you’ve done is a great accomplishment. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. Take care!

  22. Alright Phil let’s cut to the chase you did 730 miles in a relatively short space of time, that’s a fact. You did the best your body can do and that’s all you can do. Injury’s happen to everyone all you can do is look at the achievement you have done.
    You did a third of the trail and met some interesting character ‘s along the way, you did a lot of improvising at the beginning regarding other Injury’s and you kept many people entertained and intrigued with your blog( it’s the 1st blog I’ve ever read so must have been good). The trail has been there a long time and will do so for many years, you can always complete it in the future if you wanted, there will always be friendly Billy Bobs in that great country.
    Get yourself home and support England in the World Cup and anytime you want to go for a beer let me know.
    Well done Phil!

  23. Thank you for sharing your journey and my wife and I have enjoyed reading your posts each day. We too find you through Wired’s blog. You hiked a long distance under trying circumstances sharing the journey with all of us. I hope you are able to return someday and finish again sharing the trip.

    Heal and be better soon! There is much more hiking for you in the future.

    John and Michelle (Root66 and Mickey)

  24. Well, thanks for bringing us along! I’ve loved hearing about your trip. I only recently started backpacking, myself, and on my 2nd trip (4 miles each day) I came home with a stress fracture in the same place. Its so frustrating as I want to be out doing things. But I am amazed to think you walk 120 miles on it! Please take care, and let us know when you plan another trek!

  25. Your journey has been amazing, and I have loved following your adventures. I am so sorry it has to be cut short, but I am positive I will be following your escapades on the AT once again. May you heal rapidly, and be back on the trail soon.

    1. Well Sparky, I am dissapointed. Not by your lack of effort. No. I am dissapointed as it seems you have been “picked on” by the injury bullies. Lousy stuff. When life changes our plans it feels like the death of a dream. But of course our dreams just get altered and the big do-ers almongst us still manage to get out there and accomplish more great things. You are that kind of a guy so all will be well.
      The other thing I am dissapointed by is that I will not get to read your blog anymore. I (like so many others) found you from Wired’s blog. So of course I was interested in the hiking aspect. The thing is that I think you could write about your daily life in England and I would go on reading it. Your writing style , classic under statements, dry wit, and interesting observations of your fellow man and physical foibles have kept me entertained whether you were on the trail or in town.

  26. Congrats on making it as far as you did…especially with as many injuries as you had along the way. My husband and I have enjoyed reading along during your journey. Best of luck and hope you can come back and finish in the next couple of years!

  27. Wow! What a run! You have had such an amazing adventure and I was thrilled to read your reports each day at work, living vicariously through you. Ian and I have been enjoying each and every one of your posts ever since hiking with you a bit in the Smokies. Our hiking rule is always health and safety first, and it looks like taking care of your feet is the best thing you can do, without question. So no apology needed. We were honored to meet you and share in your adventure.

  28. Look on the bright side. The wethers been great over here (UK), you should be back to watch most of the World Cup whilst recuperating and the memories you made over the 700 or so miles will stay with you forever.

    Good show old chap, proud to be British.

  29. Thank you for the wonderful posts. They capture the spirit of the moment so well. I have enjoyed being immersed in the trail and will miss them. They are a considerable achievement in themselves. Much appreciated.

  30. Philip I am sooo sorry to hear that you are unable to continue to finish the trail at the moment, but knowing you I am sure you will return to finish it off because it will bug the hell out of you until you do. Your blogs and photos have been truly inspirational, and when you are up to it after you are back we will go out with Mandy and G for many mojitos and stories of your adventures… have already achieved much more than most of us ever will. Congratulations to you, and see you very soon. xx

  31. I’m so sorry to hear about your foot, and that you have to cut your journey short. Remember, the trail will be there when you’re ready to finish.

    Thank you for writing your story — my friends have blogged their journeys on the PCT, CDT and AT, but yours got me emotionally invested in a way theirs didn’t.

    Good luck! Hope to read more of your exploits in the future.

  32. Just got the blog and gutted for have done so well and as you can see everyone is so proud of you and you have so many new friends.well done.

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