View Full Version : What will be your greatest challenge?

07-09-2014, 19:42
What do you think will be your greatest challenge on the AT? :-?

Some of you might say the weather, or the steep terrain, or your heavy pack, or maybe food restrictions, monotony, bugs, or pooping in the woods. We each have our challenge(s) to face, and we will face them. I have never hiked the AT---nor any other log distance trail---but I am absolutely certain there will come a time when I am facing my own vile demon, and must either rise to the occasion or crumple under it's weight.

I already know my demon's by name. Her name is Johnna. She is my wife.

Let me explain...

I met Johnna, my second wife, a month before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, way back in 2001. We found each other on the internet long before there were dating web sites. People said we were crazy. What a difference a decade can makes, huh!

We were an instant sensation, and perfectly compatible. Johnna was a strong-willed, intelligent, funny, out-going, sexy, red-head who treated everyone she met like a good friend. Everyone loved her like a sister or a mother. She was punching parts in a plastics factory for a living, but---given she had a college education in business management---she was very under-employed. I told her she was way to smart for factory work, and that she should consider returning to management. She agreed, and decided she wanted to work in food service where she could be around lots of people. It was perfect for her. She started at a local Wendy's as an assistant manager, but that didn't last long. Soon, the owner of another restaurant offered her more money to come work for him. Amazingly, over the next several years, the same thing happened three more times. Owners of competing restaurants, upon seeing her methods at work, offered her positions with their companies, for more pay. Eventually, she was travelling about helping to set up staff at a major national food chain. Johnna loved it, and the people she worked with adored her. She was able to breech that difficult gap between boss and friend with her subordinates, and was well respected by her superiors for her abilities.

We were gloriusly happy together. We traveled, camped, hiked, kayaked, adventured, and meshed like a pair of well oiled gears. If I tended to believe in such things, I'd call her my "soul mate". If she died tomorrow, there would be no replacing her. I would spend the rest of my life alone.

But such a thing is not meant to last.

In early 2009, Johnna began complaining of back pain. Nothing serious, mind you, just generally achy. Nothing a few ibuprofen and a rest on the heating pad couldn't cure. But it got steadily worse. Later that year, I got a call from her boss stating that she had found her crying in a stall in the women's restroom. As it turned out, she had been hiding the extent of her pain from everyone, even me. So, we went to the doctor.

At this point, we were under the assumption that she was curable. Massage, chiropractics, even surgery. Back pain can be fixed, right?

Now, I've been a firefighter/paramedic for many years. I have seen a great number of spinal x-rays in the emergency room. Stuff that would make your toes curl if I described them. But I had never seen anything like Johnna's. Vertebrae out of position, bulging discs everywhere, and bone spurs that looked like barbed wire wrapped around her spine. No wonder she was in pain. Her general physician was surprised she was able to even walk.

This became a repeated theme. Chiropractors wouldn't touch her, orthopedists shrugged their shoulders, neurosurgeons looked at her, horrified. Injections, manipulation, therapy. Everything they tried just caused her more pain. The biggest issue---if you could single one out---was a disc right in the middle of her back (L1) that bulges into her spinal column, often brushing against her spinal cord, causing excruciating pain---and is virtually inoperable. For years we visited doctor after doctor, with the same advice. "Take these pain pills. Go home until it gets worse. Then we'll talk about it."

And it did get worse. In 2010, Johnna began to hurt all over, all the time. Joints, muscles, skin. Everything hurt. Eventually, I couldn't even hug her or touch her without causing her pain. She was soon diagnosed with a rapidly developed severe case of fibromyalgia---a non-life-threatening auto-immune disease that effects the nerves, sometimes triggered by exposure to chronic pain. It causes extensive musculoskeletal pain, joint tenderness, headaches, and a fuzziness of the mind referred to as "fibro fog". No longer able to return to work, the reality began to soak in. Our world contracted almost overnight. From an outdoor life of adventure and a job she loved surrounded by people who loved her, she was reduced to a sedentary life, spending most of her time lying on the couch, drugged and in pain.

If you have ever heard the song "Her Diamonds" by Rob Thomas, it is about his wife's struggle with fibromyalgia. The helplessness of facing a problem that has no solution, and their inability to help each other though it. Like Rob, many times I don't know what to do when Johnna cries, so I just cry, too. For a man who has spent his life solving other people's problems, the irony is not lost on me.

Now, several years later, Johnna still struggles with the loss of our old life. We have reached a new normal. After much experimentation, we have found a pharmacopeia (series of drugs) that seem to work fairly well. She is able to do work around the house on most days---and pays for it---although a trip to the grocery, or a short drive to visit family is still considered an epic event. We never know when a good day will come, or a bad. Scheduling anything---including doctor's office visits---is a toss up. People who know her understand, but others do not. It's hard to explain to folks when she doesn't look sick. Fewer people come to visit now, most friends having moved on with their lives. Her children are adults in their twenties with busy working lives of their own. My heart breaks for her every day. If we had not been so madly in love and so wonderfully compatable, things would have gone from bad to worse some time ago. As it is, we persevere.

But it has not been all bad. I get to help my wife out a lot! Like I tell her, "Never has a man been able to do so much for the woman he loves." And she is very appreciative, which warms my heart to no end. Additionally, shortly after she became ill, she discovered that a few glasses of wine helped her muscles relax and improved her quality of sleep better than the narcotics pushed by the doctors. As a result, I began to make wine! And I'm very good at it, having won several awards for my vinting. There's also Jet, our awesome American Black Lab. I surprised Johnna with him (as a fuzzy little puppy) early in 2010 in an effort to raise her spirits and keep her moving. He is now a hundred pounds, and they are together each and every day, the very best of friends.

It has been hard, and at times exhausting. Surprisingly, frustratingly wonderful. I have been worn down and rebuilt over and over, all the time basking in this amazing journey with Johnna. I expect the AT to be much the same. I expect to find familiarity in this journey.

But Johnna has become very dependent on me. I do a lot of things for her every day that she probably could or should do herself, because I want to help her. But I can't. She needs to learn to do more things for herself. To learn what she can do herself. This walk on the AT will be as much for her as for myself. She will be without me for six months, forced to do for herself. For both of us, it will be transmogrifying...at least I hope. I hope.

So, my greatest challenge on the AT will be my concern for her. No small number of people have been driven from the trail over less. I know that I will lie down each night, wondering if she's hurting, concerned for her safety and comfort---yes, as she will also think of me, no doubt. We will miss every moment apart. This is the demon I must face and conquer on the AT.

07-09-2014, 21:07
Holy crap! I broke my own "too long post" rule. Sorry folks. TMI.

Thanks you to anyone who actually made it thru that read.

07-09-2014, 23:51
well I just made it through, damn dude...that's awful and heart breaking and heart warming at the same time. I truly wish you both all the best. will she have someone lookin' in on her while your gone?

07-09-2014, 23:55
Oops, almost forgot...My biggest demon pales in comparison. I've no right to complain, maybe a little. All the best Dave

07-10-2014, 00:06
wow dude I was gonna say blisters

07-10-2014, 00:35
Want to kick my own ass for ever complaining about anything. My problems pale in comparison. Best wishes to you on the trail and also to your wife at home. Both of you will be in my thoughts, I assure you.

Sent from my SM-G900T using Tapatalk

07-10-2014, 00:38
Is she on an anti-inflammatory diet? Have the two of you worked to eliminate or reduce pro-inflammatory response foods, habits, and lifestyle choices in conjunction with such a diet?

07-10-2014, 01:10
My heart goes out to the both of you. I had a girlfriend that had fibro and know what you are talking about. I would suggest you get a book called "Appalachian Trials". It may help you get through your upcoming hike. One thing that is repeated many times is "This hike must be the most important thing in your life in order to succeed." Pressure from home can be a very big demon as you put it but the book covers that.
I am shooting for a 2018 hike so everything is in place for me to succeed. I will have enough money saved and all the proper gear to succeed. I am a widower with no girlfrie4nd at the present time. I have only one bill that will be paid off soon and i rent from my daughter and son in law.
Take care and good .luck on your hike

07-10-2014, 07:14
"This hike must be the most important thing in your life in order to succeed."

This quote is the truth. Each hiker has his/her own set of challenges to deal with. For a married person in a good relationship, being homesick and missing the spouse is a very real one. You do have to be extremely goal oriented, perhaps a bit selfish, to overcome it. With that being said, I would not say a person who gets off the trail to be with/care for a loved one was not "successful". In other words, I would change the last word of this quote from "succeed" to "complete a thru hike". Best wishes to you on your hike.

07-10-2014, 07:16
@rocketsocks: Thank you for asking. Yes. I'm calling in every favor I am owed. Everyone I know is on board to help keep an eye on Johnna while I am gone.

@Dogwood: Great question! Yes, indeed. Over the past few years, we have worked to improve our diet and lifestyle to give her the best chance to have a good day every day. Fighting inflammation is a big part of that.

@BuckeyeBill: "Appalachian Trials" was the very first book I read when I decided to hike the AT, just for the reasons you mentioned.

Thank you very much for your thoughts. Johnna and I both appreciate it.

07-11-2014, 16:58
What a heart-touching story! I will keep you both in my prayers.

Please keep a trail journal so we can keep up with your progress. I would love to read a blog written by Johanna to hear her side of the six months, as well.

07-12-2014, 13:22
Now there's an interesting idea, Riocielo. Thank you! I'm struggling with the decision whether or not to post a running (walking?) journal while on the AT. I enjoy writing---as you might guess---and I plan to keep a written journal on my hike, but I'm concerned about the distraction of feeling obligated to post entries while trying to escape from obligations. I've been following Affirm's and Right Here's treks on trailjournals.com and have enjoyed their stories very much. A compromise for me might be a Facebook page where I could post a few pics and a quick, "I'm OK everyone!" when I'm in town or have decent service.

But I do like to write! :-?