Emphasizing the smiles, not the miles

By Krystian “Snap” Repolona, 2017 P3 Hiker

“You can’t quit today. You can quit tomorrow, but at midnight, tomorrow becomes today, and you can’t quit today. You can quit tomorrow.”

I vividly remember seeing these words written on a shelter wall after a notably long day on my Appalachian Trail hike last year. I don’t believe the choice of medium for this message was ideal, but this is not what this post is about. The essence of the quote really resonated with me at the time I discovered it—especially now.

On April 12, I was one of the many hikers who set off from the PCT’s southern terminus with the hope of hiking to Canada. Unfortunately, my plans went out the window when I started to suffer debilitating foot pain my first week in. Initially, I chalked up the pain to the soreness that everyone experiences in the beginning, but a few days in, the typical dull aching of tired feet became a sharp, stabbing pain with every step on my right foot. This came as a total surprise since I had felt like I was being conservative with my pace and starting out slow. I then decided it would be best to zero for a day or two at Mount Laguna so I could R.I.C.E. my foot. (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.) A day or two eventually turned into a full week of zeroes with marginal, if any, improvement. At this point I thought it might be something serious, but I was still in denial; so I decided to hike to the next campground from Mount Laguna, a five-mile stretch.

I didn’t even get two miles before it felt like spikes were being driven into my feet. The next three miles were torture. I experienced all five stages of grief on this stretch. First, I ignored the pain and kept telling myself I just need a couple more days off. Then, I was angry at myself for not taking the first couple days slower. Then, it became a combination of bargaining and denial when I made a deal with myself to make it to the next campground where I would just zero for a couple more days. Then, I was saddened when I realized the awesome people I had been hiking with for the past couple days would have to move on. I finally came to the realization that my condition was serious and needed to see a doctor.

Hiking the AT last year restored my faith in the kindness of people. The PCT is certainly no different. I’m extremely grateful for the people at the PCTA who managed to get me in contact with Scout and Frodo. Scout and Frodo graciously arranged for a volunteer to pick me up and bring me to their house.

Jan, a trail angel and one of the volunteer shuttle drivers for Scout and Frodo, brought me to the urgent care center where I had my foot examined. Fortunately, the x-ray did not show any evidence of a fracture. However, I was advised by the doctor that stress fractures usually don’t show up on x-rays until about two to three weeks from the onset of injury—a timeframe I hadn’t achieved yet for an accurate diagnosis. Long story short; I flew back home and followed up with another x-ray which confirmed a cuboid stress fracture of my right foot.

This period of healing has been my darkest time on my PCT journey so far. I really felt down on my luck and embarrassed having to tell all my friends, family and sponsors that I’ve had to get off trail so early. It was incredibly challenging for me to share my thoughts and feelings here since I’m normally a very reserved person; but my hope with sharing this is that those who have been forced off trail in a similar predicament don’t have to suffer in silence and know there are others going through similar trials and tribulations. The dark, rainy days on trail make you appreciate the bright, beautiful sunny days on trail so much more. Holding on to this thought helped get me through this dark time.

The sun started shining again for me six weeks after coming home, which was the usual recovery period for stress fractures. I decided to do a section hike on the AT to make sure my feet were truly ready for the PCT and to think about my next steps on the PCT.

Returning on the AT to hike truly gave me time and clarity to think things through. Initially, I planned on hiking the PCT SOBO to attempt a thru-hike, but as much as I wanted to do the whole PCT this season, I also kept thinking to myself, “What’s the rush?” With a higher hiking mileage per day required to pass through the Sierras before October and pressing work commitments in the same month, I’ve decided to postpone my thru-hike of the PCT for another hiking season. It would be a tragedy for me to emphasize the miles over the smiles, especially on such a beautiful trail. Instead, I’ll be starting a one month section on the PCT in late July, then go somewhere epic (hopefully) to witness the total solar eclipse, hike the Teton Crest Trail, and then go wherever my spirit of adventure takes me.

A journey this beautiful simply can’t be rushed.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton