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I started this morning off in a hotel about 30 minutes from the trail. Some friends were able to drive me back to the trailhead. As I left the hotel with my pack on and walked down the stairs I felt my knees feel a bit tender which made me a little nervous to get back out on trail. Nonetheless we hit the road and I was on trail by 8:30am.
The climb up to the Horrid Cliffs was steep and beautiful. The view from the cliffs was one of the best I've had on trail yet. The air was cold, the sun shined through the trees making the trail golden, and everywhere smelled like pine. These are the exact conditions that drew me back to VT in the first place. I was very careful with each step since the last thing I wanted was more knee pain. About a mile in my left knee starting hurting so I put my brace on just to be safe. The trail skirted a beautiful ridge with occasional views to the east and west. There were a series of almost vertical rock scrambles up and down the trail. I loved it.
On a steep descent I felt a pop in my left knee and just like a few days ago (before my zeros) I couldn't put any weight on that leg for about 15 seconds. From that moment on the pain returned in my left knee. Before my zero days my right knee was the one hurting and now it's my left. I'm pretty certain it's my IT band since I feel pain in my hip and my outer knee. I took a few breaks and went painfully slow. I looked at my watch and again I'd dropped from my usual 3 miles/hr to about 1.5 miles/hr. I felt frustrated that I didn't take care of my body starting the trail. I hit the trail with excitement and feeling a bit invincible since this was my third thru-hike. I've now learned the importance of warming up to these hikes and not hitting the trail going 100. Now I was back to every step being painful.
A few miles from Middlebury Gap I crossed over the Middlebury Snow Bowl. I sat on the ski lift for a break. I could finally see the endless range of Green Mountains that I'd been longing to get to. Feeling torn about my hike I decided to do a meditation and considered leaving the trail. After that and some thought I accepted that it was the best decision. I didn't want to permanently damage anything by taking a half dozen Ibuprofen again and pretending I'm fine. I won't be able to come back to finish this year because I have a deadline for a family wedding in a couple weeks.
Part of me feels I'm making a bigger deal over leaving than I should but this would've been my third thru-hike and the first I'd have to not complete. I also had my PCT permit this year but decided to respect the PCTA's requests to stay off trail. So this was my mini thru-hike to fulfill that desire. However, I do feel like it did fulfill that and more. I feel a strong sense of gratitude for time I had out here. Getting to Middlebury Gap meant I'd completed half the LT which I'm happy with. My AT Thru-Hike was extremely emotional. Coming back to the VT section of the AT gave me a lot of closure I needed. It also helped me realize that the magic of thru-hiking is still attainable despite my other thru-hike being long over. Thank you to everyone for the support and encouragement. I hope you follow my 2021 PCT Thru-Hike.