Mary Anderson, 63, is attempting to complete her solo thru-hike of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Since writing this post, she has struggled to keep going with a knee injury. Read on to find out how you can send her a short message that she will receive by satellite. —Ed.
Almost every day while hiking the CDT I am off trail. Sometimes I am only a little off. Other times I feel really lost. Most times I cut cross country to make my way back to the "trail," such as it is. I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I find my way back. I'm learning to be comfortable with being physically lost. It's the emotional lostness I still struggle with a lot.
Ironically, the last few days the trail has been easier to find, but inside I have been completely lost.
It started with pain in my knee. I'm used to a lot of physical pain and usually push through it. I don't use Novocain at the dentist, even for root canals, so when my knee started hurting, I tried to pay attention but still kept going.
As the days went on, I knew I had to at least go far enough to reach water and then a town, so I resorted to taking aspirin, and then ibuprofen. The problem with this is it numbed the pain enough for me to keep pushing. I walked almost 20 miles one day, then 16 the next. By the time I reached town and pulled back on the pain killers, I realized I was in big trouble. Without drugs or a pack I was barely able to walk a miserable 1 mph rather than my normal 2.5 mph.
This was like walking into a minefield for me. I've never been in this much pain on a long hike. To add to the difficulty it pushed me into a really little-girl dissociative place. For reasons I won't go into here, my knees hurt a lot as a two- and three-year-old child. In bed at night, in acute pain, I would take the blanket I called my pinky and tie it as tightly as I could around my legs to cut off the circulation and ease the pain. As a three-year-old I already knew with certainty that I could NOT go to my mother and tell her I was in pain.
So, alone in the desert, with my knee screaming in pain, I became lost in the past. I became acutely aware that at no time in my life have I ever felt that if I were in dire need there was someone who would drop what they were doing and be there for me. I have some great friends who have done a lot for me, but it is not the same as having a parent or family member or partner who makes you most important in the world. I remembered that when my father dropped dead when I was just barely 13 years old there was not one single person who gave me a hug or asked how I was doing.
I grew up wanting to matter to just one person who would be nice to me. I remembered what happened to me the many times I turned in desperation to men who seemed to be nice but really preyed on vulnerable little girls. To put it mildly, these last few days in the desert I have been an emotional mess.
I know I am really lost inside when as a way of dealing with the emotional pain and incredible vulnerability that comes with it, I start to pull away from the people who do care about me. It's one thing to be lost. It's another to be lost and completely alone in the desert when you feel like a three-year-old child.
At some point I know there will be an end to the rough place I am in now. With fortitude and miracles I will emerge stronger. In the meantime, I hope that everyone who has someone who makes them important never loses sight of what a gift that is. Treasure them and tell them how much you appreciate them in your life. And to those of you who do what you can in supporting me in my lost places, thank you from the depth of my heart.
Mary hiked the southern half of the Continental Divide Trail in 2020 and is undertaking the northern half this year. On May 27, she began crossing the Wyoming desert between South Pass and Encampment on the CDT, a 250-mile trek that she planned to complete in 15 days.
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Click on the link to send a satellite message to Mary. The link takes you to a page that looks like the one below. Click the "Message" icon on the upper left side of the page and fill in the pop-up window with your email address or phone #, type your 160-character message, and hit "Send."