Soon, CareFree and I will be returning to the Benton MacKaye Trail to finish our thru-hike. But first, there were some things we needed to take care of.
The first order of business after returning home from the first half of our hike was to relax my back and try and get it back into trail shape. This was a slow process. CareFree found a video on the internet with back stretching and strengthening exercises. I tried them out over the next couple of weeks, and found that they helped a bit, though my back was far from trail-shape.
We also visited REI at our earliest opportunity, exchanging the inflatable air mattress I bought for the BMT (and which I felt was contributing to my back problem) for a tried-and-true (and also tiny bit lighter) foam pad. That was the pad that previously saw me through the Appalachian, Long, and Pacific Crest trails, though my old pad, with over 5,000 miles on it, was no longer comfortable to use and needed replacing. The new one is noticeably thicker than my original, not to mention, completely covered with its heat-reflective coating.
CareFree and I had planned for a return to the trail on June 5th, but work got in the way, and we opted on a later schedule to give my back more time to recover. Instead, we decided to return to the trail after a week-long trip to California to attend the wedding of one of CareFree’s friends, the sister of one of her trail family from when she was on the PCT in 2017. This would give me an extra two weeks for recovery, but it also meant a tighter schedule: we’d be heading back to the trail the day after flying back from California, and we couldn’t postpone it any further, as her visa is expiring shortly after we plan to finish the BMT.
With the extra time, I set up a doctor’s appointment to have my back evaluated. My doctor sent me to a physical therapist, who confirmed that just about every muscle involved in my back and legs were very tight. Over the next week, I was assigned a series of more involved back stretches and strengthening exercises. These helped greatly, and over that week, the stiffness went down, and the range of mobility in my legs increased. My back is still not back to 100% yet, but it feels a lot better than it did.
The week we flew to California for the wedding, we committed to returning to the trail. We booked two days at the Fontana Village Lodge, affording us a zero as we ease back into the trail. I arranged a shuttle from Standing Bear Farm (a few miles away from the BMT’s northern terminus) to the Tellico River where we got off the trail at the end of April. We got our permits for overnight camping in the Smokies, which locked down our itinerary. We made one last trip to REI, to get them to attempt to straighten my bent pole. (They were only partially successful, and so I’ll be looking to get new poles before my next major hike.) We made a run to the food store to pick up our food for the trail. And, the day we flew out to California for the wedding, we sent our resupply box off to Fontana Village, for when we arrive there.
After the wedding, we’ll have most of a day to get un-jet-lagged (which will be a small feat itself). The very next day, we’ll drive down to Standing Bear Farm to complete our hike. And, once we finish, we’ll continue the road trip we started when we left the trail, driving back up to Buena Vista and rejoining the Blue Ridge Parkway to continue our scenic drive home.
There’s still the risk that my back is going to be unhappy with me. Part of the reason why we’re taking a zero in Fontana is that it’ll afford us a day to relax before we commit to going through the Smokies. I think we’ll be fine, but, better to prepare as much as we can to give the best chance of success.