What is a lesson I learned while out on the trail?

Know when to quit.

In 2013, It was my time to shine and become a thru-hiker. It was my dream, coming true! Then I got Giardia. I know what you’re thinking. That’s what I deserve for drinking bacteria ridden water. However, I always treated my water. Using iodine tablets in the beginning, but eventually switching over to Aquamira. And I always followed the directions on the bottle to a T.

I was shocked to see and meet dozens of hikers who either didn’t treat their water at all or didn’t actually follow the directions of many water treatment methods, reducing their effectiveness. Yet, somehow I was the one to get the bug.

Coincidentally, this was right around the same time as a Norovirus (really bad puke bug) outbreak in my hiker bubble. So I brushed off my symptoms for almost an entire week, figuring it was the highly contagious stomach bug going around. But after so many days with no sign of improvement I knew it was time to reach out for help.

Honestly, if I saw someone else with my symptoms for as long, I would have pushed them to go to the E.R. I dropped weight fast that week. Other hikers were commenting out of concern how quickly my ribs and bones started to poke out. Even though I ate all day, I also had diarrhea all day, every day. I don’t think much food was actually sticking in me!

I went to a walk-in clinic in Erwin, TN and was quickly diagnosed with Giardia. It was a textbook case. I holed up in a motel while I took the full regimen of Flagyl, which was supposed to kill off Giardia, and every other bacteria in my gut. But after I finished the last dose, I waited another day and noticed zero difference in my symptoms!

I thought it must still be working it’s magic in there and kept on hiking, telling myself I would get better. I didn’t. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. But I was still hiking through. I would stop about eight to ten times a day to dig a cathole and be sick, still convincing myself maybe I was getting better very slowly.

Finally, I realized that with how slow I was going, between taking the time to poop and the energy toll it was taking on my body, it was difficult to hike more than ten miles a day. Not nearly enough to make it to Katahdin in time for a thru-hike. This demoralizing fact, combined with the facts that it was too painful to buckle my hip belt over my bloated, broken belly, and that same bloated, broken, gaseous organ keeping me up most nights meant that it was time for me to call it quits.

I set out on the trail in the first place to grow. I wanted to challenge myself in a new and healthy way, and to explore. But after being so sick for so long, there was no more joy, health, or growth, only sadness. That is how I knew it was time to quit on my potentially once in a lifetime dream.

I hope you have the strength to recognize the difference between when to push through, and when to move on.

Happy Trails,

Mallory Malarkey