This is the second in a series of three articles written by Ryan Rankin about his 10-day solo hike through the Sierra Mountains. To read part one, click here

Starting Off on the Wrong Foot

I was less than a mile into the hike and already I wanted to quit. Frustrated, mad and dejected hardly summed up my feelings.

“You’ve been working so hard on making this hike a success,” I thought. “How could you screw it up already? YOU MORON!”

Right off the bat, I took a wrong turn and walked almost a mile in the wrong direction. This really wouldn’t have been a big deal, but the miles I planned on traveling that first day were already high, almost 9.5 miles, so adding almost 2 more miles was a huge deal, mentally and physically. I was very nervous about how well my ankle would hold up after that mistake.

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Crescent Meadow. Where my wrong turn brought me.

I’m not normally one to get frustrated in those situations, but this one got me. I started thinking about all the excuses I could use about why I had quit on the first day. Most of them revolved around my arthritic ankle because that was an easy target and one that everyone would believe. Everyone except me.

How could I tell my friends and family that I had quit so quickly? I had a great support system and I didn’t feel that I could let them down.

This was the first of many obstacles of the hike and to overcome it, I had to get back to basics. I was so focused on how this mistake affected the entire trip that I lost sight of how the trek would be made successful, and that was through smaller, more manageable goals.

Small Goals Lead to Large Steps

I took a deep breath and accepted the fact that my ankle was going to be sore and swollen at the end of the day. I couldn’t control that. Next, I returned to the beginning of the trail so I could restart the hike fresh — from the beginning. I reached the fork in the trail where I took the wrong direction. A trail sign was there, but a leaf covered up the arrow pointing in the direction I was supposed to go. It was that leaf that almost caused me to quit something I had been so diligently planning and felt so passionately about. A LEAF!

From then on, I started focusing on the small goals that would get me to the next milestone. Whether it was walking that last mile of the day, doing my ankle exercises, fixing dinner or packing my gear up in the morning, focusing on the tasks at hand while keeping in mind they are all part of a larger goal really helped my confidence grow and allowed me to believe I could make this hike a success.

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Trail with fist-sized rocks

A Daily Routine for Success

There were different challenges each day, and while I wasn’t prepared for many of them, I didn’t allow them to ruin my hike. Every day, I followed a routine that provided a foundation for dealing with all the challenges. Here’s what my routine looked like:

  • Wake-up: 6:15
  • Stretch and pack my gear: 6:30
  • Begin hiking: 7:00
  • Hike until: 12:30-1:00
  • Lunch/Stretch/Rest: 1:00-3:00
  • Explore the area/fish: 3:00-5:30
  • Dinner/relax: 5:30-8:30
  • Bedtime: 8:30

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Post-hike stretching.

The routine was flexible enough to allow for daily adjustments while letting me focus on making sure I kept my ankle healthy throughout the day and not worry about so many other possible problems.

The routine also gave me the opportunity to clear my mind. Even though it took five days for that to happen, I was eventually able to think about what I’ll do after the hike.

Time to Hang Up the Hiking Boot

I can still picture the exact moment when I realized that this hike would not be my last adventure. It was about 7:30 in the morning and I had been walking for about 45 minutes on the second to last day of the hike. It was an emotional morning not only because I was so close to the end of my hike that I could taste success, but because getting to that point had taken so much mental and physical energy that it was a huge relief to have gotten this far.

If this hike was truly one of the worst ideas to do for someone with ankle OA, then there’s got to be so many better options for me — I just needed to be patient and open to new ideas. I had no idea what would be next, but I did know that with the skills I developed preparing and taking this hike — the mental and physical training, developing a solid routine, and being open to changes — that I would be able to find something that interested me.

For so long, I was unable to picture a life after the hike where I could still be active. My assumption was that once my ankle fusion happened, that was going to be it… there would be no more big adventures.

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My Arizona brace looking back over the trail I hiked.

It was only after eight days of walking over 70 miles through the Sierra Mountains that I was able to realize that after this hike was over, and my osteoarthritis wasn’t going to ruin my hopes of an active lifestyle. While I didn’t know what my future would hold, I was finally open to the possibilities that my osteoarthritis wouldn’t take control of my life.

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Me at the top of Mt Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 ft.

Finding My Way After the Hike

Just like I wanted to give up after taking the wrong turn on the first day, I knew I couldn’t give up once the hike was over. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I was confident that I could take what I learned and apply it to figuring out a new activity and what an active life might look like for me.

To learn more about Ryan, visit his personal blog.