Photo provided by Amber Redfield

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My Trail Story featuring Furiosa

Amber Redfield, a.k.a. Furiosa, shares the lessons she learned after injuring herself on her Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       08/06/2019

Natalie McMillan

My Trail Story

08/06/2019

What is your trail name?

Furiosa (or Fury for short). My trail name came to be for a few reasons. I have a buzzcut, I do all the work on my Jeep, and I exchanged mechanic services at hostels for beer and stay when vehicles break down. The name Furiosa comes from Charlize Theron’s character in the film “Mad Max: Fury Road”. I’m very much like the character, but nowhere near as cool as Charlize haha!

A hiker sits on a cliff on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

A woman with a shocked face holds her camera.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

What trail(s) did you hike/are you hiking?

I’ve been hiking for many years, ever since I was a kid. Little hikes, of course, but my first long distance hike was in 2017 when I attempted to hike the AT. A severe knee injury ended my hike early (which is what my story is about), but I plan to finish it over the next year, as well as plan for other hikes in the future.

2017: Appalachian Trail (700+ mi)

2019: Mid State Trail, Appalachian Trail (sections)

2020: Appalachian Trail, Long Trail

2021/22: PCT? Ice Age Trail? We shall see!

A thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

A view from someone laying inside a tent.

Photo by Amber Redfield

When did you hike/are you hiking?

I’m completing LASHes (LASH = long-ass section hiker) of the AT this year to complete the trail (see above). I am also planning to try and thru-hike the AT within the next 5+ years, but there are so many other trails to hike too!

How old are you?

Just turned 30 in July.

A hiker sitting on a lookout fence.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

Trail Story

Like so many who hike the Appalachian Trail, we learn only through experience: what is needed and what is not… what’s tough and what’s tougher. You learn from your mistakes, you celebrate your successes. But in the end, it’s what you take away from your hike that helps you grow as a person, as well as a long distance backpacker.

For me, it was learning that my stubborn Norwegian blood would ultimately end my hike. Why, you ask? Because I ignored severe knee injuries and continued to hike for 500 miles before admitting I needed to get off trail to seek medical attention.

A hiker standing on a rock with her arms out.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

Hiking boots in front of a tent.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A wooden bridge on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A hiker standing in the foggy woods on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

Let’s rewind back to Newfound Gap in 2017. I was 200 miles into my thru-hike attempt and feeling great. A shuttle picked us up in Gatlinburg to head back to the trailhead after spending a night in the town (vortexes, am I right?!). Tater Tot, Bags, and I all unloaded and took our photos at the Newfound Gap sign. We were so excited because it also had the first “Miles to Katahdin” on it!

A little into being back on trail, a huge storm hit the area, so we waited it out in a shelter. It was mid-afternoon, and some hikers were already in their sleeping bags; they decided to call it a day there due to the storms.

We were pumped on the other hand, as our desire to get going was in overdrive. Thus, it was decided to battle through the scattered storms throughout the day to get to the next shelter/site about 10 miles away.

This is where it gets dicey.

A view of a storm on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

The trail had become a fast flowing creek. Rocks were uprooted, debris collecting in deep cuts in the trail due to water erosion. Yet, we were singing and laughing, calling out to each other, and chanting to keep the adrenaline flowing.

A little while later, after taking some nice videos for my blog, we were hiking down a mountain right around mile marker 210. This particular part of the trail was very eroded from the heavy rainfall, so we watched our steps as we descended. All I remember is balancing on a rock that came uprooted and leaning backwards to keep upright. My left leg was in mid-step and I heard a huge snap/crack.

You can guess what versatile word came bursting out of my mouth as this moment.

The pain that shot through my left knee was something I’d never felt before: it was a deep, searing burn. Hot knives stabbing under my patella (kneecap), and between my femur and tibia. My pain threshold is very high, but I’ll admit… this got me.

I stumbled to a log to take a seat while my mind flooded with fear. The fear wasn’t about the injury, it was about knowing this was it. This injury would kill my thru-hike attempt.

About 45 mins passed while Bags and Tater watched with concern on how to deal with this situation. They stayed by my side while I let the pain rush over me and start to dull. I was now in pure adrenaline-fight mode. I masked the pain and told them it wasn’t that bad and that we just continue to the next shelter (which was 8 miles away).

See what I just said? Read it again.

Do NOT do that. Ever.

A dark trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A woman standing in a river.

Photo provided by Amber Redfield

After some convincing, we pressed on and skirted pass Charlie’s Bunion, focused on getting to the next shelter. I booked it as best I could, just wanting to get safely to a place – any place – to rest for the night. I just wanted to eat my pasta side, laugh with friends, and enjoy the scenery.

Before we continue on reading “The Idiot’s Guide to ‘Let’s Bust This Knee Further’”, I would like to reveal the injury for you all. Maybe you guessed it from my description: torn meniscus, ACL, and shredded femur & patella cartilage.

At that time, I definitely knew I’d torn the meniscus and pulled the ACL. My dad dealt with the same injury and had surgery for it… so I knew the signs. I’m also a scientist who studies bones, soooooo I was pretty spot on with knowing what I had just done to my leg.

This is where my stubbornness overpowered my scientific mind/common sense: “Get. To. The. Doctor.”

A shelter on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A headshot of a hiker.

Photo by Amber Redfield

Days passed, and my knee was not better. I pretended it was to ease my friends, but I was only doing more damage to it. I knew it too. Why did I do this? Pure stubbornness and drive to get to Katahdin. I would crawl up that mountain if I had to!

To everyone reading. Please listen to these words: never ignore an injury just because you want to finish the trail. You will only do yourself in. If you’re an aspiring thru-hiker, PLEASE make sure you never do what I did in this story. Thru-hikers are a hardy group of people, but sometimes we put our trail destination before our own health/bodies. We’re too proud of call it quits; we don’t want to look like failures. But after a few close calls of almost falling off cliffs because my knee gave out, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I was putting the safety of my tramily and myself at risk.

I tore my knee April 18, 2017 (near Charlie’s Bunion). I didn’t get off trail until June 12, 2017 (Daleville, VA).

A injured knee wrapped in medical tape.

Photo by Amber Redfield

The time between these two dates was pure suffering. I was in horrible, constant pain. My knee would give out due to the injuries. I’d take days — even a week off at a hostel — to try and rest. None of this worked. I took the maximum ibuprofen I could, I’d try and ice it in the creek. It would lock on me, burn all day and night, blow up to the size of a grapefruit. I endured all this because I had one thing on my mind: Katahdin.

In the end, you know what worked? Getting knee surgery, intense PT, and a year of recovery.

I bet y’all didn’t see that coming! *rolls eyes and slams head on desk*

The depression that hit after getting off trail was horrific. I already deal with mental illness, even before I hit the AT. I’m on multiple meds for it, and getting off trail just threw me into a very bad state of mind. My friends went on without me, I sat there in my bed and cried. I couldn’t walk or move my knee without the burn. After resting for a few weeks, I realized how badly I screwed up. This caused months of spiritual pain and regret.

Tents set up in the forest on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A group of hikers in a line.

Photo by Amber Redfield

“If only I’d went to the hospital in Gatlinburg or at the next road walk… maybe I’d be on the trail…”

All of the “what ifs” began. I felt like a failure. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was home, off trail, due to a knee injury; it was a hard reality to swallow. My thru-hike attempt for 2017 had ended, and I could not come to terms with it.

I don’t think enough people shine a light on injuries, leaving the trail due to an injury, and the depression that follows it. It’s hard to adapt back to the non-thru-hiker life, and I don’t think many people truly do adapt back. 

For anyone who ever experiences these events, know you are NOT alone. It happens to so many people, and you should find support within the community to help get through those tough times.

Hikers smile holding ice cream.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A beautiful sunrise.

Photo by Amber Redfield

My advice for folks attempting these hikes:

  • Don’t be stubborn.
  • LISTEN to you body.
  • Don’t let your pride get in the way of your health.
  • If you get hurt or sick, seek help immediately.
  • Rest. Rest, rest, rest. Don’t push yourself to the brink of a worse outcome.
  • Make sure you are careful hiking. Accidents happen, but try to reduce that risk by being aware of your surroundings and weather forecasts.
  • Listen to friends, family, and tramily. If they feel you’re in some sort of trouble with a sickness or injury, just get to the next town and go to an Urgent Clinic.
  • It. Is. Not. Worth. Permanently. Damaging. Yourself. Due. To. Terminuses.

I am more than happy to discuss this further with folks who have questions about my experiences. I’m glad I’m able to hike again, but I could have prevented a lot of this headache and heartache if I’d just gone to the doctor right away.

That’s my trail story. It isn’t a “I made it to Katahdin!”, but more a “Lessons learned only from the trail.”

If you would like to follow my future hikes, check out my Trek account, Instagram, and Facebook.

A view from a hiker laying inside a tent on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

Two women smiling together.

Photo by Amber Redfield

Two backpacking backpacks up against the wall.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A hiker leaning up against the door of a shelter on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

One hiker sitting and one hiker laying at a lookout on the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by Amber Redfield

A dark trail in the forest.

Photo by Amber Redfield


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The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the United States and attracts thousands of thru-hikers every year. Its narrow corridor stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, traversing 14 states and nearly 2200 miles (3540 km) on its way.

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Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the United States and attracts thousands of thru-hikers every year. Its narrow corridor stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, traversing 14 states and nearly 2200 miles (3540 km) on its way.

2200 miles

$59.99 full guide

Explore the Trail

About the Author

A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people and places and nature, which might explain why she has almost 23,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things social media/marketing-related and might be seen frolicking around Flagstaff taking photos of the Arizona Trail.