Peter Conti led what by any definition would be an active lifetstyle – running, biking, marathons, camping, motorbikes, marathons. His wife finally prevailed, and he sold his motorbikes, only to take up dirt bikes. He promised no racing.
Until he raced. And crashed. And broke his pelvis into 23 pieces. His femur was separated from his pelvis, and when the doctors reattached it, they inadvertently crushed a main nerve. The result: excruciating pain.
After three physical therapies, three different doctors with three different pain med regimens, and no improvement, Conti gave up pain meds. Cold turkey. And he decided he would control and perhaps conquer pain by hiking the Appalachian Trail. The trail from Georgia to Maine is longer, in miles, than the distance from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. And he would do it, he decided, with almost no physical preparation except for what to carry in his backpack.
Conti tells his story in Only When I Step on It: One Man’s Inspiring Journey to Hike the Appalachian Trail Alone. And what a story it is, and what a journey he takes himself and the reader on.
We learn the lingo of the trail, like NOBOs (northward-bund hikers, like Conti) and SOBOs (southward-bound hikers). We discover the kindness and helpfulness of people, and we also find a few jerks. We learn about wildlife and majestic views. We find out that “trail” often means rocks and rocky inclines. And we discover what it’s like to hike when every step of the hike is painful.
Conti was determined to hike through the pain and to hike the trail within a year, a status known as “thru-hiker.” What he learns is that his physical impairment required him to rethink. He made it 400 miles, and through the Smoky Mountain National Park, before hitting a wall in Erwin, Tennessee. And he quit, almost permanently. After months of rest, he began to take short hikes on the trail near where he lived in Maryland. And slowly he discovered a way that might enable him to complete the trek – using his car to allow for shuttling back. Purists might sneer, but for Conti, this was his journey to conquer his pain.
He tells an engaging story. Given Conti’s physical shape, Only When I Step on It also tells an amazing story of determination and resilience.