This isn't an easy post to write.
"Three weeks" nodded the doctor. "I want you to keep weight off your foot for three weeks, and then you can start walking again."
"Are you sure? It's really that serious?"
"Clear as day," he said, prodding the the white smudge on my MRI, "we have a stress fracture..."
Leon and I were closing in on a month in the region, and although only 160 miles had passed underfoot we'd already completed a key section of our journey by walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, and then following the Masar Ibrahim through the West Bank.
We'd crossed into Jordan a few days earlier, buoyed by our experience in Palestine and were looking forward to plunging south, almost the length of Jordan on foot to the Red Sea.
I was struggling the last day before crossing the border. A few extra kg of supplies in the pack, my left achilles was moaning and the calf was stiffening. It's all part of the territory, twinges and niggles come and go when you're on the move every day and I was treading carefully, waiting for the pain to pass as quickly as it had arrived.
Not a day had passed during our hike through the West Bank without the hills of Jordan rising ominously into our peripheral vision to the east. And all of a sudden we were there, climbing into the foothills following Wadi Siir away from Pella.
We rounded a bend to a lovely sight. A tree overhung the Wadi bed. Tumbled boulders all around waited patiently for us to pass by, and the sun filled the scene with warmth. "Let's catch this" said Leon, setting up his camera and then asking me to walk through the shot.
I approached a couple of rocks and used them as steps. One, then the other. "Ah, man, would you mind coming back and doing that again," Leon called out, just as I put my left foot down, a sharp pain shooting through ankle and up into my lower leg. "Ooof," I exhaled.
He took that as mild dissent toward the request for repetition, a cross to bear we'd both suffered through for years as punishment for deciding to film ourselves. "Stop moaning" he grinned. I obeyed, quietly returned to the camera, spun 180 and took the steps again.
The ankle wasn't right, somehow.
We paused shortly afterwards, sprawled on rocks, gulping on water. The wadi had kept us in shade for much of the morning but the sun was finally finding its height and despite the steep sides of our valley, more frequent angles to beat down on these two walkers.
The only discomfort of what was a beautiful, temperate day was the weight of our packs. Depending on water and food supplies, we were bearing between 20kg and 30kg at any given time. With my achilles and calf still niggling from the day before Leon had already taken some weight from me in the form of our tripod, but this new pain through the ankle and shin was new and uncomfortable, and more concerning for me, it was a pain I hadn't felt before. More than just a muscle or a tendon.
Over the course of the next hour I found it harder and harder to bear weight. The walking poles helped a little but I had slowed to a painful, slow limp and the frustration was palpable. The impact on our enjoyment and general wellbeing of effectively adding another third of our body weight had been obvious from the beginning of the trip, and although my situation still felt temporary it forced conversion into what we'd need to compromise in order to lessen the weight of our packs.
Dumping our camping gear and half the camera equipment, then buying a donkey to carry water and food became the dream. Eventually we reached the town of Beit Eidris as a crackling call to prayer began, and we filled our bags with food with the decision to head into the hills above town to find camp, then have a long night of rest before judging our next move.
The sun went down by 4:30pm and we giggled to ourselves as we bid each other goodnight and slipped into our tents before most decent toddlers were hitting the hay.
15 hours later we were up again, well rested and packed up. Two and half miles of horribly slow limping on uphill road later, enough was enough. "Buddy, this isn't taking any weight, we need to have this looked at."
We marked our position on the map and hitchhiked to the nearby town of Orjan. Rather than immediately drive the 80km south to Amman and a doctor, we opted to give rest one more shot. Every minute not spent on the road was a palpable lack of distance travelled, and a round trip to the capital would eat into at least a day or two. Our schedule, although manageable, was tight. So I went to bed and only ventured out for the toilet and dinner at our guesthouse.
After 27 hours horizontal I slipped on my walking boots and ventured outside. After 20 metres there was no let up from the ankle. Leon had been out for a walk and found me limping near to our room. I shook my head as he approached. We both knew what that meant.
Fast forward four days. Our new friend Amjad, a walking guide and member of staff at Experience Jordan who had been instrumental in setting up The Jordan Trail which we were (meant to be) walking on, had kindly offered to drive me to hospital to see a specialist. It took three separate visits over the weekend for an initial consultation, then an MRI and then a final diagnosis before reality hit. "We have a stress fracture."
I took a taxi across town to catch up with Leon and pretty fast we'd decided that there was no use spending our budget on hotels in Jordan for the best part of a month. I flew back to the UK the next day just in time for Christmas, and in the UK I still am.
My foot is in a stiff boot designed to minimise movement and promote healing. Two crutches are always nearby. I can take the boot off for showers and sleep, and by the end of last week I realised there hadn't been much improvement in my pain levels. I visited a GP and was told that I needed not three weeks in the boot, but typically between eight and ten, plus physio time to rehabilitate an ankle and foot not properly used for a while.
It had taken Leon and I the best part of four years to find enough space to engineer a trip together. Once the idea of walking the Masar came about in the Spring of 2015 we plotted hard, shifted engagements and cancelled speaking gigs, thus creating a tight space in which this journey of 1000 miles on foot would be possible.
With an initial delay of a month brought on by the initial diagnosis of my foot injury we'd already started to shuffle schedules (and mental expectations) for how we could finish this journey. With potentially another two months of delay, this was starting to be impossible.
We both have rather odd lifestyles, which we wouldn't swap for anything. But when we choose to go on expedition it means income switches off. We don't bring in much from financial sponsorship and mostly rely on speaking engagements to put bread on the table, so while dedicating the initially agreed three and a half months meant loosing a decent chunk of income, it was perfectly acceptable because this journey was another brilliant story for us both to tell, and subsequently added value to our future lectures, film portfolios, and so on.
But another three months makes things very tricky. Having initially expected the trip to end by mid March, our Spring and Summer schedules had already started to fill and not even considering the excess desert temperatures in Jordan and Sinai if we ended up walking there in the Summer, the lack of clarity about my foot's healing time has forced us into a corner.
I have to look after my fitness, that's the bottom line. And with both of us having dedicated over half a year (along with plenty of other advisors, sponsors and friends also playing a part) to bringing this journey to fruition it's not worth totally giving it up.
So Leon is going to carry on alone and I'll continue to support the journey and the school's project we've been working on from afar. I'm obviously disappointed not to be able to continue on and am intensely jealous of the experiences Leon has ahead of him. At the same time, the experience I've had in Palestine has grown a fondness for the Middle East and its people that will never leave me.
I'm a better person even for just those first three and a half weeks hiking through the West Bank and although this is the first time I've been unsuccessful in an attempt to complete one of my 1000 mile treks I can only look at the positives. These things happen for a reason and it's up to us as individuals (and me in this case) to turn disappointment into opportunity. Somewhere down the line I have another 1000 miles of walking to look forward to and like it or not, with everything considered it feels like the right option to not play a part in this one anymore.
I haven't enjoyed travelling with anyone in my life as much as I did with Leon. He's a wonderful storyteller and has so much to share and teach, both from the regions he is about to walk through and from his own attitude to life and adventure. I've learned a huge amount from Leon over the last few weeks, and his calmness, rationale and professionalism have made this transition from walker to temporary invalid all the more bearable. He'll also be delighted that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder each day now, wondering whether I'm going to hide heavy bags of chocolate in his pack.
Thanks to everyone who has virtually dropped in on our journey so far, and please continue to follow and support Leon as he treads south through Jordan and then on into Sinai. Our journey now becomes his, make sure you're with him as I will be here on this blog, and through Leon's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
For me, this is the end of the path. For now.