CT #8-9: Zeroes

We associate the feeling of whiplash with sudden dramatic deceleration, with going from 65 mph to a standstill. But, anyone who’s gotten off trail knows that emotional and mental whiplash can also affect us when we go from 3 mph to a stop.

When you’ve been so focused on forward progress, standing still can be challenging. However, the fever, sore throat, and congestion that lingered in Leadville left me no choice but to rest.

As I did, I got to enjoy the Leadville Hostel & Inn, one of my very favorite hostels to date. It’s more pricey than AT hostels and is much more like many PCT or Hosteling International hostel in price and model. It attracts backpackers, cyclists, climbers, wanderers, and road trippers. On the deck, in the living rooms, and in the kitchen, we all intermingle, sharing stories of our adventures. The hostel feels organized and clean but also friendly and laid back — and it’s been a safe, warm place to recover.

I don’t feel 100% by any means, but my fever is gone, and my congestion is drying up. My throat is still sore, and I’m still tired. My plan is to hit the trail tomorrow morning and take it relatively easy — maybe just Rainbow Trot along.

CT #7: Fever

Every once in a while, I wonder at my sanity. The night I spent with a high fever on the AT in Virginia qualifies as one of those times, as does each of my two long, Lymey walks out of the High Sierras. And, today, needing to walk 17.5 miles over a whole lot of exposed terrain under stormy skies with a fever, congestion, and a sore throat also qualifies.

I woke up feeling absolutely awful, but I also knew I couldn’t dwell on it; I needed to get moving while the clouds were still light. I packed up and headed to the exposed trifecta of Searle Pass, Elk Ridge, and Kokomo Pass, better known collectively as Marmotland.

The landscape was stunning, but every step was difficult. Breathing during exertion can be tough. Breathing at altitude can be tough. Breathing with a swollen throat can be tough. Doing all at once was certainly less than ideal.And, then, just as I got under treeline, the rain started.

It would have made for a great misery party, but I pulled it together, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other all the way to Tennessee Pass. Eventually, I emerged from the trees, stuck out my thumb, and willed a car to stop and take me to Leadville.

Why do we do this to ourselves? An east-bounder (an EABO?) pointed out recently that, in the moment, not much that we do out here is actually fun. We sweat and we hurt and we shiver. Basic tasks take so much work. But, somehow, the cumulative effect of all of those uncomfortable, less-than-fun moments is something magical and life-changing. Talk about synergy.

Off the PCT

My final day on the PCT began inconsequentially, save for the Lyme trifecta of dizziness, tiredness, and nausea I was experiencing. I packed up and hiked down to Rae Lakes, enjoying again the spectacular lakeside trail. Near the Rae Lakes ranger station — where friendly Sam Webster was stationed — I marveled at the tranquility of three sleeping deer. I thought about my likely-imminent departure from the trail. How I would miss this wilderness!

Although the forecast had called for afternoon storms, I was only one mile into my hike when the skies opened up. For a few moments, there was just a light, cold rain, but soon the hail began falling.wpid-2015-08-01-06.03.55-1.jpg.jpeg

As I mentioned a few days ago, this hailstorm was unlike any storm I’d ever before experienced — and I’m from the unpredictable East Coast. The hail began falling and kept falling…and falling…and falling. I’m used to hailstorms accompanying warm rain in summer storms or the tumultuous air of spring frontal systems; I’m accustomed to hail falling briefly before giving way to rain. This hailstorm was a nonconformist: It hailed for 90 minutes or so and left inches of hail on the trail in its wake.

Throughout the storm, thunder resounded in the valley and lightning lit up the sky. The sparse tree cover overhead and nearby lakes didn’t exactly make the trail a safe place to be; however, I kept walking, remembering that denser tree cover awaited as I approached Woods Creek.

Crunching hailstones beneath my feet, I descended lower in the valley. By the time I was thoroughly chilled from the ice that fell from the sky, the ice was replaced by rain, a bitterly cold rain whose cold seeped through clothing even when its moisture did not. I traipsed through the increasingly green wilderness as I neared Woods Creek, wet and numb.

I fleetingly considered climbing Pinchot Pass after making it down to Woods Creek. I think my reasoning had been that the effort expended during an ascent would warm my core, but it seems more likely that the thought wasn’t reasoned at all. As I arrived at the Woods Creek Campsite, I recognized Ranger Webster through the rain.

“Has anyone come over the Pass today?” I asked, waving a numb hand toward Pinchot.

“Not since early this morning. I’m getting reports of a good bit of snow up there.”

Fortunately, the threat of snow travel made my brain surrender its idea of hiking over Pinchot. I accepted the fact that my day’s hike would be over after only seven downhill miles and began the challenging task of erecting my tent in the rain with immovable fingers.

After a good half-hour spent thawing my fingers and making campsite-creating progress in a stepwise fashion, my tent was up. As quickly as I could, I stripped off my rain gear and crawled into my tent and under my quilt.

The rain kept falling fast and furiously, and soon even my previously-dryish campsite became a shallow lake.   I hid under my quilt, willing myself to be warm.

Sometime in the afternoon, the weather broke.

wpid-2015-08-01-06.03.59-1.jpg.jpegEventually, I mustered the energy to take my belongings out of my tent and pack and set them in the sun to dry. Forty-five minutes later, the sun went away as more storm clouds moved in. Stumbling around the expansive campsite, I set up my tent on a drier patch of ground and crawled back inside.

It was 24 hours before I worked up the spoons (or, as thesweetadventurer said, “the titanium sporks”) to even consider leaving camp.

I spent most of that time sleeping and, if I’m being honest, feeling sorry for myself. I was below 8500 feet now; I still felt miserable, and my symptoms couldn’t be written off as signs of altitude sickness. I was definitely, positively, undoubtedly, absolutely dealing with a relapse of Lyme disease, a relapse that was definitely, positively, undoubtedly, absolutely forcing me off the PCT and back to bed. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was crying.

Then, sometime just before noon on the 10th, I realized how very ridiculous I was being, wallowing in self-pity. Yes, I was going to get off trail; yes, my plans were going to change again; yes, I’ve spent 13 of the last 23 months in bed. But, those 13 months haven’t been completely lost, and the other ten have been some of the most spectacular of my life. And, here I was, in a truly beautiful place. The sun was shining down all around me, the pendulous branches of the foxtail pines were swaying in the breeze, and the roar of Woods Creek filled the air. I began crying with gratitude — both for that moment and for the months I’d spent in the wilderness of California.

An hour later, I was ready for the slow, painful trek to Road’s End. I crossed the suspension bridge again, took a picture of the 800-mile mark again, and turned off the PCT and onto the Paradise Valley Trail again. With a pack-ful of memories of a wonderful hike, I was ready to head home.


On the PCT: Sidelined with Lyme Disease

Throughout my fight with Lyme disease, I have tried to be patient and calm.  After finding that anxiety and depression got me nowhere, I have tried to embrace a Zen attitude about being ill for an indefinite period of time.  I have worked to relish the good days and accept the bad days, acknowledge the failures but savor the successes.  I don’t feel like doing any of that today.

Today, I feel the need to write a rare, less-than-optimistic post.  Forced off the Pacific Crest Trail because of Lyme, I’m not in the mood to look for the silver lining of my illness, not interested in thinking about the gratitude or perspective being chronically ill has given me.  Stuck in bed, tired, dizzy, achy, and twitchy, I’m finding it difficult to be positive or hopeful.  Today, I need to rant.

I’m angry.  I’m angry that some bacteria that entered my body when I was bitten by a barely-visible tick four years ago has the power to knock me off the trail, which I was hiking as a fundraiser for Lyme disease research.  I’m angry that the same bacteria makes it difficult to hold down a job or go back to school or be in a relationship.  I’m angry that it has changed the course of my life in dramatic ways.

I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that, according to the CDC, I never had Lyme and that, if I did, it would have been cured a few years ago, after a couple weeks of antibiotics.  I’m frustrated that there are so many unanswered questions about Lyme, that there is so much research that needs to be done.  I’m frustrated that there are so few doctors who are familiar with treating it and that there are so few success stories.  I’m frustrated that many people are far more ill than I am and that it seems as though little is being done to help them.

I’m sad.  I’m sad that being sick made me lose some friends.  I’m sad that a shortage of “spoons” made me flaky and unreliable.  I’m sad that a gap grew between some of my old friends and me, as I could no longer easily relate to twentysomethings who were able to live like typical twentysomethings.  I’m sad that people who’ve known me when I’ve been well aren’t sure how to respond when I’m sick.  I’m sad that our society doesn’t understand invisible illnesses and that a whole lot of health privilege goes appreciated.

I’m grieving.  I’m grieving for the years that I can’t remember and for the year I’ve basically lost to being bedbound.  I’m grieving for the brain I used to have, the intellectual competence and confidence I once knew.  I’m grieving for the way I used to be able to make plans for my future, for the feeling that I could achieve most anything if I worked at it long or hard enough.  I’m grieving for the marathon I haven’t yet run, the Masters degree I haven’t yet earned, the career I haven’t yet found.

I’m tired.  I’m tired of feeling like I’m fighting this alone.  I’m tired of not knowing what my next step should be.  I’m tired of wondering what the spirochetes inside of me are doing, of having no idea that the troops are rallying before they rise up and send me crashing.  I’m tired of being sick.

On the PCT: Kennedy Meadows, Part Two

I haven’t looked in a mirror since Mojave.  That was roughly eight days and 150 miles ago.  In the time since then, I’ve sweated while going up, down, and around beautiful mountains, walked through sandy desert, gotten some sunburn, and been rained on twice.  I’m sure that, by general United States standards, I look a mess.

But, when I arrived at the Kennedy Meadows General Store with Pine Nut, it simply didn’t matter.  Hikers crowding the store’s deck and overflowing onto its lawn cheered and hollered and clapped as we made our way to the deck.  I threw my hands in the air in gratitude, and they cheered louder.  We had done it:  We two tired, hungry, filthy hikers had made it to the Sierras.


Arriving at Kennedy Meadows

Kennedy Meadows has been an anticipated milestone for a long while now, since before I’d set out on the hike.  It marks the end of Southern California and the start of the Sierras, home of giant trees, water crossings, and Mount Whitney.  It means sun shirts get replaced with T-shirts and food bags get traded for bear canisters.  It means that we’ve gotten our trail legs and that the rush to Canada before the snow moves in is on.

Before the dash begins, it’s customary for hikers to spend at least a “nero,” a near-zero-mile day, at Kennedy Meadows, and that’s just what Pine Nut and I are doing.  Ant, who’s been really struggling with plantar fasciitis, will be arriving by bus in a few hours, at which point logistics will need to be worked out, as there’s virtually no cell service for a few hundred more miles.


The South Fork of the Kern River

Until Ant arrives, it’s all about catching up on blogging and letters and food.  Catching up on the last involves a fair bit of people watching, as the General Store’s deck, where the food lives, seems to be the favorite destination of hikers.

Watching lots of tanned and muscled hikers interact, I thought about how the last 700 miles have done much more than give us our trail legs.  Over these miles, backpackers new to the long trails have gotten their trail identities.  Most everyone has a trail name by now, lots of hikers are sporting unruly hair grown over the last weeks and months, and the group’s adaptation to this lifestyle seems to have occurred.  No longer are showers and laundry the priority after getting to town; they’re important, for sure, but hikers don’t become what Ant calls “fluffy” until they’ve filled their bellies with at least one burger or hot dog, chips, and a cold Gatorade.


The deck of the Kennedy Meadows General Store

Talking with other hikers, I didn’t think about the dirt smudges or streaks of zinc sunscreen on my face that a Wet One later demonstrated I’d had.  I didn’t care that my clothes smelled as though I’d walked from Mexico in them or that my hair was a wild mess under my ball cap.  I just smiled and laughed and shared stories with new friends and old.


Hikers napping behind the store