On Mountains and Medicine

As things are wont to do when you’re in your 20s and a year has passed since you’ve written, so much has changed since my last post.

After being forced off the PCT because of Lyme, I returned home to help my mother with her new business, eventually recovered, visited Pine Nut in Seattle, relapsed and reached my all-time Lyme low at the start of 2016, discovered a deep passion for fiber art, decided to go into the medical field, walked a winding yellow arrow of Caminos, explored Western Europe, enrolled and (very) successfully completed four weeks of pre-med courses, and then suffered from Lyme or carbon monoxide poisoning (long story) and had to withdraw.  Now I’m back at my “old Kentucky home,” creating fiber art, feeling strong, and pondering my next move.

Healthy people on career tracks might be so caught up in the day-to-day challenges that they are not afforded the chance to pause and take stock of where they’re going.  Getting to do so once every few years is a treat.  Getting to do so once every few months because of the cycles of remission and relapse (or carbon monoxide poisoning, you know) is a little excessive.

It’s not that I’d rather avoid being deliberate and mindful; it’s just that I’d prefer not to question my deliberate, mindful choices at such frequent junctures.  I feel completely smitten by mountains and art and the biological sciences; how am I supposed to choose just one?  (Perhaps I should take a page from polyamory and refuse to choose.)

I feel relatively certain that I would enjoy the lifestyle of a locum tenens hospitalist, traveling to various assignments and using modern medicine in the acute care setting where it most excels.  I would enjoy keeping abreast of the latest research and working through differential diagnoses to problem solve.  Most importantly, I would enjoy doing my best to ensure patients even more ill than I’ve been get the chance to hike another mountain.

But, the journey to that point feels daunting.  I’d forgotten about the competitiveness – the Slytherin atmosphere – of school; I’d forgotten what it felt like to live in a world where statuses and resumes are important.  It’s not a place where I feel as though I belong.

Thus, in my mind, the question right now, at this unusual limbo before registration for next semester opens, is whether I will find a place for myself – without losing myself – in med school. Should I be focusing on getting these last prereqs under my belt, when I’m not sure whether what comes next is a good choice for me?  I don’t want to go into medicine in spite of needing to go to med school; I want to be able to enjoy the journey.  I’m not opposed to hard work; I have just learned that life is too unpredictable to spend healthy days in unhealthy settings.

So, that’s where I am in my thoughts, at least today.  I welcome feedback, especially from med students who are finding their way toward their dreams.

PCT Reflections

Now that the leaves of the trees, already well colored, are falling, it seems high time to reflect on my hike this spring. It’s been more than six months since I left from Campo and more than four months since Pine Nut and I took a final string of zeros together by Rae Lakes. image

What a wonderful couple of months those were!

I have a great many memories of my time on the Pacific Crest Trail, lots of individual, special or fun or miserable moments. But, looking back, there are a few themes that stand out:

It was all about the people. Pine Nut, Ant, Teresa, Laurie, Sun Roof, Sherri, Robert, Mary, Dennis, Nell – my summer was full of so many beautiful people. Back in 2011, one of my very first on-trail interactions was with an AT thru-hiker named Grandpa, who imparted some wisdom to me: It’s about the smiles, more than the miles. Thanks to some amazing people, my PCT experience was full of smiles.

The desert enchanted me — so much so that the FoodCorps positions I’m planning to apply for next year are those in the high desert. I had no idea that my hike was timed to ensure I’d get to enjoy the desert bloom, and I would not have believed that this tree hugger would adapt well to a landscape bereft of trees. I never felt like I was home on the PCT (as I do in the eastern woodlands), but I certainly enjoyed my time on the trail.

The horror stories I’d been told didn’t hold up. The first seven hundred miles aren’t all desert; they weren’t always hot, and the water carries weren’t terrible. There’s not much unbearable solitude; I found myself wishing for quiet, contemplative time on more than one occasion. Death in the Sierras isn’t guaranteed; if you hike on a low-snow year, you might not even get to glissade.


Someday, I’ll finish the PCT. Well, maybe finish isn’t the right word. I’d want to start at the beginning and do a full thru-hike. Pine Nut has already assured me that she’ll join me for the highlights.

When I was trying to come to terms with getting off trail this year, I tried to assuage myself by reasoning that I’d be back next year, but I don’t think that’s the case. Once I got back to Kentucky, I was terrified to learn that my bone marrow was failing. Several hematology appointments (and rheumatology and neurology appointments, just for good measure) later, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for that, but I haven’t gotten to see a Lyme specialist yet. At the moment, I feel well-ish, and my blood tests are looking normal again.

I really try not to self-diagnose. I swear I do. I think patients should be health-aware and self-advocate, but I think we shouldn’t — and shouldn’t have to — self-diagnose. But, I really, really think I’ve been dealing with a Lyme coinfection called bartonella. Coupled with Lyme, it explains literally everything: the bone marrow issues, the bizarre off-season shin splints, the dizziness, the lightheadedness, the twitchy and vibrating muscles, the headaches, etc. Now if only I could get treated for it…

That’s a whole other story, but it’s also besides the point. What isn’t is that my next couple adventures need to be at lower altitude. (Bone marrow issues + altitude = disaster.) So, while my sister is still at grad school in Wales, I’m dreaming of walking the Camino and at least some of the South West Coast Path.

The following year, Te Araroa, which has been pulling my heartstrings for a few years already, is calling my name. And, the next year — in what could become my most long-term plans ever created and followed through on — Pine Nut and I are planning to reunite for a summer spent hiking Colorado’s 14,000-footers.


In the meantime, Kentucky. Farm life, family time, animal time, week-long hikes, doctors’ offices, factory work and babysitting, and the wonderful HeartFelt Fleece & Fiber.