Post-Family Blues – Day 53: Walker Pass to Spanish Needle Creek

PCT Miles: 652.1 to 668.7
Miles: 16.7

My stomach has one last hurrah in the hotel toilet. At least I hope that’s the last of it.
Mark drops me off at the trailhead at 7:30 and it is so very, very hard to let him go.
My body feels rested and strong but tired. The first two, then the first four miles speed by. I am not thinking about the trail much at all, but about how bad my heart hurts.
Why am I doing this? Seems to be the question of the day. I fantasize about going home and curling up on the couch. Between skipping 60 miles, approaching the “end of the desert” (the terrain I’m most comfortable with), the Sierra looming, Mark’s visit, being in between trail families… I am feeling very mixed up. What is it I really want out of this hike? If I skip around and just do the parts that interest me, would it be better? Am I looking for something that is impossible for a trail to provide? Has the trail already given me what I needed?
But I also know this is what days-out-of-town can look like, and there is nothing to do but try to be kind and patient with myself, and to hike. 
I’m sitting for a break when I see hiker Mark, a doctor I’d camped with back on the Idyllwild alternate. We make small talk and I’m glad to see a familiar face. 
I take frequent breaks once the sun makes an appearance. My goal for the day is 16.7 miles. I feel a weird mixture of incredibly strong and incredibly unmotivated. I stop for water and there’s a group of hikers there and I chat with them. They’re going to the same campsite I am which is comforting. 
On the climb out of water to camp, Campo comes hiking up behind me. We catch up and he hikes on. I see him again at camp and we talk a little more. I tell him how I’ve been trying to write my “I quit” post all day in my head. I don’t really want to quit. Not yet, anyway. It is hard to keep your momentum out here when you’re reminded what it feels like to be safe and loved and have things be easy.
I gather water and go to bed. He’s trying to hike another ten miles or so tonight. I curl up in my tent and text Mark through my Delorme and he tells me the sewage pipe at the house collapsed and everything is backing up and overflowing. He’s had a rough week. At least I know now if I went home I still wouldn’t be able to use a toilet. 

Day 50, 51, 52: Off Trail Recovering, Happy Birthday to Me

(Internet isn’t strong enough for photos, will try to update later, although there aren’t many.) 

Saturday Mark, Mark’s sister and mom, and I go to breakfast in Lake Isabella. Whoopie and Harvest finish up their plans to get to Bakersfield while we’re gone. My head pounds from dehydration and lack of food. At breakfast I have to make myself eat – I eat French toast and bacon and drink orange juice but can’t touch the eggs I’d ordered extra of. 

For the rest of the day we lay around the hotel. I take a long nap. I am happy to be with my husband, cuddling, which he does even though I may be contagious.
For dinner I want mashed potatoes and we find a place, expensive though it is, and go there. I have salmon and mashed potatoes and salad. My stomach isn’t happy, but it handles it. In the hotel room, we watch Bridget Jones’s Baby and my legs are restless from not walking for two days. 
Sunday is my birthday. Mark hands me a box full of dehydrated meals from my friend Natalie, cards and words of encouragement from family and friends. My dad has given me a card with some cash and pictures of my mom because it’s what I asked him for and I look at the pictures and cry. It feels good to cry, like I needed it, and I am happy I get to do it near someone who isn’t disturbed by my tears, who doesn’t need an explanation, who knows they are not his to fix. 
We go to breakfast in Kernville. I order two pancakes and fruit and can’t eat all of it. I miss my hunger and my cravings. We wander looking for an outdoor shop but don’t have much luck finding the things I need. At some point Mark says: We can stay until Tuesday, if that’s okay with you. And of course it is. I am so happy to have him here, and I could also use the extra day to recover. We decide to move to Ridgecrest for the final day, where his car is, and a Walmart is.
I learn that nearly everyone from the group I’ve been hiking with has decided to skip the Sierra, and also that they caught a hitch and are in town. 
Karma is in town so we pick her up and take her to Kernville and she buys me a cup of tea for my birthday and we catch up. We’ll likely be in Kennedy Meadows and she says I can join her group which I would love, but I can only imagine they are much, much faster than I am. 
I eat delicious spaghetti for dinner from That’s Italian in Kernville and we all share a Creme brûlée. At the hotel we watch Moana. 
Monday we pack our things and drive to Ridgecrest. I don’t eat breakfast but I’m hungry for lunch so we go to a strange Mexican restaurant that has some of the most expensive fajitas I’ve ever seen. I order a burrito and its good and I manage to eat all of it. Afterward we go to Walmart and then we hear back about Mark’s car: a $5000 repair, not worth it. We swap rentals to one that can be dropped off in a Phoenix and go to Thai food for dinner.
All the while I realize I am leaning toward getting back on trail at mile 652, 60 miles past where I left it.
It’s making me reflect a lot on what my intentions for the trail are. I came out here because I wanted to do something hard, really hard, but I also wanted to be gentle with myself while doing it. I didn’t want to bully myself through miles. I wanted to try to live in that liminal space where you push yourself but are still forgiving. And I am really happy to say I have been doing that so far, and I have also been able to do every mile of the trail.
But I can’t go back to where I was picked up (miraculously, in the middle of nowhere) at 592, I would have to go 23 miles past it to 615. And I don’t especially want to go to that spot, either. It’s not that it is a “hard” part, though it is, a long waterless stretch in theory though I’ve been told there are currently plentiful caches. Its not even that I want to stay with the group I’ve been traveling with, who I may or may not catch up to. It’s just that there’s this little voice in my gut saying: It’s okay. I know you wanted to walk the whole thing. But this one, you lost. Forgive yourself. Let it go.
I didn’t come out here to be a purist. I did come out here to do something hard. I also came out here to try to balance doing the hard thing with doing the kind thing, taking care of myself, listening to what I really needed. 
In the real world, no one is going to be less impressed that I’m missing 60 miles of the trek. No one at home will argue whether I’m “really” a thruhiker. Only the internet and a small group of hikers would make a fuss. But it’s still hard to let go of the miles. 
I am also recognizing that part of what keeps me out here is just how much I don’t know what to do when I get home. I’ve been having the distinct feeling of not wanting to leave Mark but also a sinking feeling of, but what would I do back home?
I’m headed toward the Sierra where hiking outside of my experience level awaits, much of the group I’ve been walking with is disbanding, and the future of my hike is a question mark. Much of the sense of habit and safety I’ve been able to establish on trail is dissipating and that’s unnerving. I feel like a Lost Girl. But out here, at least the Lost Girl has a job to do. 

Day 50, 51, 52: Off Trail Recovering, Happy Birthday to Me

(Internet isn’t strong enough for photos, will try to update later, although there aren’t many.) 

Saturday Mark, Mark’s sister and mom, and I go to breakfast in Lake Isabella. Whoopie and Harvest finish up their plans to get to Bakersfield while we’re gone. My head pounds from dehydration and lack of food. At breakfast I have to make myself eat – I eat French toast and bacon and drink orange juice but can’t touch the eggs I’d ordered extra of. 

For the rest of the day we lay around the hotel. I take a long nap. I am happy to be with my husband, cuddling, which he does even though I may be contagious.
For dinner I want mashed potatoes and we find a place, expensive though it is, and go there. I have salmon and mashed potatoes and salad. My stomach isn’t happy, but it handles it. In the hotel room, we watch Bridget Jones’s Baby and my legs are restless from not walking for two days. 
Sunday is my birthday. Mark hands me a box full of dehydrated meals from my friend Natalie, cards and words of encouragement from family and friends. My dad has given me a card with some cash and pictures of my mom because it’s what I asked him for and I look at the pictures and cry. It feels good to cry, like I needed it, and I am happy I get to do it near someone who isn’t disturbed by my tears, who doesn’t need an explanation, who knows they are not his to fix. 
We go to breakfast in Kernville. I order two pancakes and fruit and can’t eat all of it. I miss my hunger and my cravings. We wander looking for an outdoor shop but don’t have much luck finding the things I need. At some point Mark says: We can stay until Tuesday, if that’s okay with you. And of course it is. I am so happy to have him here, and I could also use the extra day to recover. We decide to move to Ridgecrest for the final day, where his car is, and a Walmart is.
I learn that nearly everyone from the group I’ve been hiking with has decided to skip the Sierra, and also that they caught a hitch and are in town. 
Karma is in town so we pick her up and take her to Kernville and she buys me a cup of tea for my birthday and we catch up. We’ll likely be in Kennedy Meadows and she says I can join her group which I would love, but I can only imagine they are much, much faster than I am. 
I eat delicious spaghetti for dinner from That’s Italian in Kernville and we all share a Creme brûlée. At the hotel we watch Moana. 
Monday we pack our things and drive to Ridgecrest. I don’t eat breakfast but I’m hungry for lunch so we go to a strange Mexican restaurant that has some of the most expensive fajitas I’ve ever seen. I order a burrito and its good and I manage to eat all of it. Afterward we go to Walmart and then we hear back about Mark’s car: a $5000 repair, not worth it. We swap rentals to one that can be dropped off in a Phoenix and go to Thai food for dinner.
All the while I realize I am leaning toward getting back on trail at mile 652, 60 miles past where I left it.
It’s making me reflect a lot on what my intentions for the trail are. I came out here because I wanted to do something hard, really hard, but I also wanted to be gentle with myself while doing it. I didn’t want to bully myself through miles. I wanted to try to live in that liminal space where you push yourself but are still forgiving. And I am really happy to say I have been doing that so far, and I have also been able to do every mile of the trail.
But I can’t go back to where I was picked up (miraculously, in the middle of nowhere) at 592, I would have to go 23 miles past it to 615. And I don’t especially want to go to that spot, either. It’s not that it is a “hard” part, though it is, a long waterless stretch in theory though I’ve been told there are currently plentiful caches. Its not even that I want to stay with the group I’ve been traveling with, who I may or may not catch up to. It’s just that there’s this little voice in my gut saying: It’s okay. I know you wanted to walk the whole thing. But this one, you lost. Forgive yourself. Let it go.
I didn’t come out here to be a purist. I did come out here to do something hard. I also came out here to try to balance doing the hard thing with doing the kind thing, taking care of myself, listening to what I really needed. 
In the real world, no one is going to be less impressed that I’m missing 60 miles of the trek. No one at home will argue whether I’m “really” a thruhiker. Only the internet and a small group of hikers would make a fuss. But it’s still hard to let go of the miles. 
I am also recognizing that part of what keeps me out here is just how much I don’t know what to do when I get home. I’ve been having the distinct feeling of not wanting to leave Mark but also a sinking feeling of, but what would I do back home?
I’m headed toward the Sierra where hiking outside of my experience level awaits, much of the group I’ve been walking with is disbanding, and the future of my hike is a question mark. Much of the sense of habit and safety I’ve been able to establish on trail is dissipating and that’s unnerving. I feel like a Lost Girl. But out here, at least the Lost Girl has a job to do. 

Fever Sleep – Day 49: Zero on Trail

I wake in the morning and it seems like my nausea has passed. Should I hike? I wonder. I have messages from Mark saying he knows exactly where I am and can come and get me. Okay, I think. Come and get me.

I get up to move my tent to the shade and am instantly glad I didn’t try to hike – my skin is tender to the touch and I’m pretty sure I still have a fever. It hurts to move. So for most of the day I sleep. Another hiker, Whoopie, had been puking at camp all night. He asks if he can get a ride too. Of course, I say. Later, another hiker who’d passed by us, Harvest, hiked back to us – 6 miles forward, 6 miles back – because she could feel herself getting sick. Can I get a ride? she says. Of course, of course.

So we lay there all day. Around 2 pm, Mark texts me: his car has broken down. He has to get a tow, and a rental. He’ll be a few hours later. Fine fine, I think. Sleep sleep.

At six, he texts: I’ll be there at 7:30. I let the others know. I pack up my things and we head over to the road.

When we reach the road I get a feeling of dread. What if he can’t make it here? He should have called a ranger. He’s not going to make it. He’s not going to make it. I try to quiet my brain. But 7:30 comes and goes. And 8:30. I walk up and down the dirt road hoping for headlights. I don’t see any.

At 8:45 I say we should set up our tents and we do. Harvest is too sick to do much so she continues to lay on her pad with her sleeping bag, cowboy camping. I send Mark a message – we’ll figure it out tomorrow. There are other dirt roads. I should be able to hike tomorrow. Please let me know you’re OK.

I get a message back: I went to the coordinates and you weren’t there. I’m driving to your last known InReach.

How far out are you? I ask. But he doesn’t respond.

It’s well past dark. I don’t want him on these mountain roads. And, truly – I don’t think he can get to this road. It’s too rough. The only way I’m getting out of here is by hiking. Still, I set my alarm for a half an hour. And then again. And then I shut it off. I have to sleep if I’m going to hike. He tried his hardest but he couldn’t make it.

And then, at 10:30, I wake to a voice: “Colleen.”

It’s Mark, standing outside my tent.

“What…?” I want to cry but I’m too dehydrated so I settle for a half-cry tear-welling kind of sound. I look around. There’s a massive truck in the road. “A truck…?”

“It’s a long story,” he says. “I told you I’d come get you.”

I try to pack while half-crying and then we get in the truck. Here’s what had happened:

Mark went to the place I told him we’d meet originally, the place I would have needed to hike 23 miles to get to. When that didn’t work, he drove around the roads a little looking for me. When that didn’t work, he went back to cell service to message me and pull up my last known location via my InReach, which hadn’t occurred to him to do before. He set off to find me and then came to a gate and drove around the gate. Then he came to another locked gate that seemed impassable. He was yelling, frustrated – he was only 6 miles away. That’s when Bryan approached him: “You know you’re on private property?”

So he told him the story – he’d been driving since 6 am, his car had broken down, he’d gotten a tow, and a rental (and the rental place had told him they were out of cars until the tow truck driver intervened), and he’d been trying to come to find me.

So Bryan showed him to his house and Mark connected Bryan’s iPad to the internet for him (they’d just gotten the internet) and Mark showed him the coordinates of where I was. “Oh,” he said. “I know where that is. But your car is never going to make it there. You need four wheel drive.”

So Bryan and his nephew Dylan drove for six miles up a windy, rutted dirt road in the dark to help Mark come get me and my two sick hiker friends. And then drove us back to Mark’s car, and Mark drove us to our hotel.

Mark said my name outside my tent at 10:30 p.m. We got to the hotel at 1 a.m. Harvest and Whoopie crashed on our floor before figuring out what they’re going to do tomorrow.

We’re spending the weekend near Lake Isabella. Tomorrow (Sunday) is my birthday. I’m not sure where I’ll get back on trail yet, only that I won’t be able to get back on exactly where I got off because the road is too rough. But those are problems to solve for tomorrow’s Colleen. Today I feel I’m around at 85% – my fever seems to have broken but I have a sick-hangover from lack of water and food. I am feeling really grateful to have my husband here, like magic, exactly when I needed him. I am grateful at how quickly and intelligently my body seems to be healing. And I’m happy that I wasn’t alone yesterday, not the only sick girl on the trail, not the only person wanting to me safe and healthy and happy and here.

Return of the Bad Stomach – Day 48: Windy Campsite to Shaded Meadow

PCT Miles: 571.0 to 592.0

Miles: 21

I wake up really hungry and tired. But – hungry! I feel as if my stomach is better because my appetite is back and I’m pleased. I eat a muffin in my tent and get hiking. I take several breaks for mini naps and more food. I stop and eat salami and cheese and tortillas. Hunger! I’ve missed you! You beautiful thing!

My legs and body are feeling good and I feel like I’m on track to hit the mileage I want to do today so that I can reasonably get to Mark tomorrow – a 23 mile day to see him.

I get to the water source and make myself macaroni and cheese and take a nap and by 3:10 I’m hiking the last 10 miles to camp. But then I start to feel nauseated. Not cramping, nauseated. Fuck fuck fuck.

I hike and hike and hike and unclip my hip belt and listen to podcasts and try to breathe and I keep imagining myself throwing up off the side of this mountain. Fuck you Leave No Trace, I am thinking. I will not dig a cathole for my own barf. I keep near-crying but I am too tired and nauseated and dehydrated to get very far. I take a pepto bismol which does next to nothing.

It takes me forever, but I make it to camp. I try to set up my tent from a seated position. Rawhide gives me an anti-nausea pill and I crawl into my tent and try to fall asleep. How am I going to hike 23 miles tomorrow? How? How?

At midnight I wake up from fever dreams about being rescued and send Mark a message from my InReach. I don’t think I can hike tomorrow. There’s a dirt road .1 miles ahead that someone did trail magic on a month ago – maybe you can call the forest service ranger and see if it’s passable? Maybe you can call them and they can come get me?

I fall back asleep. I am glad I have brought too much water. I am glad I am near the shade. I am glad that I can text even with no cell service, so that I don’t feel totally alone out here on this mountain.

 

First Slackpacking of the Trail – Day 47: Tehachapi to Windy Mountain Campsite

Pct miles: 558 to 570.8

Miles: 12.8
I wake up and manage to eat some continental breakfast and while everyone is still in bed I do our laundry. We slowly get our packs together for checkout, and then I drop mine off at Rachel and Mousetrap’s room and head back to the grocery store. I get the rest of what I need and then ask the grocery clerk where to get a good salad and she points me across the street to a place called Henry’s, which doesn’t disappoint. I leave and go to stick my thumb out when a mother and son who were also eating at the restaurant ask, “Do you need a ride?” and take me back to the Best Western. Tehachapi has been amazingly hiker friendly.

Back at the hotel I organize myself and then take an Uber to the Post Office and mail myself food to Kennedy Meadows. I’ll likely have to get some more things from their store, but at least it’s the bulk of what I’ll need. It’s crazy that Kennedy Meadows is less than two hundred miles away.

At the post office I stick my thumb out and a man in a truck with his tiny dog pick me up and take me back to the hotel. I hang out in Rachel/Justin/Mousetrap’s room and take a nap until Camp is ready to go – he and I are going back to where we got off the trail so we don’t miss miles, while everyone else we hiked in with are skipping ahead by 8 miles.

He and I stick our thumbs out and walk toward town and it doesn’t take long before none other than Legend picks us up. Legend has to go by the airport first so he takes us there and we talk with some other hikers. He tells us that a lot of people are “slackpacking” this section of the trail – doing it without their full pack – because he offers to drive their packs to them by 9 pm. It doesn’t take Campo and I long before we decide this is an awesome idea.

We get to the trailhead and Coppertone is there, too and we sit around chatting. My stomach starts to churn and I have to run down the trail – I have a bout of diarrhea. But, I tell myself, I bet this is the end of it, my body getting rid of the last of whatever’s pissed it off.

We stick around for Legend’s spaghetti dinner and then head out with just a water bottle and a trekking pole. It’s actually one of the most pleasant hiking experiences on the trail so far. Campo and I have great conversation and even though he could be going faster he chooses to stick with me. We get to the highway where Legend will drop off our packs just before dark. Another hiker who’d been on trail with us slackpacking is going back to town – he’d been in town for two weeks nursing a sprained ankle, but it was still giving him trouble. He’d been hopeful it was better but his body had other plans.

Legend dropped off our packs and we get walking. For a couple of miles we’re just above the highway on mostly flat ground. It’s dark, and again, though Campo could easily walk faster, he’s sticking with me because I’d shared that I’m not a big fan of nighthiking. I’m grateful, because I’m trying to make something like 57 miles in three days, including this day, when it’s already dark. The farther I can get tonight the fewer miles I’ll have to do to meet Mark for my birthday.

But the wind is insane. I’m sometimes taking one step just to take three steps to the left and right to try to regain my balance. We end up making it only a few miles up the climb before I spot some tents and trees and decide to set up camp for the night. Campo continues on.

The trees don’t help much and I’m grateful, though honestly surprised, that my tent poles don’t snap in the wind. I don’t get much sleep.

 

 

Day 46: Zero In Tehachapi

The nurse practitioner I meet is nice and says she can do a bunch of tests but she suspects it’s my diet causing the cramps and that I may be a little constipated. She recommends a handful of vitamins to get supplements for and tests me for a UTI just in case – “there’s a little blood in your urine but you’re probably just dehydrated” – and sends me on my way. I feel satisfied with this, happy to have some kind of answer. 

Mountain’s friend is in town and he gives us all a ride to Pho, which I eat happily even though my stomach is still bothering me. I take the leftovers and then go shopping for a resupply, but I haven’t done any thinking about what I want and so wander the store for a while before paying, knowing I’ll have to come back because I haven’t gotten enough food, but I have gotten the vitamins the doctor recommended. 

I put my stuff back at the hotel and then walk down to see Wonder Woman. The movie only cost $4 and it was so good and such a treat. When the movie’s over I find the group and I sit with Campo, Shade, Twerk and Rawhide as they eat burgers. Afterward we find everyone at the jacuzzi so I borrow Rawhide’s shorts and put on my bra and go hang out with them. Tarantino had caught up with us but he’s leaving the trail for a little while to visit his fiancé in Texas. Harvest, a girl I’ve been bumping into, sticks her feet in the water near me.


From the jacuzzi I order cheesy bread from the pizza place down the street and then go pick it up and call my family. I can’t eat much of it and give the rest to my group and then I go to bed.