Friday, September 25, 2020

Day 50: Ross Lake Arrival

July 24: I slept well and hit the trail running at 7:00am. Well, maybe not running--my feet were still in agony and hadn't improved during the night. They also didn't get worse, but each step was painful.

Fortunately, the first several miles of the day, I'd be heading downhill toward Ross Lake, then the rest of the day I'd largely travel along flat ground following along the shoreline of the lake. There was very little uphill for the entire day--a fact I was enormously thankful for since the uphills rubbed the back of my ankles most and therefore hurt the most.

Jack Mountain

So I headed downhill toward Ross Lake. There weren't many views, mostly tucked in among the trees, but numerous blowdowns slowed my progress. The scrambling up and over the blowdowns or up and around the banks of the trail caused my feet lots of grief.

Much of the time I spent wondering if there was actually a word that describes the back of a person's foot where my injury was located. I couldn't think of a name for it except the "back of my foot" or "back of my ankle," and I found both phrases needlessly wordy and imprecise. Heel didn't seem correct either, since I thought of the ball of the foot as the heel. I should invent a word for this part of the body, but what?

I settled on "kark." That's actually a Polish word for the back of the neck. My feet, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with my neck, but in English, kark had no meaning so I felt it was available to use for anything of my choosing, and I needed a word to describe the back of my ankle more than I needed a word to describe the back of my neck. And anyhow, in English, there was already had a word to describe the back of the neck--the "nape." So I figured I could re-purpose the Polish word to describe the location of my current injury. =) (If there was a Polish word to describe this part of the foot, I didn't know it, so that wasn't an option!)

With that pressing problem solved, continued down toward Ross Lake, eventually coming out to the shoreline with beautiful, wide and expansive views. It's a large, man-made lake that's 23 miles long and up to 1.5 miles wide and stretches across the Washington border into Canada. If the lake didn't exist, the PNT could just go straight across and cut dozens of miles of hiking around the lake into a few miles. But no, the lake is in the way, so now the trail follows the long shoreline the long way around the lake.

After covering about 7 miles for the day, roughly my half-way point, I was absolutely exhausted and crashed on a small nob overlooking the lake. The location was gorgeous! And I decided that I needed a long rest--at least for an hour or two which justified the pain and effort of taking off my shoes. Which is what I did.


I took a two-hour break on this nob overlooking
Ross Lake. It was a wonderful place for a break!

I enjoyed the break, eating snacks, reading my Kindle and admiring the views. But after nearly two hours, it was time to put my shoes back on and hike out to my campsite at Ruby Pasture. When I reached Ross Lake, I had entered the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and all camping was by permit only. I had a permit, and it required that I camp at Ruby Pasture.

The trail, much to my annoyance, climbed nearly a thousand feet up and away from the shoreline, somewhat of a "shortcut" to the Ruby Arm section of the lake. The path was shorter than one that would have stayed along the shoreline, but it was less scenic being in the trees and infinitely more painful for me to walk. My progress slowed dramatically.

Eventually I reached the top of the shortcut and the trail headed back downhill again.

On my map, the Ruby Pasture campsite appeared to lie right on the trail, or at least right next to it at the junction with the Hidden Hand campsite located a half-mile off trail. It was the reason I choose the Ruby Pasture campsite rather than the Hidden Hand campsite--it was closer to the PNT.

Except when I arrived at the junction, I didn't see the campsite. There was a sign pointing uphill to Jack Mountain, and there was another sign pointing in the opposite direction to Hidden Hand Camp, and toward Highway 20, and toward Ross Lake. All of the directions were labeled, but none pointed to Ruby Pasture. Where the heck was Ruby Pasture?

Unsure, I walked further up the trail for a few minutes, but it didn't take long before I guessed this was the wrong direction and retraced my steps back to the junction. So then I tried following the trail to Hidden Hand Camp--ironically not so hidden since it was labeled at the junction. My Ruby Pasture camp was pretty well hidden, though!

I decided to follow the trail toward Hidden Hand Camp, however, because if I didn't find Ruby Pasture, I'd just set up camp illegally at Hidden Hand instead. If the park service wants me to camp at Ruby Pasture, they should have labeled their signs pointing to its location!

A quarter-mile down the trail, I found the Ruby Pasture Camp. But I was further dispirited when a post marked that the water source for camp was I another 1/4-mile further down the trail. "That's Hidden Hand Camp!" I exclaimed with anger. I thought this campsite was supposed to have its own supply of water. If I have to hike a 1/4-mile to another campsite, then it doesn't have a water source! 

I was very angry when I discovered that I had to walk
another 1/4-mile (one way!) to get water.

I was so pissed. Every step was agony and I was doing too much off-trail walking already. Round-trip, I'd need to walk another half-mile just to get water! Which meant I had to do a full mile of off-trail hiking from the PNT to the water source. Not to mention the extra mileage I covered when I walked in the wrong direction looking for the campsite. I'd have been better off if I had just reserved the Hidden Hand Camp to begin with. Yes, I'd still have to walk a half-mile off trail, but at least I wouldn't have gotten 'lost' looking for my campsite and I'd actually be camped directly near a water source.

If I knew beforehand that there was no water at Ruby Pasture, I'd have filled up with water at the last creek I passed before arriving and save that half-mile of walking from the camp to the water and back.

Basically, I was very upset. Why did my maps show my camp on the trail instead of a 1/4-mile off trail? Why was there no hint that the camp didn't have its own water source? Argh!

I partially set up camp, dropping my heavy pack and tying my Ur-Sack to a tree (I don't normally like to leave my food unattended, but I sure as heck wasn't going to carry it to the water source and back!)

I took off my shoes--I couldn't wait to get them off again--then walked to the water source in my Crocs. The Crocs were wonderful to walk in. I flipped up the strap so it didn't get used and walking was easy as soon as there was nothing rubbing the injured area. I was still annoyed at the extra, unexpected walking, however.

I skipped making a proper dinner once again. It was too late (7:30pm) and I was too tired and felt too lazy to cook a meal. I ate snacks instead and pretty much decided that I needed to get off the trail tomorrow. Highway 20 was just 2.5 miles further down the trail. I could hike out in the morning--even with my injuries, it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours--and have all day available to hitchhike back to Seattle. Unless some miracle happened overnight and my karks started feeling a heck of a lot better, I was getting off the trail tomorrow.

Blowdowns were the most difficult part of my morning since I had trouble navigating them due to my injured karks.

The trail alongside the lake was well-maintained, mostly flat, and had no blowdowns at all! Beautiful trail!

That looked like fun right now. Maybe I could get off the trail without having to walk?! =)

The trail along the shoreline of Ross Lake was definitely the highlight of the day!

Plenty of fresh air while doing your business! =)

Today I named this area of my foot the "kark."
Turns out, hiking 14.4 miles today didn't help it heal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Day 49: A Devil of a Day

July 23: I slept well, but when I woke, my biggest concern was my feet. I hoped that maybe they scabbed over or something during the night and perhaps walking wouldn't be so painful. I put fleece socks on my feet during the night so the backs of my ankles wouldn't rub around in my sleeping bag in my sleep, but realized that might have been a bad idea when I found the socks "glued" to my injuries. I wouldn't say it 'scabbed' over per se, but the injury seemed to 'dry out' and was stuck to my socks like a sticker.

Gorgeous views today!

Argh! I slowly peeled off the socks, trying not to damage my feet anymore than they already were. I definitely needed to treat them and get some moleskin over it before I started hiking. Somehow, my feet seemed to look even worse than they did when I went to sleep. This was going to be a major issue for me. After just one day on the trail, I felt nearly crippled!

I carefully treated my wounds. They weren't bleeding, but the skin was so thin and tender. I applied some Neosporin and first attached a band-aid. The band-aids weren't really big enough to completely cover the wounds--the wounds were astonishingly massive in size! This worried me since I didn't want the band-aid to stick to the wound. I wanted it to stick to the good skin around the wound, but I just didn't have anything big enough to completely cover the wounds. I put the band-aid on anyhow for lack of better options. Then covered the band-aids with large pieces of moleskin for extra protection and to help keep the band-aids in place.

I also carried one wrap which I bought years ago when I had an issue with my knee, so I wrapped that around my right foot to protected the band-aid and moleskin from moving around during the day. It seemed like the right foot was in worse shape, and I only had one wrap available. The left foot would have to suffer without the extra help.

My feet, somehow, seemed to look worse in the morning
than when I went to sleep the night before!

The bugs, fortunately, weren't so bad this morning which kind of surprised me. Yesterday, when I wasn't camped anywhere near water, they were terrible. Today, next to a creek, not problem. But it did feel colder this morning, and it was overcast and ugly out. Perhaps that contributed to the lack of bugs. I'd take it! No rain was expected, though, and the weather would probably clear later in the afternoon.

Something, most likely a mouse, had nibbled a hole into my bag of Wheat Thins during the night. I got a little lazy about protecting my food during the night, but I didn't think it would be an issue here since almost nobody ever hiked through here and even fewer people ever camped. Critters like mice tend to be a problem on busier trails where the wildlife has grown accustomed to hikers and campers. So I had left a bag of Wheat Thins out during the night, too tired to put them away properly. Oh, well.

I ate breakfast, packed up, and started hiking. The most difficult part of packing up was getting on my shoes. It was agony trying to slip my shoes on over the wounds. I tried loosening the laces to make it easier, but it was still difficult and painful to get them on.

The trail was actually in better condition than I had expected. At no point during the day did I lose the trail and while there were blowdowns, they weren't especially bad. Getting around or over the blowdowns, however, proved a lot more challenging with my injuries. Those often required scrambling up and down steep banks to get around the blowdowns and my feet had trouble handling that off-trail terrain.

Walking downhill wasn't too bad since it pushed my foot deeper into my shoe and didn't rub the back of my ankles so much. Flat ground wasn't too bad as long as I didn't try to walk too quickly. It was the uphills where I struggled the most, however, since it pushed my feet back in my shoes--directly against my wounds. While walking up hills, I'd try to walk with my feet angled outward so the pressure would fall away from the middle of the wounds, but it didn't really work well. Steps on the trail proved to be a godsend. I usually don't like steps, but even while walking up them, my feet would stay level so it didn't stress the backs of my ankles as much as walking up a sloped trail.

By the afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and temperatures warmed to a comfortable level.

I took breaks along the way and I often wanted to take my shoes off to let them breathe a bit, but getting my shoes on and off hurt too much. I would take them off at the end of the day, and put them on at the beginning of the day, but I wasn't going to take them on and off for a half-hour rest break. It was too much effort and involved too much pain.

The PNT eventually merged onto the Devils Ridge Trail and headed up to Devils Dome where spectacular views abounded. It was difficult to watch the trail when all I wanted to do was admire the views around me!

During the climb up Devils Dome, each step was agony. It was all uphill. I had finished a page of my trail maps and got the idea to use it as a "shoehorn" on my left foot. I folded the page in half, then in half again, and in half again so the page was 8 layers thick, then shoved into the back of my shoe like a shoehorn that had never been taken out. I hoped the extra layers would help protect my foot from the evil shoe. It wouldn't last long, I knew--it was made of regular paper, after all--but even a little help was welcome at this point.

I hadn't seen a single person until I reached the summit of Devils Dome late in the day where I found an older man hiking with his adult son. They were standing in a large patch of snow and weren't sure where the trail down led from there, so I confirmed that they were looking for the route I just emerged from, and they pointed me down the ridge in the direction I needed to go.

I really wanted to camp on Devils Dome, or at least somewhere along the ridge leading down from it since the views were so absolutely spectacular. Not to mention that I was tired and exhausted, but I pushed on. Permits were required for the North Cascades and Ross Lake--and I'd arrive within that region tomorrow. After tonight, I'd be required to stay at established and pre-selected campsites. So I knew where I had to camp tomorrow night: Ruby Pasture Camp. Every mile I didn't do today I would need to make up tomorrow.

And tomorrow was already going to be a much longer day than today. So I pushed a couple of miles further.

After Devil's Dome, I passed all sorts of people. In all, I'd pass eight people in the next hour or so, as well as passing by several tents that probably had other people that I didn't actually see.

I kind of wanted to hike out to the Bear Skull Shelter even if for no other reason than to take a photo of it (isn't that a great name for a shelter?!), but it was a quarter-mile off trail and I certainly wasn't going to voluntarily walk a quarter-mile off trail (in one direction!) if I didn't have to! My feet couldn't take it!

So I wound up camping near the junction with the shelter, shortly before the trail would drop steeply down toward Ross Lake. It didn't look like there would be any places to camp on that steep section of trail, and when I inquired with other hikers, they confirmed that suspicion. So I camped as close as I could to tomorrow night's campsite, which turned out to be near the junction with Bear Skull Shelter.

I had covered a mere 11.8 miles for the day. If my feet weren't in such bad shape, it would have been a lovely day of hiking. But they weren't in great shape and I arrived completely exhausted. 

I thought this looked like moose poop--but I didn't think there were
moose in this region. What kind of animal left these droppings? Hmmm.?

I took off my shoes and socks and examined the damage. The loose skin that had been covering the wound seemed to have vanished. I don't have any idea where it disappeared to! But they still looked raw and painful--because they were. It had been a rough day.

For a second night, I was too tired to cook dinner and decided to eat snacks instead.

And by this point, I realized that I might need to get off the trail. Two days in and I was thinking about quitting the trail. Again!

But at this point, the nearest place for me to get off the trail was at Ross Lake. Harts Pass was behind me and would stay behind me! 

Tomorrow, I'd hike to my assigned campsite at Ruby Pasture 14 miles away--or at least try to. I wasn't too worried about not making it, though. If I couldn't make it because of my injuries, I'd have to get off the trail and adjust my permit at the very least, and if a ranger caught me sleeping where I wasn't supposed to, I'm sure they'd understand given how badly my feet were mangled.

Regardless, I'd have at least one more night on the trail. I didn't have to make any final decisions about whether or not to quit the trail until then.

But at this point, I was leaning toward quitting the trail. It seemed like a certainty at this point. I was running through band-aids and moleskin at a voracious rate and would likely run out within a couple of days at this pace. I certainly didn't have enough to get me through 8 more days until my next resupply point at Concrete! And the next several days required me to follow what my permit allowed--which was much more than I could likely cover with my injuries.

There were other perks to consider in quitting the trail as well. I could pick up fresh batteries for my SPOT device and allow the snow further up the trail more time to melt. When I called the ranger station about my permit, they warned that one campsite I wanted would likely be covered in snow and an ice axe was advised. I didn't carry an ice axe and--so far--I hadn't needed one, but I wasn't looking forward to that section. Getting off the trail for a week or two would give the snow more time to melt.

And Ross Lake wasn't a bad place to get off the trail. It's directly on Highway 20, a busy road. None of that hiking 13 miles off trail to reach a trailhead crap I had to deal with at Harts Pass. And it was relatively close to Seattle--about a 2.5-hour drive if traffic wasn't bad. A full 1.5 hours closer than Harts Pass was.

If there was a place to quit the trail, this was it. But that was still two days away.... 

Blowdowns that normally wouldn't have given me too much trouble were often very difficult for me to get around because of my foot injuries.

Somebody ahead of me had a lot more energy and time than I did! =)

Just wonderful views from on and around Devils Dome!

My feet definitely weren't getting better after another day of hiking!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Day 48: An ominous re-start....

July 22: As you might remember, I ended my PNT thru-hike last year at Harts Pass after getting sick. It took me five days to hike out and seek medical attention, and while I did get better, I never returned to the trail. And there were still 500 miles to complete.

It was finally time to complete it! Which is why I had returned to Harts Pass. Amanda drove me up the day before and we camped at the Harts Pass campground overnight. I took my time getting ready in the morning. There was no big rush. I had planned to only cover about 15 miles, and it was mostly easy PCT tread and mostly downhill. So I slept in late and watched the sun rise.

Check-in station for the Pasayten Wilderness.

Of course, I wasn't actually on the Pacific Northwest Trail just yet. The PNT was something like 13 or 14 miles down the trail. It was one of the things that most annoyed me about ditching the trail last year at this point--the long distance of off-trail hiking to the trailhead. Now I had the long distance of off-trail hiking to get back to the trail. Today, my plan was mostly to get back to the trail, but I wouldn't do more than a mile or two of the actual PNT.

The bugs were relatively bad in the morning which didn't surprise me. I hoped they would go away during the day while I was hiking, but by the time I left at 9:45, they were still persistently annoying. That didn't bode well.

I picked up my pack, a ridiculously overloaded pack with 10 days of food. The next place I planned to resupply was Concrete, WA. Initially, I planned to use the same shoes I wore on the PNT last year, but when I pulled them out at the last minute they looked like something from a hazardous waste dump, so I replaced them with a new pair of shoes. Normally I wouldn't start a hike with an untested pair of shoes, but this was a brand and model I had worn many times before and had no trouble so I didn't worry about it.

I had my SPOT device again. After ditching the trail last year when I got sick, I set it up so if I pressed a specific button, it would send a signal that signaled that I was planning to get off the trail. Just in case I ran into another problem or issue that would require my getting off the trail--but without the need of a helicopter rescue.

So I pulled on my shoes, and started up my SPOT device. But the SPOT device still had the same batteries from last year and immediately pooped out. I didn't feel like replacing them with fresh batteries right then, however. I was on the PCT. I didn't really need a SPOT device until I reached the PNT anyhow.

One new piece of equipment I carried was a mask. It was a new era of COVID-19, after all. I felt it would be pretty easy to social distance on the PNT, but when I went into towns to resupply, I'd need a mask. It was the law!

Wildflowers were in full bloom around Harts Pass!

Amanda took a few photos of me with my pack, my triumphant return to the trail! Then we parted ways. She had a scary drive down from Harts Pass that she'd later describe made her hands ache from holding the steering wheel so tightly. She hoped to get down the scariest sections of the road before anyone else started the drive up so she wouldn't have to get around other vehicles going in the other direction.

And I started hiking.

In the open areas, wildflowers of all sorts of colors flourished. It was quite scenic. The trail was wide, well-maintained and maintained an easy grade. It was ideal!

But about a mile into the hike, the back of my left foot started hurting. A hot spot from the new shoes. I was a little annoyed at the intrusion, but not a big deal. I stopped, pulled off my shoe and sock to treat it with moleskin, but I was more than a little surprised when I saw how badly the back of my foot had been rubbed raw. I thought it was just a hot spot, but it looked a lot worse than that! I pulled out my Neosporin. It needed more than just a band-aid or moleskin!

Blowdowns on the PCT

But it should be fine now that I treated it. I put my sock and shoe back on and continued hiking. The pain on the back of my foot didn't go away, but knowing what it looked like, I knew why. It was just rubbed raw. It would take time to heal. But it was covered and that would hopefully prevent it from getting worse. I had planned to take it easy the first few days on the trail, hiking no more than 10-15 miles per day. I wasn't in thru-hiker shape anymore and had set my expectations accordingly.

I continued the hike and was surprised when I came to a small patch of snow on the trail. It was only a small patch, but it near the end of July! How could there still be snow on the trail at all?! Was it a heavy snow year this past winter? I'd come across several small patches of snow throughout the day, and every time it would surprise me.

I soon met one group of 4 people who were hiking back to Harts Pass, and one of them asked how much water I was carrying.

"About one and a half liters," I answered.

He seemed concerned that I didn't have enough, but finally concluded. "Hmm.... well, that's probably enough. You're in a long dry stretch," he warned me.

Really? There were certainly dry patches, but I didn't think any of them were particularly long on this stretch of the trail. Maybe later in the summer when some of the smaller water sources on the trail dried up.

Then I passed a creek another mile or so up the trail. In fact, during the whole day, the longest stretch without a water source was maybe 3 miles. It would have been very easy to hike this trail literally carrying no water at all and just drink what I needed when I reached water sources. I'm still puzzled about the guy's apparent concern about the lack of the water.

I also reached a few blowdowns along the trail. I knew for a fact that there were absolutely zero blowdowns on the trail when I got off last year. A trail crew had just departed earlier the day that I had, including a pack of horses, and the trail was completely cleared of blowdowns. So any blowdowns I reached had to have happened since I got of the trail almost 11 months earlier. And clearly, no trail crews had been out to remove the new blowdowns.

They weren't especially problematic. Each blowdown was isolated and none of them were difficult to get around or over. For horses, they might have been more problematic, but I didn't have a horse to worry about.

In all, I met 5 groups of people throughout the day. It was too early in the season for the hoards of thru-hikers to be arriving, but the trail certainly wasn't empty of people either.

One woman hiking solo was about to finish her PCT section hike. She had been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in sections for several years and was about to finish this last section to the Canadian border. She carried an ice axe and reported horrible snow conditions around Glacier Peak a short ways south of the trail. It sounded a lot like my experience of the High Sierra during my own PCT thru-hike, including the dangerous river crossings.

I congratulated her on her impending completion and wished her a lack of snow the rest of the way. I had no idea if there was any real snow on the trail between here and the Canadian border.

It also occurred to me that no PCT hikers could legally hike into Canada this year due to the coronavirus. That's a shame. Manning Park is kind of a legendary location at the end of the trail, and also the quickest way off the trail. With the Canadian border closed, all of the hikers would have to turn around at the border and return to Harts Pass to get off the trail. Bummer for them, but fortunately not an issue I had to deal with.

Some of the hikers I passed would quickly put on a mask when they saw me approaching. I didn't bother doing the same. I had read that it was very unlikely one could catch the coronavius just by walking past someone briefly, especially when one is not in an enclosed area. Putting on a mask for the half-second I passed someone on the trail didn't seem like it was worth the effort, but I would step off the trail as far as I could to let people pass. Most of the time, there was no trouble keeping 6 feet distance, although along some steep areas, it might have been half that. But I didn't worry too much about it since they were only within that 6-foot gap for perhaps a half-second as they passed.

It felt strange hiking like this, though. So strange.

Later in the afternoon, a PCT thru-hiker caught up with me. He introduced himself as Tree Monkey, and the PCT was to be his first thru-hike. He was just starting today, hiking north to the Canadian border, then turning around and hiking back to Mexico.

He had attempted to start a month earlier but quit while trying to navigate around Glacier Peak because of too much snow and he suffered a bad laceration when he postholed at one point. He thought he might have broken something and got off the trail to recover and let the snow melt. Then he meant to get back on the trail a week earlier, but his friend's mother was murdered and he delayed his departure again.

"Murdered?!" I said, shocked.

He told me some of the details: an ex that she was in the process of getting a restraining order against, but it was too little and too late. Not actually that unusual of a story, but sad nonetheless.

I've heard a lot of reasons why people have gotten off the trail or delayed their trips, but this is the first time I've heard someone use murder as a reason.

Tree Monkey was hiking quickly, but I enjoyed chatting with him and tried to keep up. The back of my left foot was screaming with agony. Trying to hike so quickly probably wasn't doing it any good, but I'd have plenty of alone time once I veered off on the PNT. Until now, I'd been poking along relatively slowly mostly because I had no reason to rush. The back of my right foot started feeling like a hot spot as well, but I planned to camp just a mile or two up the trail and figured I could wait it out.

We arrived at Holman Pass a little while later where our paths parted. This was the junction with the PNT and where I would be leaving the PCT. Tree Monkey would continue north on the PCT. I'd head west on the PNT.

An old, abandoned cabin on the PNT.

We chatted a few more minutes at the pass, both of us ready for a short break anyhow. Then he took off. Now that I was back on the PNT, I pulled out my spare batteries to turn on my SPOT device. I popped open the cover of the device and was shocked to see four AAA batteries. I thought it ran on AA batteries. I didn't have four extra AAA batteries. Oh, crap!

I did have 4 AAA batteries, though. There were two in my headlamp and two spares for when the ones in my headlamp died. So I cannibalized the batteries in my headlamp hoping they still had enough power to work on the SPOT device.

I couldn't know how long the SPOT device would work with those batteries from my headlamp, though, and decided that I would only use the SPOT once each day, to check in when I reached my campsite. I wouldn't let it run throughout the day tracking my progress every five minutes. Friends and family might not know why they couldn't track my movements throughout the day, but at least they can see I am moving each day. And hopefully the batteries will have enough power to get me through the next 10 days.

I took two of the batteries from my SPOT device and put them in my headlamp. Maybe they still had enough power to at least let me see at night.

After playing musical chairs with my batteries, I was ready to continue.

I walked for about 5 minutes when a sudden shooting pain shot up from my right foot. I shouted with pain. What the heck just happened?

I sat down on a log, pulled off my sock and shoe and was stunned to see the same raw tearing of my skin that my left foot suffered earlier this morning. It was extremely tender. I put on Neosporin and moleskin, put my sock and shoe back on, and continued walking. Now with the backs of both ankles causing excruciating pain with each step, my progress slowed.

Then, in less than one mile, I lost the trail and fell into a creek. "Goddamn PNT!" I shouted angrily into the wind.

And it's true. I hadn't been on the PNT for even one full mile when the trail reached a creek. I lost the trail near the creek, then tried to cross the creek on a log when I slipped and fell in, soaking both feet. Which actually felt nice, kind of numbing the pain on the backs of my ankles from the ice cold water.

I eventually found the trail again on the other side of the creek after about 10 minutes. The blowdowns across the trail were much more common than on the PCT, which annoyed me since I knew for a fact that a trail crew had come out just the year before to remove the blowdowns along this section of trail. Had I been able to hike this section last year, I probably wouldn't have had a single blowdown to get around.

At one point, a tree had fallen next to the trail with jagged branches sticking out like knives. I tried to move around it, walking sideways like a crab along the trail, when my pack hit a bushy tree behind me that nearly pushed me into the knife-like branches.

"ARGH!" I shouted at the trail. "The PNT is trying to kill me!"

Why did I get back on this trail? The PCT had been so wonderful, despite my shoe trouble. I literally hadn't been on the PNT for even one full mile--and I had lost the trail, fell in a creek, and had one assassination attempt on me. And my only protection was a SPOT device with, pardon the pun, spotty service.

The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should turn back. Return to Harts Pass and get off the trail.

No! Hell no! At the very least, I was going to walk to Ross Lake. If I got off the trail, it was going to be somewhere that didn't require a 13-mile off-trail hike!

So I pushed on, eventually setting up camp near a creek. I had hiked about 15 miles for the day, but only the last 1.8 miles was on the actual PNT. It didn't bode well. That's a lot of pain and suffering I endured to cover a mere 1.8 miles.

In camp, I took off my shoes and socks--in that order, of course--and examined the back of my feet and was shocked at how badly they had deteriorated. My right foot I had looked at just a half hour earlier when I applied Neosporin and moleskin and it looked 10 times worse now! My left foot I hadn't seen since earlier this morning, but it too looked 10 times worse.

I was too tired to cook dinner and instead chose to eat a few snacks. Then I watched Netflix shows on my phone the rest of the evening before going to sleep.

It was had been an ominous start to my hike, but I hoped things would be better after a good night's sleep.

The back of my right ankle wasn't doing so well....

My left foot didn't really give me any trouble until near the end of the day, but then things went downhill very quickly! This was going to be an issue....

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Day 47: Civilization! Wonderful civilization!

August 31: I woke up still feeling... well, crappy... and faced another episode of explosive diarrhea. Unfortunately, some of it splattered and got on my pants. Argh! This sucked!

I wasn't around any water to clean up, but this, I knew, was also my last day on the trail for a while. I changed into my hiking clothes then put the soiled clothing into a large, one-gallon Ziplock bag. I'd wash it when I got home.

You don't want to open that Ziplock bag! It's a bio-hazard. *nodding*

For the fifth day in the row, I continued to have absolutely no appetite. I considered eating the last three Jelly Bellies I had for breakfast but decided against it. I didn't have time for that--I needed to get off trail and get some medical attention!

And, honestly, I just couldn't stomach the idea of eating even 3 Jelly Bellies.

I only had four or five miles to hike to reach Harts Pass and help--a relatively short day of hiking for once. Even in my weakened condition, it shouldn't take more than a few hours to get out.

Upon my arrival to the trailhead, I wasn't sure where to go. There was a gravel road, but I didn't know which way I needed to hitchhike on it. Nor did anyone appear to be around to ask. But first... there was a pit toilet available and I decided to use it. I didn't have to use one, but I wanted my bowels as empty as possible once I was in a car and heading down a road! I also decided not to drink more than a few sips of water from here on out. I did not want to need to pee until I reached my destination for the day: Seattle. Bad things can happen if I had to pee!

So I used the toilet, during which time some hikers arrived in a vehicle and after exiting the outhouse, I asked about which way I needed to go to get off the trail. They pointed down the road in the necessary direction, and I asked if they had any suggestions about the best place to hitchhike down the mountain. They mentioned a campsite down a road a bit and perhaps at the junction with the campsite road would be better since I might nab a ride from someone leaving for the day. Sounded good to me, and that's what I did.

It worked out well--I got a ride from the first car heading down the mountain. I had to wait about 15 minutes, but the guy had just dropped off his wife and daughter who were hiking a couple of days to Rainy Pass, and his kid was in the backseat. He lived in Mazama which has a bustling population of about 200 people. It was as far as he could take me, but that was good enough for me. It was civilization!

The drive was slow-going on a narrow, windy gravel road and a little unsettling at some places when the road went next to a very big cliff. One of the scariest roads I've ever been on. *nodding* He told me that one particular section of the road was called Deadhorse Canyon or something to that effect because back in the day, a train of horses had fallen off to their deaths. Pleasant thought.
The we wound slowly down the dirt road and I just about crapped myself whenever we had to pass a vehicle going up the mountain. The roads were not designed for two-way traffic! One of the vehicles would invariably have to back up to a wider section of the trail which is not a pleasant feeling when you're next to a thousand-foot cliff with no guardrail. Was this going to be the most dangerous part of my entire hike?!

We finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain where the road became paved just as we entered Mazama. He drove me out to the junction with Highway 20 and dropped me off and I pulled out my cell phone. Service! I finally had service! Yes! I called Amanda hoping she was around and could pick me up somewhere but the call went to voice mail. I left a message. Then I called my mom to give her an update about my situation--not that she knew there was a situation, but she could check my location on the SPOT device and might find it odd that I had suddenly veered wildly off trail and might want to know what was up.

Then I sent an email to Amanda in case she was able to check her email before she got my voice mail message.

Now... I just needed a ride west. I stuck out my thumb for every passing vehicle. In fact, I had already been sticking it out while talking to my mom on the phone. I could multi-task that way. *nodding*

It took the better part of an hour before I got a ride. Two vehicles had pulled over and offered me rides, but they were only going 3 and 8 miles up the road respectively which didn't seem worth the effort. I needed distance! It would take me a week to get home at 3 to 8 miles at a time!

But finally, after the better part of an hour, a couple of guys pulled over who said they were driving to Tacoma. Tacoma?! Oh, please! My prayers have been answered! "Can you take me all the way to Seattle?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure, hop in!"

I was sure it would take at least two or three more hitches to make it all the way to Seattle so I was enormously happy that I could get there in a single ride! Wonderful!

The gentlemen in the front seat didn't seem too interested in chatting with me, which I was perfectly happy with. I was tired and mostly just tried to fall asleep in the backseat.

Most of Highway 20 didn't have cell phone coverage so I was off the grid again. When we passed through Newhalen, my drivers wanted to stop for a pee so they stopped. I didn't need it, though, and waited in the car and tried checking my messages to see if Amanda had replied leaving me email or a voice mail, but she hadn't. I still had no idea where in the world she was.

On the road again, I lost the cell phone signal until we reached Marblemount, but I didn't try using it there since we were just passing through and I figured I'd quickly lose the signal again.

Going through the town of Concrete, I couldn't help but think this was the town I had been trying to hike to. This was where I was supposed to reach. If I hadn't gotten sick, this would have been my next resupply point. This would have been where I took my next zero day. On foot, it would have taken me another week to reach. It took only a couple of hours in a car.

As we approached the I-5 corridor, I knew cell phone signals would be much more reliable and tried checking my voice mail and email and I finally got a response from Amanda. In an email, she told me that she was currently in Lisbon. The one in Portugal. Eight timezones away. Okay, she definitely couldn't pick me up or help for the time being. I was on my own!

I texted my mom that I was an hour or so from Seattle and my ride was taking me the rest of the way. I just needed get to a doctor now and get some drugs!

And minutes later, my phone stopped working. It just up and stopped completely. I tried restarting it. Nothing. It was dead as a door nail, and not because the battery had died. It had plenty of power. It just stopped working. I had been having issues with my phone for months--restarting for no apparent reason and such, but it apparently gave up the ghost for good. Great timing. *sigh*

I put the phone away.

When I told the two guys I lived in West Seattle, they offered to go out of their way and drop me off there. They liked West Seattle and wanted to stop somewhere for lunch and check out Easy Street Records. I certainly had no complaints! So they actually drove me all the way home! Cool!

I had one problem, though. I didn't have a key for our place. I had been hiking on the trail and didn't expect to be home again for at least another month. My keys were in a duffel bag--presumably inside the apartment I wanted to get into. Although it was possible that they were in Amanda's car (which would be at the employee airport parking lot) because that's where I left the duffel bag when she left me in Republic.

So I was locked out. I tried knocking on some doors of neighbors who could help, but nobody answered. Nobody was home. Shoot. I might be sleeping outside with the homeless tonight! At least I fit in and I had all of my camping gear. =) Actually, if push came to shove and I couldn't get into our place and none of my neighbors would let me crash at their place, I could have gotten a hotel room. I really wanted to get into our own place, though!

But I still needed some medical attention so I walked up to one of those walk-up clinics a couple of blocks away to see a doctor. I told her that I thought I had giardia and described all of my symptoms, and although she agreed that that was a good possibility, she didn't feel comfortable prescribing me the drugs for it without confirming that that's what I really had and she didn't have the equipment to run those tests. So she told me to go to an urgent care center in Capital Hill.

Ugh. I just want drugs! Give me drugs!

I've been tagged. Here I'm waiting for to be called for my turn at the urgent care center.

She gave me a sheet with directions to the urgent care center, although they were driving directions rather than transit directions. I didn't have a car and would need public transit. And with my phone still out of action, I couldn't even google for information about which was the optimal route to take. But I already knew how to get to Capital Hill with my vast experience riding public transit, so I hopped on the first bus into downtown then took the light rail to Capital Hill. After that, I walked the quarter-mile to the urgent care center.

Still, of course, carrying all of my backpacking gear which I had been unable to leave at home. I walked in looking like a homeless guy off the street and asked to see a doctor. I had to wait around for 10 or 15 minutes before they took me in.

They told me to get into one of those stupid little gowns that people's butts hang out of and decided that I should have an IV. "You'll feel a lot better with an IV," they told me. I'd feel a lot better with drugs! I thought.

They took blood samples and left me on my own for an hour or so while the IV fluids leaked into my arm. I was kind of bored at this point. I couldn't even play on my phone with my free hand. And I had little doubt that by this point, my mom was starting to worry about me. The last she had heard from me, I was sick and weak, in a car with two strange men on my way to Seattle and that I'd arrive there in an hour or so. Then... radio silence. The timing was really bad for radio silence.

The blood tests came back and they declared me slightly dehydrated but that was about it. I wasn't surprised to learn that--I had drank almost nothing since leaving Harts Pass because I had been deathly afraid that I'd need to pee on the ride home. They couldn't test for giardia without a stool sample and those tests would take a few days. This doctor also didn't want to prescribe medications for giardia without first confirming it was actually giardia because those drugs could have unpleasant side effects but gave me a prescription for another antibiotic instead with less risk of side effects. Swell--I'd take it! Just give me drugs! That's all I wanted! She told me it should help regardless if I had giardia or something else entirely, but to come back again if I didn't get better within a few days.

My first IV! There's always a new experience for every trail I hike!

They gave me a stool sample kit and told me how to use it. (I've never given a stool before! This was new territory for me!) And I headed into the bathroom and proceeded to provide a sample.

I was in there for awhile doing my thing when someone else outside tried to get in. "Sorry, I'll be a moment!" I finished up and eventually left. Outside was a young woman waiting to get in. "Horrible stuff just happened in there," I told her. "Probably more than you wanted to know, though. I'm so sorry."

At this point, it was after 7:00pm. I had been at the urgent care center for close to two hours. One of the guards walked me through a labyrinth of corridors to where my stool samples needed to be dropped off, then to an on-site pharmacy since most off-site pharmacies would already have closed for the day.

I filled out my prescription and immediately took the first pill. I'd like to say that I immediately felt better, but it was too much to hope for to feel better seconds after taking the pill. Maybe by morning.

One of the things the doctor recommended was drinking something with electrolytes in it like Gatorade--which, ironically, I had already been thinking about doing. I desperately wanted to drink something with calories in it after my starvation diet and water wasn't cutting it. But since I couldn't eat anything, I had been thinking about what I could drink that had calories--and Gatorade sounded really good to me.

So I headed across the street from the urgent care center to a Safeway and picked up a few large bottles of Gatorade. Then I walked back to the light rail station which I took downtown, then a bus back to West Seattle to make another attempt at breaking into our place.

By the time I arrived back at the apartment, it was about 9:00 at night. I knocked on a neighbor's door who I thought could help and I heard her shuffling on the other side of the door.

"Who is it?" she asked through the door. She probably looked through the peephole and saw me but didn't recognize me with the beard and wild hair and general homeless look.

"It's me! Ryan!"

She opened the door. "Oh my god! You look horrible!"

"Yeah.... I know....."

So I told her what was happening and that I was locked out of my place and, fortunately, she was able to help me break in. I made it home! Yeah!

The first thing I did upon getting home was to call my mom--she had to be freaking out by now with the lack of updates I'd been providing. And she was! She was happy to know that I was safely back at home and hopefully on the upswing.

Then I took a much needed shower and called it a night.


By the next morning, I was already feeling better. I was able to eat a half-bowl of cereal for breakfast and within 24 hours, my appetite was back to normal. I still felt weak, though, but that's to be expected after eating almost nothing for five straight days and hiking about 70 miles over rugged terrain to get off the trail.

My plan was to take a week or so off the trail and recuperate, then get back on the trail and continue the hike. At this point, I had serious doubts about completing the trail this year. I had already started fairly late in the year making my completion date a little iffy before I even stepped foot on the trail, but losing an entire week of hiking this late in the hiking season could be catastrophic. At the very least, however, I figured I could finish through the Cascades and save the last couple of hundred miles through the Olympic Mountain until next year.

Except a week came and went and when I checked the weather forecast... there was a lot of rain in it. And I saw no good reason to be miserable hiking in rain. September typically had great weather in Seattle. I could wait a little while until a nice stretch of weather settled in.

And I waited. And waited. And waited.... Then, in the last week in September, a big snow storm struck the area and I officially called an end to the hiking season. My Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike had failed. I was done.

I had completed 700 miles of the trail and still have 500 miles left to do. That's why you won't find the Pacific Northwest Trail on Walking 4 Fun--it's not done. Not yet, at least! I will return and finish. Someday. But I won't be a thru-hiker. Nope, I'll officially be a section hiker when I finish this trail.

A few days later, I got test results back from my stool sample and--I was surprised to learn--I did not have giardia. As it turned out, I had acquired Campylobacteriosis--a disease I had never even heard of before.

This illustration depicts a three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated image of a cluster of drug-resistant, curly-cue shaped Campylobacter sp. bacteria. The artistic recreation was based upon scanning electron microscopic (SEM) imagery.
Evil beast! Be gone! This little organism was my downfall....
A fact sheet that the public health center for Seattle and King County sent me later describes it as:

Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the intestines caused by a bacteria called Campylobacter. The bacteria is commonly found in the feces of infected people and animals, and food products contaminated with the bacteria during processing or preparation.
Additional information, I learned, includes that symptoms develop within 1 to 10 days after swallowing the bacteria, but usually 3 to 5 days. So I figured I probably acquired it shortly after leaving Oroville--although maybe just before I got to town. Somewhere near Oroville. Which isn't at all surprising given the large number of cattle running around that area who can and do carry the disease.

Symptoms typically resolve on their own after about a week so if I hung in for a couple of more days, I probably would have started feeling better even without drugs. Oh, well!

Apparently it's a pretty common cause of food poisoning--according to the CDC, about 1.5 million American get the disease each year. Usually from contaminated food, but in my case, drinking untreated surface water is much more likely.

So... after about 15,000 miles of mostly drinking untreated surface water, my number finally came up. But still.... that's a pretty good record, I think. And I have yet to get giardia that you typically always hear about. Nobody ever warns you about Campylobacter!

I've had a few friends ask me if this experience means I'll start treating water in the backcountry. Maybe... in cattle country. But for the most part, no. I'll still take my chances.