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.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Day 46: Evacuate! Evacuate!

August 30: At 2:30 in the morning, it started to sprinkle. Shirtless had told me the day before that he heard it might rain in nearby Manning Park overnight, but it was so beautiful when I went to sleep and the weather had been so nice lately, I didn't really believe it. So I didn't bother to set up my tarp and cowboy camped instead.

Now, I was frantically trying to get my tarp up before things got too wet. At least I had the foresight to select a location where it would be relatively quick and easy to set up the tarp without moving any of my stuff. I had strategically picked a location where I could hook my tarp up to nearby trees in the "unlikely" chance that it did rain. I was really glad I did that!

But then I had to pee. Bad! Before I could even finish setting up my tarp. Once I got out of my sleeping bag, I had to go! I tried to hold it, desperately getting my tarp up in the rain but I knew I wasn't going to make it. I finally abandoned the tarp and pull down my pants to pee. I wanted to pull them all the way down in case some unexpected poop came along with it.

Fortunately, no poop came with it, but I wasn't quite fast enough getting my pants down and wound up peeing myself a tiny bit. #$#@*(! It could have been a lot worse, though.

I finished setting up the tarp which was low and saggy. It was a bad job of it, but it was doing its job of keeping me dry so I didn't fuss with it any further.

I set out my bowl to catch water dripping off the tarp. I had hoped to reach a water source before camp but had failed so I was a little low on water. At least I could fill up with free water from the sky. It sprinkled almost non-stop through 7:00am, but it was never more than a light sprinkle and after all those hours, all I got was a single sip of water for my efforts.

For breakfast, I ate five Jelly Bellies. It was all I could stomach. My utter lack of hunger continued. I had to be losing a horrendous amount of weight. I normally ate 2.5 pounds of food per day and this was now my fourth day of eating almost nothing. I didn't feel like I had lost weight, but I'm sure I was losing it faster than I ever had in my life. I was essentially on a starvation diet and burning 5000+ calories a day hiking 15-20 miles each day since getting sick.

I was glad that the rain stopped before I had to start hiking for the day, but I did have to hike through a lot of fog. Some of it was pretty, in the swirling clouds in the distance, but other times it obscured my views which I found annoying. I wanted to see all of the dramatic scenery around me!

A couple of hours into the day's hike, the fog finally lifted and the sky cleared up again.

Late in the morning, I reached Holman's Pass. This is where the PCT and PNT split ways. The PCT continues south toward Harts Pass while the PNT continues west toward Ross Lake. I wanted to go to Ross Lake. I could hop off the trail and back on so easily--except for the fact that it was further away than Harts Pass. I needed help. I was terribly weak, getting weaker with each passing day, and at least there were people nearby to help if I stayed on the PCT.

I decided that I needed to go to Harts Pass, and I sat down and cried when I saw the sign saying it was 14 miles away. I'd have to hike 14 miles OFF TRAIL to get there. And I'd have to hike another 14 miles OFF TRAIL to get back later. But my health and safety needed to come first. But still, I cried. I didn't want to do it.

One nice thing about veering off the PNT, however, was that I didn't feel the need to keep taking photos all of the time. I typically take 200 photos per day so I can add the route to Walking 4 Fun, but now that I was veering off the PNT, I didn't need photos. And they were a pain in the ass to take. Especially now when I really didn't feel like "working." It felt liberating to be able to hike without feeling obligated to take photos every step of the way.

I started asking hikers I passed if they had a topo map I could take a photo of. My maps were for the PNT and I was now off the PNT. I had no idea where to find water or campsites along the trail. I had no idea what sort of hills and mountains were in my way. I had no maps for the PCT. But nobody had paper maps anymore. Everyone had their digital devices and I had to ask about 15 people before a friendly, older gentleman had one. He opened it up and I took a photo of it with my camera. At least I had some idea of what was coming now. I was a little sad that more people didn't carry topo maps. I love topo maps. Sure, I also carried a GPS and a cell phone, but I still preferred using my topo maps, but I guess I'm officially old-fashioned. When did that happen? Back when I did my PCT thru-hike in 2010, most people still carried topo maps. It was amazing how much had changed in the last nine years.

In the afternoon, I ran into a group of three hikers who, after hearing about my sickness, one of them offered me some pot. It was a little tempting... I've heard it can help with people's appetites (the infamous "munchies") and I could certainly use some help with that but I turned him down. One, I wasn't even really sure how to smoke it--it's a skill I never bothered to learn--but more importantly, it seemed like a bad idea to get high for the first time in my current condition.

For lunch, I ate another five Jelly Bellies.

While climbing up a hillside, a ranger on horseback with a mule train caught up with me. They were packing out gear from the PNT work crew who had left earlier in the morning. I told him about my problems and he asked if he could help. I kind of wanted him to carry my pack--he had a horse to do it! But I didn't think I could make it to the trailhead this afternoon and needed to keep my pack with me. He continued onward but said he'd tell the ranger at Harts Pass to look out for me.

Late in the afternoon, I really needed to pee. It was a very exposed location above treeline, and although I didn't feel a particularly strong need to poop, that was no guarantee it wouldn't happen. I couldn't hold the pee anymore, though, and there was nowhere to go off trail that would leave me with some privacy, so I went off the side of the trail. I hoped and prayed nothing else but pee would come out and--whew!--dodged a bullet. About two minutes after I zipped up, a group of several thru-hikers rounded the corner. If diarrhea had struck, they would walked into an uncomfortable situation--uncomfortable for everyone involved! It was a close call.

I finally stopped hiking at 5:30pm after 15.3 miles and about four miles short of Harts Pass and help. I wanted to get off the trail today, but I was just too tired. I couldn't keep going. I threw out my groundsheet and laid down to rest for a bit. I had been laying there for what felt like 5 or 10 minutes when I realized how low the sun was getting in the sky. It seemed awfully early in the day for the sun to already be setting and I looked at the time and was shocked that it was already 7:00pm! I had fallen asleep for 1.5 hours and had no idea! I thought I'd just been laying on my groundsheet resting for a mere 5 or 10 minutes and was awake the whole time.

Now that sunset was imminent, I quickly changed into my camp clothes and got into my sleeping bag. A couple of thru-hikers set up camp about a hundred yards away but never dropped by to introduce themselves, and I certainly had no intention of getting up to walk over to them.

For dinner, I ate five more Jelly Bellies and a beef stick. That was a big meal by my current standards! So for the entire day, the only thing I had eaten were a total of 15 Jelly Bellies and a small, thin beef stick. Ugh. I needed to get off this trail. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.... I was only about 4 miles from help.

I pretty much stopped taking photos once I reached Holman Pass. At this point, the PNT veered off the PCT, and I decided to follow the PCT to Harts Pass and get off the trail, and for Walking 4 Fun, I didn't need photos along the PCT. So... there are pretty much no photos after this trail junction.
Except for a photo of a topo map that an older gentleman on the trail let me take since I didn't have any maps of the PCT to Harts Pass.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Day 45: Connecting to the PCT!

August 29: In the morning, I woke up still feeling ill and ready for another horrendous poop. It had now been well over 24 hours since the full-blown symptoms of my sickness struck and I was not improving. More than ever, I was certain I suffered from giardia.
A warning to hikers everywhere?

I still didn't feel hungry but knowing I needed sustenance, I managed to get down a little cereal but it was a tiny fraction of what I normally ate for breakfast.

Out of camp, I had a long, steep climb to Frosty Pass. I struggled, slowly making progress and taking short breaks every five minutes. I felt so weak. It didn't help that my pack felt like it weighed a ton and it was not getting any lighter because I wasn't eating the food in it.

The views were spectacular--even being sick couldn't diminish the views! But it didn't exactly put a smile on my face. I felt miserable.

After what seemed like forever, I finally reached the top of Frosty Pass, then the trail headed steeply downhill to Castle Pass where it connects with the Pacific Crest Trail linking Mexico to Canada. Before heading down, I decided to do another poop at Frosty Pass. I didn't have to go, but I knew the PCT would be a lot busier with people than the PNT and privacy in an emergency would be a lot harder to come by. I figured it was best to evacuate my bowels on the PNT where privacy reigned supreme. I had only seen one person on the trail in the last 72 hours, so it seemed unlikely someone would show up just as I pulled my pants down. On the PCT, it would be a good possibility.

So I did my thing and took a short rest, then headed downhill to Castle Pass and linked my steps to the PCT. Having thru-hiked the PCT before, I was back on familiar terrain. Additionally, I could now say that I've covered the entire distance on foot from the Mexican border to Glacier National Park! And not by using the CDT!

It was a huge milestone for me.

A few blowdowns blocked the trail on the PNT. (The PCT was wonderfully maintained, however!)

The PNT overlaps the PCT for about 10 or 15 miles, and I headed south on the PCT. Within a couple of minutes, I passed four different hikers and a dog! Holy cow! This really was a highway! I thru-hiked the trail in 2010 and had heard the number of hikers has sky-rocketed since that time and I was now seeing it for myself. The PCT wasn't this busy during my thru-hike! Busier than the PNT, for sure, but four people in a couple of minutes? Wow!

I passed countless hikers on the trail. I actually lost count! It was nice having people around, and I chatted a lot of them up. Most of them were hiking toward the Canadian border so we were like ships passing in the night, and several of them congratulated me. "Good job!" they'd shout.

"For what?" I'd humbly say.

"For reaching Canada!"

"I didn't reach Canada," I replied. "I'm not hiking the PCT."

They'd look at me strangely for a moment. I could almost hear the wheels in their head turning, wondering if they should tell me if I was on the PCT.

"I'm thru-hiking the PNT," I finally said. Or at least I'm trying to! My illness could be a problem.

"Oooh! Well... that's cool!" I was surprised how many people were already familiar with the PNT. I knew most of the hikers I met were hard-core hikers--largely PCT thru-hikers and section-hikers, but they don't necessarily know about other, lesser-well known trails. The big three (AT, CDT and PCT), certainly. Outside of that... maybe. Maybe not.

The hoards of people was a double-edged sword for me. I liked the company and I liked the fact that if my condition suddenly took a turn for the worse and I passed out on the trail or something, it wouldn't be long before someone found me and could get help. A lot of them would even know how to use my SPOT device and could press the SOS button if for some reason I could not. I felt safer among the hoards of the hikers.

However.... the downside was that I still had bowel issues and if I had a sudden bout of explosive diarrhea, privacy might be hard to find.

I did meet a few hikers heading in the same direction as myself. They had reached the Canadian border then turned around and were heading back. I tried to keep up with some of them to chat but eventually I would need to stop for a rest and they'd pass me by.

One fellow I hiked with a bit was named Shirtless. He got his trailname when his shirt went over a 40-foot waterfall and he had to hike a few days without a shirt. I love that origin story! I had told him about my illness and he offered to contact Amanda to let her know that I would be getting off the trail to get medical attention. I'm fine... but not fine. He was hiking faster than me, however, and therefore would get a cellphone signal before me. He planned to get off the trail tomorrow. I would need more time.

The hikers heading back were going to Harts Pass--the closest trailhead to the Canadian border on the PCT. I could get off there but I was loath to do so. It was nearly 15 miles off my trail! Although I wanted to get off trail, I didn't want to hike off trail to do it. If I could push on an extra day or two, I could get off at the trailhead by Ross Lake without any off-trail hiking. Easy off, and easy on when I got back on the trail again. It was further away than Harts Pass, though. I still was weak and not eating anything.

Several people asked if there was anything they could do to help. I asked them if they had drugs for giardia. It seemed like a long shot but it didn't hurt to ask, right? But that's not the stuff most people carried and none of the hikers I met carried it. They often offered me food, however. "Ahh! No! I have three days of food on my back that I was supposed to have eaten but haven't! I need to start giving my food away to lighten my load!"

Of course, I'm not sure anyone would want to take food from someone suspected of having giardia.

In the middle of day, I had a sudden bout of nauseousness. It came suddenly and unexpectedly. For the most part, I haven't really felt like throwing up except when I was actually eating something. I wasn't eating anything but POW! It hit me and I found myself on the side of the trail throwing up--the first time I actually threw up since becoming sick. A bunch of water came spilling out. If I had a cup and caught it, it would have looked remarkably pure for having come out of my stomach. There was no odor and it didn't taste bad. As far as throwing up goes, it was the nicest experience ever. Normally my mouth tastes terrible and just the taste makes me want to keep throwing up! It just tasted like water, though--because that's all that was in my stomach.

Once my stomach was emptied, I dry-heaved for another minute which actually felt a lot worse than the actual vomiting did. The feeling finally passed and I sat down and rested for about 5 minutes before continuing onward. Hell. This was hell.

Another couple I met named Lori and....I forget the guy's name, and I feel bad about that because I'm sure they're going to read this blog later so I'm totally busted for forgetting his name--offered me salt, electrolytes and a small sampling of Jelly Bellies. I was happy to take all of them. I was still worried about my lack of salt and how it was affecting my body. I filled one of my water bottles with the electrolytes and it tasted delicious! Heaven on Earth! I didn't drink all of it, though. It was all I had and I wanted to spread it out.

I dipped my finger in the small bag of salt and licked it off my finger. I didn't enjoy doing this. I like salt--who doesn't?!--but pure salt that actually wasn't on something? Yikes.

Between the two, I felt my chances of water intoxication were much lower. I was going to get off this trail on my own power. Lori thought I should get off at Harts Pass for safety's sake, but she mentioned that there was a PNT crew working on the trail shortly beyond where the PNT veered off from the PCT. They were logging out fallen trees but apparently didn't think they would finish because there were too many blowdowns. Ugh.

By the end of the day, I was leaning toward getting off at Harts Pass. It was the safe and smart thing to do. But ugh! I so did not want to hike nearly 15 miles OFF TRAIL to get help! I figured I'd probably be off the trail for at least a week recuperating, and when I returned, I didn't want to hike another 15 miles just to get back to the trail.

Also, if I hiked to Harts Pass, I'd stay on the PCT and near people the entire way if my health took a turn for the worse. If I left the PCT and something bad happened to me, it could be days before anyone found my body. And when I pulled out my topo maps to check the trail ahead, it looked brutal. Lots of steep uphills, and I was growing weaker and weaker with each passing day. Today I was on track to complete a mere 15 miles. And although I knew there was trail work being done to clear out the PNT of blowdowns, the conditions were so bad that the work crew didn't think they'd get the job done. It could be tough going.

I didn't have to commit to a decision until I reached the junction where the PNT diverged from the PCT which wouldn't be today, though. It was a decision that could wait until tomorrow. Theoretically, if I headed to Harts Pass and could pull off about 18 or 19 miles tomorrow--a big if given how weak I was--I could be off the trail tomorrow and back on my way to health. I loved the idea of getting off this trail tomorrow. Maybe... maybe....

But damn, it was a terrible decision I had to make.

Late in the day, I finally stopped and set up camp at a nice overlook just past Woody Pass. I had initially hoped to reach the next campsite, but I was just too tired. I couldn't make it. My GPS had recorded a mere 14.5 miles of hiking today. It was a pathetic showing. If I weren't so sick, I could have easily have knocked off over 20 miles.

After setting up camp, once again I decided to skip dinner. I just couldn't eat a meal. Not even a small one. Instead, I decided to eat the Jelly Bellies that Lori gave me earlier in the day. I ate them one at a time, savoring each flavor. One, two, three.... I stopped after eight. It was all I could eat. Eight Jelly Bellies was my entire dinner.

What a horrible existence.....

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Day 44: Considering Evacuation Options....

August 28: I woke up at about 4:00 in the morning with an urgent need to pee. Ugh. It was still dark out and my bladder felt like it was about to burst. I didn't want to get out of my nice, warm sleeping bag but I knew I couldn't hold it for another hour or two when I usually got up.

Not wanting to get fully out of my nice, warm sleeping bag, I decided to pee off the side of my groundsheet. Unzipped the bag enough to get the job done, but I didn't have to put on shoes and expose my whole body to the cold air outside.

It was the biggest mistake of my life. I started to pee and almost immediately, explosive diarrhea hit out of nowhere. I immediately clenched everything up and stopped peeing, but I could feel the shit in my underwear. This was bad. This was very very bad....

I let the sleeping bag drop to my feet and stepped out barefoot onto the cold ground, trying desperately to keep the rest of my bodily fluids inside my body. I took off my pants--I wasn't sure how much of the poop escaped my underwear and into my pants, but I didn't have time to check that yet. I set them aside on the ground. Then I pulled off my underwear trying to keep whatever crap was on them from rubbing against my legs.

And I was now completely naked from the waist down, in freezing cold weather, in the dark, with shit on my ass. I cussed. I cussed a lot. *nodding*

But priorities are priorities. I needed to get these bodily fluids out of my body! I took a few steps from my campsite, squatted and let it all go. Oh, the horror.... It didn't sound good. It didn't look good. I was glad nobody was around to witness the spectacle I made.

It was bad. Like horror movie bad.

Finally my body was done expelling noxious substances and the cleanup could begin. My ass was smeared with crap. I used an enormous amount of toilet paper cleaning up the mess, then wiped my hand-sanitizer all over my ass. It was the best I could think of to clean up with. All the while I'm freezing cold, naked from the waist down, and working by moonlight. My feet felt like frozen blocks by now.

Then I returned to my campsite. I didn't dare put my underwear and pants back on. The underwear was covered with crap. The pants... maybe had some. I couldn't be sure without checking, but that wasn't a priority for me at the moment. Instead, I pulled out my hiking clothes and put on those. The clothes were filthy, but at least they didn't have literal crap all over them.

I also pulled out my headlamp and checked my sleeping bag for crap. I wanted to get back in my sleeping bag--but only if it was free of crap. I checked both the interior and exterior and was happy to not find anything. At least that accident didn't escape the clothes I had on at the time.

Then I curled back up into my sleeping bag and tried to warm up.

I didn't fall asleep, though. I had problems. Big problems.

Eventually the sun started to rise. I had absolutely no appetite and decided to skip breakfast. I had skipped dinner the night before and now I was skipping breakfast. That was not sustainable. I started to worry if I could make it out of this wilderness on my own. I was about as far in the middle of nowhere as a person could get--smack in the middle of the Pasayten Wilderness.

I still hoped that maybe it was something like a 24-hour bug and by evening I might start feeling better. Then with another overnight rest, I'd be ravishingly hungry the next morning and everything would get back on track. I wasn't actually optimistic that this would happen--more of a hope that it might happen. I felt absolutely certain I must have acquired giardia. Probably from one of those water sources from cattle country a week earlier. Maybe a day or two before I arrived in Oroville. And I knew giardia wouldn't go away after a day or two.

With the sun now out, I checked out my pants to see how well they survived the explosive diarrhea and except for a couple of small spots, they had come out relatively unscathed. Relatively, of course, still made them unwearable. It was liquid poop. Even one small spot would have made them a bio-hazard!

I carried my pants and underwear to the creek where I tried to wash them out as best I could. I started with the pants since there was so little on them, and filled up water bottle after water bottle cleaning my clothes.

As I was doing this, a hiker approached from the other direction. Where did he come from?!

Normally, I would have liked chatting with him all morning long but as I was in the process of trying to clean my soiled underwear, now wasn't a very good time. I just wanted him to say hi and continue onward, but he seemed as starved for conversation as I did and he probably spent 15 minutes telling me his entire life story. "Yeah, uh-huh." I said as he told me something but I wasn't really listening very closely. "That's nice." I wonder if he's noticed the shit on the underwear sitting on the ground. Probably not. If he had, he'd probably have kept on hiking.

The hiker filled up with water--it was the only water source for miles in either direction--and eventually left me and I finished cleaning up my clothing. They were soaking wet now so I shoved them onto the back of my pack to dry out in the sun.

After the creek, the trail headed uphill and I found myself quickly exhausted. The hill wasn't especially steep, but I felt insanely weak. Probably not surprising since I had eaten absolutely nothing for breakfast this morning or dinner the night before. I had no energy!

I took a lot of breaks along the way to catch my breath. An hour or two into the day's hike, I tried to force myself to eat something. I knew I needed energy. I ate a few peanuts and a couple of almonds then a small beef stick before almost throwing up. That was enough. It wasn't much, but it was still better than nothing.

I continued the hike and my stomach gurgled noisily with the fresh food. A half hour later, I had to stop and do another poop. It was just as ugly as before, but at least I didn't soil myself this time around. I was prepared for a bad experience! I was running through toilet paper at an unprecedented pace, however. I had planned to go for 16 non-stop days on the trail and had quite a bit of toilet paper already but given the particularly long stretch without resupplying, I got an extra whole roll before leaving Oroville. At the time, I thought it was excessive, but now I hoped it would be enough!

I also found myself not wanting to pee. I was afraid the explosive diarrhea would hit if I relaxed enough to pee, so when I did want to pee, I would pull my pants down like I was about to do a poop. I would be ready if the explosive diarrhea tried to strike!

I finally reached the top of the hill at which point the trail headed downhill and my pace picked up dramatically. My sickness didn't seem to slow me down at all when I was going downhill, but the uphills--even short, small grades were absolutely exhausting and it seemed like I needed a five minute break every quarter-mile.

Later in the day, I tried to force myself to eat a second time. And again, I forced down a few peanuts and a couple of almonds. Then, rather than a beef stick, I ate a few Twizzlers. The Twizzlers seemed to go down better than the beef stick, but I could only eat three of them before it was too much. I started feeling nauseous and stopped.

For the most part, I didn't feel nauseous except when I was actually eating something. While on the trail and hiking, I had no urge to throw up. I just wasn't hungry. At all. And fortunately, my lack of appetite didn't appear to affect my ability to drink. I was able to drink plenty of water with no trouble at all. I wasn't going to die of dehydration.

But as the day progressed and I sweated out salts, I started worrying about the water-salt balance in my body. I knew water intoxication was a real thing and people could die consuming too much water. I didn't feel like I was drinking an unusually large amount of water, but I definitely was not replenishing the salts that were leaving my body. So I started worrying if that was a health concern. Were there symptoms I'd recognize if my salts got too far out of whack? Or would I just pass out on the trail unexpectedly? I had no idea. And I couldn't even google for the information--I was far outside of cell phone signals.

At least I had my SPOT device. There was a button I could press that would send an SOS signal to a satellite and help would be on the way. It would probably take hours for help to arrive, but it would arrive. Eventually.

It was meant to be used for "life-threatening emergencies." Did my situation count as a life-threatening emergency? I felt like crap, but for the time being, at least, it didn't feel life-threatening. On the other hand, it would take some time and effort to get help out here. If I waited until I felt like it was life-threatening, would it be too late by the time help could actually arrive?

I really didn't want to have a helicopter come out and pick me up--but if it was the difference between life and death, I'd take it. Ugh. This was bad. I was actually thinking about clicking that SOS button and getting evacuated.

If I did have to be evacuated, helicopter was really the only option. I looked around the terrain wondering where a helicopter might be able to land but I didn't see anything. Most of the time I was hiking through burn areas, but dead trees covered the landscape. There weren't open clearings for a helicopter to land, and I could imagine that a helicopter hovering above the trees could pose a hazard by the high winds from the helicopter knocking over the dead trees. How would a helicopter evacuation work? Was it even feasible? No, I didn't want a helicopter rescue. Nor even a rescue attempt--because for all I know, it might end up being a mere attempt.

My map showed an old airfield ahead on the trail. It was built in the 1920s or 30s or something long before the area become a wilderness area. It had no roads to it and nobody is really even sure how it was built. At the time of its construction, it's not like they could have carried heavy equipment to the site in helicopters--helicopters weren't around back then! The airfield hadn't been in use for decades, though, so I figured it was probably filled with trees. But maybe.... there was a spot large enough for a helicopter to land? If there was, maybe it would be a good idea to call for help from there?

And an idea started to form. If I could reach that airfield tonight, I could set up camp and see how I felt in the morning. If my sickness passed, I'd just keep hiking. If my condition continued to deteriorate during the night, I could call for help. I didn't have to use it, but I liked the idea of camping near where I could be rescued relatively easily. Assuming, of course, there was even an area large enough for a helicopter to land.

So that was my new a tentative plan.

After my second snack break, once again my stomach started its gurgling and once again I found an urgent need to do a poop. It seemed like the little food I was eating was rushing through my digestive track before any of it had a chance to digest.

The trail descended down a steep slope to another river that I had to ford. The knee-deep ford didn't cause any problems except for wet feet.

Late in the day, I finally arrived at the airfield which, as I suspected, was completely covered with trees. I didn't see any breaks large enough for a helicopter to land. I hadn't seen anywhere a helicopter might be able to land the entire freakin' day. I know it's possible to do rescues without landing a helicopter, but I imagine the logistics are a lot more difficult, complicated and potentially dangerous. Especially if I were surrounded by dead and burned trees.

Seeing as the old airfield provided no help for a potential rescue, I decided to continue on. I still preferred to hike out on my own and I needed to get the miles in if that were to happen. It was late in the day, but I still managed to knock off a few more miles.

By the end of the day, I had knocked off 19.1 miles according to my GPS with about 7,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. It was an astonishing number, I thought, considering how bad I felt and the fact that I had eaten almost nothing for the last 24 hours.

This was the creek I had to ford today. Not a big deal, though!

I set up camp under some trees. I had made it out of the burn area so I didn't worry as much about falling trees during the night. I still had absolutely no appetite, however, and decided to skip dinner again. Not eating my food was causing me two problems. The first was a lack of energy, but the other problem was that my pack wasn't getting lighter! I typically ate about 2.5 pounds of food per day. I probably had eaten 2 ounces in the past 24 hours so my pack was already 2.5 pounds heavier than it should be at this point! And unless I started eating, it was just going to get worse.

I did one more poop before going to sleep. I hoped a late-evening poop would get me through to sunrise. At this point, it was still explosive, noxious diarrhea--but since I hadn't been eating, the volume was much reduced.

I knew Amanda was probably watching my progress through the wilderness with my SPOT device. I had no way to communicate my distress except the extreme SOS option which I wasn't willing to use--not yet, at least. She probably saw my movements and thought everything was going fine. If she only knew what was happening. I wished I had a way to contact her and let her know of my trouble. Maybe she could pick me up at the next trailhead a few days from now.... assuming I could make it that far on my own. But I had no way to contact her so that wasn't an option.

I went to sleep restless and unsure of what the days ahead would hold.....

This is the old airfield which is why the ground is so flat. But it would be hard to land even a helicopter here now with all the trees! Looked like a nice place to camp, but I decided to push on.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Day 43: The Beginning of Something Bad....

August 27: I woke up to a beautiful morning, ate breakfast and packed up like usual. I took a brief detour a mile or so up the trail where the trail passed a horse camp and ranger cabin. The ranger cabin was locked up tight and nobody was camped nearby, but a sign pointed to a wilderness toilet and as rare as those are out here, I figured I should make use of it while I can.

Along the way, I ran into a deer. It was in the trees and shaded and I had trouble getting photos of it so early in the morning. The light just wasn't very good.

Then I did my thing on the toilet as the deer watched. Pervert!

The toilet was an open-air experience. No walls. Just a small stool to sit on over a hole in the ground. Everything went well, although I was a little surprised when the last half of the poop came out a little softer than I would have expected. Too much detail? Yeah, okay.... Probably....

Privacy was minimal, but the ventilation system was amazing!

Let's continue.... The trail through the Pasayten Wilderness continued to be in fairly good condition and I hiked the next four hours pretty much non-stop. Which was unusual--usually I would stop for a short break after two or three hours to grab a snack but I didn't feel particularly hungry so I just kept hiking.

The biggest obstacle was the huge burn area. There weren't a lot of blowdowns across the trail--thank goodness for small favors!--but the sun was warm and there was no escaping it. And sometimes, the trail was hard to see in severely burned areas. Much of the burn area looked like it could have happened last year and even flowers and vegetation hadn't grown back yet. So it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the trail and non-trail areas.

Then the trail descended 2000 feet to the Ashnola River which I had to ford. It wasn't a problematic ford. Maybe 6-8 inches deep with slow, languid water. The trail down to the creek was the biggest change in elevation since I had entered the Pasayten Wilderness.

I took a break by the creek, then started the long march back up the other side.

The ford wasn't a big deal. Just some wet feet but no real issue!

Late in the afternoon, I stopped by a creek under a single tree that had somehow managed to escape the wildfires so provided a small bit of shade. I was well ahead of schedule having taken few snack breaks and decided to lounge around until the shade moved and my position was in the sun again--which eventually took about two hours although I didn't know exactly how long it would be when I started my break.

But I felt like having a long break. I wasn't tired, but I kind of felt crappy all day. Not for any particular reason except for being tired of the trail. I had really enjoyed the scenery yesterday, but the burn area didn't excite me as much. And I was lonely. I hadn't seen a person all day. Not one, single person. (Nor would I see anyone the rest of the day--although I couldn't have known that at this time.)

To kill the time, I cooked one of my dinners, read a book and watched The Office on my phone while my solar charger was in the sun collecting all of that sunlight. May as make use of it while I could!

About two hours after I started my break, the shade from the tree left. It had been a good break. I enjoyed just sitting and relaxing and listening to the babbling brook. But I still had a few more miles to knock out for the day.

I took a two-hour break in the shade of that big tree on the left that managed to escape the wildfires.

The last few hours of hiking I felt really tired. I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep, but no.... I had a schedule to keep to! Onward! Always onward! I could take a nap when I reached camp.

I finally reached Dean Creek and my goal for the day, but it was in a heavily-burned area. The area looked like it could have burned just the week before. I didn't like the idea of camping under all of those tall and very dead trees, but I just felt so darned tired. I really didn't want to keep hiking who knows how far until I found a place to camp that wasn't in a burn area. I decided to set up camp anyhow. There was absolutely no wind or rain. The chances of one of the trees fallen down on me during the night seemed slim.

I wanted somewhere with shade to set up camp but there was absolutely none so I threw out my groundsheet in the sun then laid down and took a nap. I threw my fleece jacket over my head to avoid sunburns.

After sleeping for an hour, I felt a lot better. So much more refreshed! But now my stomach starting making some strange gurgling sounds like I should go do a poop. But I pooped this morning. I shouldn't need to do another one so soon. I was good until tomorrow.

I tried to ignore the unsettled feeling in my stomach but eventually I decided to hell with it. Just do another poop and get it done. At least I won't have to worry about it in the morning.

So I found a suitable place, squatted and... oh, the humanity! The horrible, horrible stuff that came out! To call it explosive diarrhea would have been a major understatement. This was bad. Really bad.

Suddenly all of the clues earlier in the day started flashing through my head. My poop this morning that started hard then ended surprisingly soft. My unusual lack of hunger. My feeling so unusually tired.

I was sick. And my next thought was, I really hope this isn't giardia.

Maybe it's one of those 24-hour flu kind of things. I hoped that was all it was. Maybe in the morning I'd feel better. Maybe in 24 hours. If I had giardia.... the next section of this trip was going to be pretty miserable....

My campsite had no shade so I threw my jacket over me to keep the sun off when I took a nap. I didn't want to wake up with a sunburn!
This was the pervert deer that watched me poop in the morning.
Ranger cabin

I was a little worried when I found this sign about trail closures due to wildfires. Then I realized it was from last year! *whew*
The bridge that used to cross this creek flipped over and sideways in a flood. Not very useful anymore!

What is that snow-covered peak in the distance? Hmm... (I really don't know!)