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.


KuKu said...

You might have felt better in a couple of days, but your clothing desperately needed washing. And you really needed the IV.

I had been thinking of Gatorade for several postings but you were out in the wild and couldn't get it before you jumped off the trail.

Someday, you will have the trail on Walking4Fun but in the meantime, the important thing is that you made it to the doctor and home safely and that you MEND.

I'm thankful you're doing well.

Karolina said...

Wait, where are photos of you wearing that gown with your butt hanging out?

I recommend taking sachets or tablets with electrolytes on your hikes. You dissolve them in water and make your own isotonic drink. An alternative is water + sugar + salt. Plus lemon, but that one is too perishable and heavy to carry through the backcoutry.

Anyways, I am glad you made it and lived to tell the story!

Mary said...

I thought the snowstorm derailed your hike. I never dreamed it was illness! I'm very impressed you hiked as far as you did with such poor nutrition and so much "output." I can't imagine doing that! I'm glad you got off the trail at the earliest opportunity. Did you ever weigh yourself to discover how much weight you lost? What about the food you mailed ahead? What happened to that?