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....


Arlene (EverReady 2015AT) said...

I really hope your hike improved after day 1!

Eidolon said...

Buying shoes has always been a disaster for me.

I have both wide toes that generate hot spots on the sides as well as heel spurs that rub through the back of the shoes. So I have to find something that is wide and flexible enough for my toes and tight enough in the back not to slide up and down and as an added challenge, without a tall hard piece of plastic in the heel (which most shoes have), in order to be able to wear them at all.

I found some a few years ago and keep buying them. Same size, same model, this year's color. Well imagine my surprise when "this year" they had apparently made some design changes which resulted in more padding inside the shoe to the point I actually had to buy a half size larger shoe than the previous years.

Anyway, point being, yeah, I don't trust them without testing either, even if the same shoe I already had.

KuKu said...

Oh, Ryan, your feet look so sore!

Here's to healing feet, few blowdowns and NO SNOW!


NEWA said...

Those pics make me feel your pain. Hope you get some relief. THanks for sharing.

Mary said...

Starting with open blisters and raw skin and blow downs! I hope you were spared bushwhacking like you encountered in the first 500 miles. I also hope you beat all the fires!

Michael Merino said...

I'm glad to see that Ryan is finally back on the trail. I have a feeling Ryan's going to be getting back at the PNT later in the story. Can't wait to hear stories of vengence.