Monday, September 28, 2020

Day 51: Achilles heel takes down another hero!

July 25: Not surprisingly, when I woke up, my feet problems hadn't improved. I had to get off the trail. There was no way around it. Even if I wanted to push on, my permit through the North Cascades meant I needed to hike about 20 miles to reach my next campsite. There was absolutely no way I could make it. On top of that, there was my issue with the dwindling supplies of moleskin and band-aids. Nope, I had to abandon the Pacific Northwest Trail. Again. But it was a little embarrassing to think I'd be getting off the trail just four days after returning to it. I knew there was a possibility I wouldn't finish the trail: wildfires, COVID closures or whatever, but I had been certain that I could make it more than four days!

I only had about 2.5 miles to the trailhead, so today barely even counted. In fact, I could easily hear traffic from Highway 20 zooming by on the other side of Ruby Arm. The highway was probably 1/10th of a mile away as the crow flies. Maybe closer! But I had to walk around Ruby Arm to cross Ruby Creek on a bridge so walking distance, I had to cover 2.5 miles.

I took my time packing up camp. I figured it wouldn't take more than about two hours to reach the trailhead. Despite being just 2.5 miles away--a distance I normally would have covered in an hour--I allotted myself two hours since walking was slow with my injuries. I could hear the traffic from Highway 20 and, at 6:00am, there was none. Absolutely none! So I didn't worry about getting an early start. If I were at the trailhead now, I'd just be standing there waiting for vehicles.

So I slept in late and took my time eating breakfast and packing up camp. 

After walking to the water source yesterday evening in Crocs, I decided to finish the last 2.5 miles in my Crocs. Without that strap around the back of my foot, walking was actually fairly easy. It helped that this section of trail was well-traveled, well-maintained and relatively flat. I still didn't walk very fast, but it was much less painful than walking in my hiking shoes.

The day's hike was relatively uneventful, passing through forests with almost no views of Ruby Arm except where the trail goes around the lake and over Ruby Creek on a bridge. Near the bridge, I started seeing a multitude of hikers coming out and I could hear that traffic on Highway 20 had picked up.

And finally, I reached the East Bank Trailhead. Civilization! Well, kind of.... The busy Highway 20 passed by, and there was a beautiful wooden structure for 'trailhead relief', but that was about the extent of the civilization. I pulled out my phone but, unsurprisingly, it did not get a signal at this remote location. I couldn't call anyone with updates.

This appeared to be an old water pipe to me, and I wondered what it was doing out here.

But I did have my SPOT device, and the partly used batteries I filled it with still had enough power to send a signal so I hit the "leaving the trail" button that I had programmed earlier.

Somewhere in the world, I knew, Amanda's phone was getting a text and email that I was leaving the trail. I didn't know where she was--probably in the United States since international trips had been cut back so much due to COVID--but she could still have been anywhere in the United States. I hadn't kept track of her schedule because I didn't think I needed to know it.

But somewhere, unless she was actually in the air and flying at the moment, she was just finding out that I was getting off the trail. She wouldn't know why I was getting off the trail, and she might be a little concerned about my well-being--worried about what went so wrong that I needed to get off the trail. But I knew she could check my location and see that I was already at the trailhead on Highway 20, and I wasn't using the SOS button which would have meant I needed immediate rescue. She'd know something bad had happened, but it wasn't life-threatening.

I took a few minutes to prepare myself for hitchhiking. I collapsed my trekking pole and added it to my pack. I applied some sunscreen to my face and hands. Hiking through the forest, I was always in shade, but now I'd be standing in the hot, brutal sun trying to hitch a ride. I needed the sun protection. I also pulled out my mask, ready to put it on as soon as someone stopped for me. I didn't feel like wearing it on the road while hitching--it's not like anyone else was around and it wasn't comfortable to wear for who knows how long, but I made sure to let it hang visibly in case it was the difference between whether or not someone would pick me up or not.

And, since there was no telling how long I'd be standing out there, so I pulled out some earbuds and started playing music on my phone to listen to.

A car approached. I stuck out my thumb. The car went by.

Come on, ride! Where are you?!

This pattern repeated itself over and over again. For over an  hour, I kept trying to hitch a ride with no success. Hikers arrived throughout the morning but none were leaving.

Even a park ranger arrived, but it was just to do some maintenance on the toilet. Then she got back in her truck and pulled away never offering me a ride. I had chatted with her a bit and told her about my injury and getting off the trail and she assured me that it probably wouldn't take long for me to get a ride, but I was hoping she might help out. I didn't expect a ride all the way to Seattle, after all. My main concern first and foremost was just to get to a location where I got actual cell phone service which I could do at Newhalem maybe 15 miles down the road. Just get me to Newhalem, please!

A hiker who arrived shortly after I started hitching returned to the trailhead and appeared to be leaving, so I walked over to him asking if he could provide a lift. He said he normally would and often does pick up hitchhikers, but he was leery about doing so now because of COVID.

"I have a mask," I said, holding it up, "if that makes any difference?"

He shook his head sadly and I returned to the road to keep hitching. This might take awhile.

I wondered if my chances of getting picked up would be better if I actually wore the mask while I was hitching. There was no way to know for certain. Times were different! I had hitchhiked on Highway 20 two times before. The first time I got a lift within 5 minutes. The second time--when I left the PNT last year--took closer to an hour, but two other people had stopped to offer me a ride during that time. It was just for a few miles, though, and I wanted a longer distance hitch and had turned them down. So far, I'd been out here for over an hour and I didn't get a single nibble.

At least I still had all day to get out. And frankly, I still had a week of food in my pack. If I couldn't get a ride today, I could camp out here in the parking lot for the next week until I got a ride. Not that that's what I wanted to do, but I certainly had plenty of time to get myself out from here before things became dire.

The outhouse at the trailhead was really quite fancy.
I'd give this one two thumbs up!

 About 10 minutes later, the hiker who had turned me down for a ride approached and said that he had a change of heart. He would take me as far as Newhalem as long as I wore a mask in the vehicle.

"Not a problem!" I said excitedly. Yes! It took about 1.5 hours, but I finally got a ride! Only about 15 miles down the road, but that was far enough to get me into range of cell phone towers. Perfect!

So we both wore masks, riding down the highway and chatted a bit about the crazy times we were in. About a half hour later, we arrived in Newhalem and the end of my ride.

There's a large parking area just off the highway with picnic tables and trees and I found a nice spot at a picnic table in the shade to settle down and make some phone calls.

The first call I made was to Amanda--she was probably the only person who knew that something had gone terribly wrong and might be concerned. She answered the phone immediately and said she was just pulling off I-5 in Arlington on her way to pick me up. I was actually quite surprised--and delighted! She had already driven halfway out to pick me up herself! When I set up the "I'm quitting the trail" button on my SPOT device, I had told her not to just immediately drive out and pick me up but to use it as a warning that something had gone wrong and that I might need to be picked up... but go ahead and wait until I could actually call and tell her what was actually happening. More of a "be on alert" kind of response until I had a chance to call and tell her what I actually needed.

So I was surprised to find that she was already halfway to my location! I told her about my injury and why I was getting off the trail. For a little while, at least. I hoped to return again in another week or two.

Amanda was still over an hour away, however, so at first I figured I may as well keep trying to hitch a ride. I could get further down the road and she wouldn't have to drive out as far to pick me up, but she pointed out that cell phone service was spotty as soon as she left the I-5 corridor. If I did get a ride, I might not be able to call her and let her know where I was located. And my SPOT device wouldn't help because she couldn't check my location without an Internet connection. She could wind up driving right past me on the road and not even know it.

So we decided that I should just stay where I'm at and let her pick me up. Which was fine--I was in a comfortable place, at a picnic table and in the shade. I could read my Kindle or watch Netflix on my phone--both of which was far more fun than standing on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride.

We hung up, and I now had about 1.5 hours to twiddle my thumbs and kill some time. I called the ranger station in Marblemount to let them know what I was getting off the trail and to cancel the rest of my permit. Let others use the campsites that I could no longer use. I surfed the web on my phone for a bit, checking up on AQ and W4F, reading emails and finally settled into watching Netflix shows.

I didn't think to write in my journal what I watched on Netflix and I've long since forgotten what I had watched, but I must have really been into it because I didn't notice Amanda pull up. She honked her horn lightly to get my attention. Awesome! I waddled over with all my gear and boarded the vehicle.

She had picked up some drinks for me when she filled up with gas. At the time, I hadn't called her yet so she didn't know what the issue was, but remembering how weak I was when I got sick last year, she thought I might need some liquid calories if it was a repeat this year. And even if it wasn't, she figured I'd probably like a cold drink anyhow. Which was true--I quickly downed one of the Cokes.

Then we had the long drive back to Seattle. Actually, it wasn't really that long. It was about 1.5 hours shorter than when she dropped me off at Harts Pass four days earlier--about 30% closer to Seattle in terms of driving time. And when I returned to the PNT, the drive would be equally shorter.

Plus, I didn't have a long 13-mile off-trail hike to get back to the PNT. The PNT actually went through the parking lot. The second I stepped out of the car, I'd be back on the PNT.

The East Bank trailhead was actually the point last year where I wanted to quit the trail because it was so much more convenient than Harts Pass, but I got off at Harts Pass since my health and safety was more important than convenience. At least this time, I could quit the trail at a relatively convenient location.

The drive back to Seattle was uneventful, and I was officially off the trail. Again....

The PNT is a rough trail!

Ruby Creek


Mary said...

I was hoping your blisters would miraculously heal overnight so you could continue. I now wonder if your third attempt ran into the August fires. Will you ever finish this trail? Hooray for Amanda just jumping in the car to rescue you!

Mary said...

I just saw the PNT is posted on W4F!!! Hooray! You DID finish the trail!!!

Ryan said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again.... this trail is TOUGH! *shaking head* But yes, spoiler alert, I will (eventually) finish the trail! ;o)