April 22, 2018
After such an emotionally-charged evening, I slept like the dead and felt much better the next morning and talked with Sparky a bit, explaining that I was just very emotionally exhausted and had needed some space. We’d all been living and traveling in such close quarters since Idyllwild that I was just starting to feel a little overwhelmed. It wasn’t the complete truth, but I doubted Sparky wanted to hear anything about my monthly visitor or my irrational anger issues. I made sure to make a blanket apology to everyone else who’d camped with us that night as well. They were all completely understanding and some a little surprised by my apology. Maybe not everyone had noticed my bad attitude the previous night, but that didn’t make me feel any better about it.
“Everyone has bad days on the trail.” Longstride said very matter-of-factly, as if it was silly of me to even be apologizing. Lord, bless him.
The rest of the day went like most others. Hike, drink water, hike, take a snack break, find somewhere to pee, hike, eat another snack, hike. Sparky’s pack frame broke somewhere along the trail and had been hurting his shoulders, but he only discovered that the break was the cause last night, so he was going to be taking it a little easier until he could get a replacement stay for his pack. Thankful for the excuse to slow down, I stuck with him and made sure to chat cheerfully as we went, both to make up for my saltiness the previous evening and to take his mind off his shoulder pain. It would be several days before he’d be able to get a replacement sent to him from ULA equipment.
About 1.5 miles in we came to a trailhead at a road crossing where there was lots of shade and a few picnic tables, so we took a snack break there before heading up the 500 ft ascent coming up. 500 ft isn’t really that bad, but it was pretty steep and with my foot and Sparky’s shoulders, we took it slow.
“You know what sounds really good right now?” I said as we began huffing up the hill.
“What?” Ghosthiker asked.
Now, I’m not sure how much I believe in the concept of manifest destiny, but we crossed another road 5 miles later and were greeted by a couple of day hikers who’d just finished their hike. When we told them we were thru-hikers they asked if we’d like their leftover snacks. But of course! They proceeded to pass out snack bars, La Croix sodas, and BEER! Ghosthiker, Sparky, and Lil’ Bro all looked at me like I’d just pulled off some kind of magic trick! We took another break at this road crossing so we could enjoy our snacks and beer before setting off again.
The day continued to be quite a roller coaster, both geographically and emotionally. Lots of PUDS* (Pointless Ups and Downs) and a 2.7 mile road walk that made my feet feel like they were literally burning. The road walk was part of a trail closure meant to protect the natural habitat of an endangered frog species. Back in Wrightwood, Ghosthiker and I had purchased some socks that had a built-in liner and had a “No Blisters” guarantee. Bullshit. By the end of that not-even-3-miles roadwalk, I had two brand new, blazing hot spots on my right foot. I was also experiencing a lot of shoulder and upper back pain which had been a steadily growing issue over the last week as my waist belt was at its tightest setting and was riding ever lower on my hips, forcing me to tighten the shoulder straps to keep my waistbelt from digging into my now less-padded hip bones. The result? 35-40 pounds carried primarily on my shoulders due to the enormous amounts of water we were carrying.
Well, I’ve always wanted to lose weight around my waist. Awesome, right?
We hiked through Buckhorn Camp, where we took our lunch break at a picnic table in the shade, which was nice. It was a large campground with a few nice pit toilets and a fire ring at every campsite, but the place was deserted. It was still pretty early in the season for family camping trips, I guess. It was nice to sit in the quiet and the shade and enjoy our lunch at a picnic table. My feet still felt like they were burning, so I elevated them on the bench while I ate. It helped a little.
When we were all ready to go, I popped some more Vitamin I and kept hiking. I felt like I was drinking my weight in water to prevent UTIs and drastically slowing my pace, both to alleviate the pain in my foot, give myself space so I could pee in privacy, and to create a little solitude for myself so I could have a good angry cry if I needed to.
I would quickly discover that stopping when necessary to have a good, hot, angry cry (or hiking while crying) actually helped me continue moving through the physical pain. As the pain in my body increased across the miles, so would my patience for it. I would slowly become cross but could manage it well enough and often distract myself by chatting with my trail family. But as that day wore on and the distance and quiet grew, I had no distractions from the pain. I couldn’t listen to music because I wanted to keep my ears alert for rattlesnakes. Eventually, the pain became unbearable despite taking close to a dozen ibuprofen and/or Excedrin throughout the day, and rather than be mopey or whiny, I would just become very, very angry and silent. I don’t like to complain and I don’t like it when people know I’m in pain. I’ll ask for advice, and I’ll readily tell people when I am physically DONE hiking for the day. But I hate looking weak, so as much as possible I did try to downplay it.
That day I let everyone go ahead of me because I knew I was going to be moving a lot slower up the next steep climb. Partway up I was in so much pain I just threw down my poles and slung my pack to the ground, angry and crying and needing to relieve the burning against my backsides. I’d have let out a good scream to relieve some built-up pressure in my chest if there hadn’t been people within earshot. All I could do was sob into my handkerchief. What the hell am I doing out here? Why did I think this was a good idea? I just want to go home!
After several moments of this, my face overheated and my eyes stinging, I took a few deep, calming breaths. I scrubbed my face with my dirty sleeve, desperately tried to tighten my waist belt a little more, then pulled myself together and hiked on, only to end up with a bloody nose shortly thereafter. By the time I caught up to everyone who’d just stopped to rest in the shade, I had a wad of toilet paper shoved up my nose and was in desperate need of a break.
“What up, fam?” I said through my plugged nose, smiling brightly. I knew my face was red and splotchy and with that bloody tissue in my nose, I must have been quite a sight. So I disarmed any oncoming concern with a cheerful greeting and a big ol’ smile. It worked. At least, nobody said much besides making sure I was alright. It was the dry air, I claimed. I mean, for my nose it probably was.
That was the day we crossed the 400-mile mark! Woot! Our intended stop for the night was Camp Glenwood at mile 400.6. When we arrived, to my dismay, we found the Cling-On and his new hiker friends lounging by the picnic tables. They informed us that we’d just missed the most amazing trail magic, beer and brownies!
Honestly, we were all a little surprised to see them there. They’d been at the first road crossing earlier that day, but we’d left well ahead of them and hadn’t seen them since. Did they somehow pass us on the trail without any of us noticing?
“Wow, you guys must have really been pushing! When did you get here?” Someone asked.
“Oh, we caught a ride with someone this morning.” They confessed without apology that they’d just been chilling there all day and had happily consumed all of the trail magic. So basically, all the beer and brownies. Gone. We left them without comment and walked a little way down the hill to set up our tents and cook our dinner.
At least they’d left us plenty of bottled, purified water that had also been left by trail angels. No brownies, but pure water we didn’t have to filter. That was alright.
When Sparky and I went down to survey the tent sites, Sparky said I was welcome to set up my tent close to his to make sure there was no available space near my tent, meaning so that the Cling-On wouldn’t bother me or try to pitch his tent next to mine. At that point, I was no longer worried about it and was sure I overreacted initially, but just in case I said sure. Sparky asked how I was doing, and I told him “Not great, but hanging in there.” I explained where the new blister was and how the hot asphalt from the roadwalk had felt like it was literally burning my feet through the soles of my shoes, and I asked him if that was normal. He asked me some pointed questions about where I felt pain or pressure throughout the day, other than the blisters.
“You may be outgrowing your shoes,” he said, “you might want to think about cutting them open a little along the sides so they have room to expand when your feet swell during the day.” And that’s just what I did. I used my pocket knife to carefully cut an inch-long opening in the mesh on the outside of the toe box where the bones of my feet inevitably press against the sides when they get hot and swollen. Hopefully, it will help.
Because there was plenty of water, Lil’ Bro brought a gallon down to our picnic table and I started making one of my more time- and water-consuming meals: quinoa and brown rice. Never having done this before, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how long it might take. I was able to get my tent and everything set up and still the meal cooked. Luckily I have extra fuel, another reason I chose tonight to make this meal. I also know I haven’t been getting the calories I need each day, and especially not the right kinds of calories. I diced up the remaining bits of my fresh red onion and added a bunch of turkey jerky, and it was a delicious meal that filled my whole pot. I ate every morsel. Maybe tomorrow my waistbelt will fit better?