May 1, 2018
Last night our room was quite cold, but I guess everyone was so tired that no one felt like getting up and figuring out how to turn the heat on. I shared a big comfy bed with Ghosthiker but I didn’t get much sleep because my legs kept cramping up no matter what position I lay in. When I got up in the morning, my blister wasn’t much better. The skin where I’d lanced it had healed over in the night and there was fresh fluid beneath the skin, so I had to lance it again. When I did, the smell that rose to my nose was unexpected and fowl, and I knew then that I couldn’t hike another blessed mile until I figured this out. I would need to hitch ahead to Tehachapi.
Sparky and Ghosthiker were getting ready to hike out and looked none-too-pleased about leaving me in my predicament, but I insisted they go. I’d catch up with them in Tehachapi and come back to finish the missed miles later (though deep down inside, I doubted this would happen). Sparky was very concerned. He described the signs of infection I should watch for and that I needed to go to the ER immediately if it got worse.
The previous night I’d put out an SOS on the PCT Facebook page for help and advice for severe blister care, and per a few recommendations, I threaded a small piece of sterilized floss through the blister to allow for continual drainage. I covered it lightly with a band-aid, just to keep the dirt out, and left it like that all day.
The other interesting thing that happened as a result of my Facebook post was that it confirmed what I’d suspected but had been unwilling up to this point to admit even to myself. My shoes were the problem.
As a recreational runner and occasional one-night backpacker, I’d always worn ASICS and Merrels with optimal arch and plantar fasciitis support. But everything I’d read on the internet prior to my hike told me that the Altra Lone Peaks were THE shoe to wear on the PCT. From the famous hikers on YouTube to the basic shoe review pages, everyone seemed to be in agreement. I’d stuck with the Altras for 550 miles believing they were the right shoes for me. All the cool kids loved them, so why wouldn’t I?
Well, in answer to my call for help, all manner of hikers came out of the woodwork to tell me that the Lone Peak Altras are not the great footwear the internet claims they are, even when paired with the Superfeet Green insoles. In fact, tons of people said they had feet similar to mine that needed more arch and heel support, that they’d had similar experiences with abnormal blistering before they’d changed shoes, and that the zero-drop of the Altras was what was undoubtedly causing my foot troubles.
Well, lesson learned. I can honestly look back now and say that this one error in judgment was a huge contributing factor to how I experienced the bulk of this hike, both before and after I changed up my shoes. Even with better shoes, it took my feet a long time to heal, and the low mileage I made during those first two months as a result would inevitably put me well behind the crowd and hinder my ability to finish. I believe the blisters may have also contributed to the bacterial issues I had all along the trail, but I have no way to prove that. The doctors certainly couldn’t. But I digress…
Watching my trail family hike out without me was severely depressing. It was still really cold outside so they got a fairly late start, 8am, which was weird for that section of the trail. They’d be hiking along the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which was famous among hikers as being a long, hot, waterless, and 100% shadeless stretch of trail. Everyone knew that in order to hike the aqueduct safely and effectively, it was best to set out several hours before the sun came up in order to get to the end before the heat of the day. The cold temperatures were a welcome game-changer. There was much less pressure to get out of Hikertown and hurry along the packed dirt path, and it actually made me a little angry that I literally couldn’t hike it with them during this optimal time.
After Sparky, Ghosthiker, and Oats left, I sat in our little “hotel” room and fought back tears. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was young and strong, damn it! I should have been out there taking advantage of a cold Aqueduct hike, not sitting in this cold room all alone with a throbbing foot. At least I had a couple of surprise resupply boxes full of goodies to comfort me, one from my Mom and one from my oldest and dearest friend from high school.
Grace, who is not a hiker, sent me the perfect hikertrash box: Mountain House meals, new moleskin, soap, 2 brand new pairs of Darn Tough socks, countless other goodies, and a small lawn gnome whom I later named Oswald, and who would accompany me on (almost) the rest of my journey along the PCT.
In my Mom’s box was a plethora of healthy goodies including jerky, energy bars, mini coconut oil packs, and nuts, and everything was GMO-free and mostly plant-based, which is my preferred diet. And best of all, there were two enormous chocolate bars stashed in the bottom. Delicious, dark, fair-trade chocolate with sea salt and almonds and everything I needed in that moment to ease the emotional and physical pain. I slowly consumed an entire bar just sitting on the hotel bed feeling sorry for myself.
I spent some time on a little patio next to the “hotel” with my whole body wrapped in my sleeping quilt except for my foot and my head. It didn’t feel natural to be indoor for so long. Even though it was cold, I wanted to be outside. I called my brother who is a nurse and asked him to put my running shoes, my Merrell trail runners, and my Merrell Moab hiking boots in a box and ship them priority to the post office in Tehachapi. The nearest REI was back in Santa Clarita and I doubted Big 5 would have much in the way of really supportive hiking shoes. Now I was just praying my feet hadn’t really grown that much and I could still fit into a pair of my old standby’s.
While I sat snuggled in my sleeping quilt, I worked on accepting my situation. So I’d skip 32 miles, so what? Out of 2,660 miles total, how much did 32 really matter? I was literally faced with a choice of either skipping miles or possibly ending my hike prematurely due to injury, and I wasn’t about to choose the latter. I’m not that stubborn.
Unfortunately, Richard wasn’t going to Tehachapi that day, but he assured me he’d be heading that way tomorrow and he’d be happy to take me anywhere I needed to go. Thankful for the promise of a ride, I spent a zero day in Tehachapi and tried to be productive, doing laundry and catching up on calories by digging into my new resupply boxes. Unfortunately, the Cling-On sauntered into Hikertown that morning and I spent the entire day trying to avoid him. Other hikers that rolled in throughout the day seemed charmed by him. One hiker saw him digging through the hiker boxes and asked if he was looking for anything in particular.
“Food.” He said. “I don’t have a lot of money.”
I watched as this well-meaning hiker happily handed over 2 or 3 freeze-dried hiker meals. He was still managing to live off of other hikers, I guess. Whatever. His presence didn’t really bother me until that evening. A lot of us were sitting around in the garage on the assorted couches and chairs, telling stories and having a good time. This was a whole new hiker crowd and I was having a good time getting to know them. We’d gotten to sharing different creepy or scary experiences we’d had on the PCT or on other hikes, and the Cling-On proceeded to tell a story that ended in a really bad dick joke, which perhaps only I knew was how most of his stories ended, leaving no doubt in your mind that the stories were never true. I won’t repeat the story he told here. When he got to the punch line he smiled and paused as if for applause or laughter, none of which was forthcoming. We had all been telling legitimate stories and he had just killed the mood with a crude joke. A few people gave a little courtesy laugh, but no one was impressed. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one who found him annoying.
It was at that point that I excused myself and went to bed in my rented hiker shack called the Town Hall, a single-room building with no insulation and enough room for a double mattress and a chair. It seemed pretty sketchy, but the night sky looked like a serious storm was brewing and I didn’t want to be wrestling with my tent in the rain when, for a mere $10, I didn’t have to.
I lay awake that night listening to the wind howling against the little shack and hoping I wouldn’t hear mice scurrying across the floor.