May 20, 2018
We got out of camp early and were all hiking by 7:00am. Ghosthiker and I dropped Sparky off at the Spitler Peak Trailhead so he could hike south, then we parked the car just off of Hwy 74 and started hiking north, planning to meet Sparky in the middle and pass the keys to him so he could come pick us up the Spitler Peak Trailhead with the car. Because we had the car, we left most of the gear we didn’t need locked safely in the trunk and slack-packed.
The day started out fine, with lots of PUDS and a few steep climbs but that was ok. After we met up with Sparky and had lunch, though, it got rough. Several miles of steep climbing followed by a seemingly endless and steep descent. The trail was dry and dusty and the switchbacks were steep and endless, and it was HOT.
I was trying out my new Oboz, which was a mistake in the heat. They weren’t waterproof but they were certainly water-resistant, which meant that the heat just got trapped inside and my feet felt like they were on fire all day. The tendons in my right ankle and top of my foot would randomly scream at me in sudden pain, but I didn’t have any Leukotape or anything with me to prevent any impending blisters so I just hiked on. I’ll admit I cut a few switchbacks that day. I was having a really rough time of it emotionally and physically. This was supposed to be an easy day, so why was I in so much pain? I’d hiked over 700 miles by this point; when did it start getting easier? I was angry with my body for betraying me.
In hindsight, I should have stopped for more breaks or something. At least I managed to take a few pictures. I was so angry while I hiked. Angry at the stupid, endless switchbacks; angry at my feet for still hurting after so many hundreds of miles; angry that the day was proving to be so exhausting and challenging even though my pack couldn’t have weighed more than 10 lbs. This was supposed to be an easy 20-mile day, so what the hell was wrong with me? I was several miles ahead of Ghosthiker and I didn’t want her to see me in this angry state, so I pressed on rather than take a break like I should have. I just wanted to be done. Every step I took along the trail was a step I would never have to take there ever again. All I could think about was the fact that I don’t actually like hiking. At least, not this kind of hiking, where the pain never seems to go away and you never seem able to enjoy your surroundings because you’re so focused on the trail.
I felt betrayed. Someone told me this was going to be fun. When does this start getting fun? Surely the fun bits weren’t just being in camp with friends or enjoying days off in town. The actual act of hiking had to be fun, too, right? Right!?
By the time I reached the road where Sparky was going to pick us up, I was done. I sat on a large rock to relieve the pressure on my feet and did my best to get my emotions and anger under control. It didn’t work. Ghosthiker appeared a little while later with a huge smile on her face. “Wow, Trooper, you were just flyin’ down that trail! I’m so proud of you!”
I burst into tears.
What I saw in Ghosthiker’s face was the joy and fulfillment of being on the trail that I should have been feeling, that I’d come out here on this crazy adventure to experience. I was young and strong and WANTED to be enjoying this, but I wasn’t. My feet were on fire. I relied on a trail family because I knew I’d screw something up or probably get myself killed if I hiked completely alone. Despite my best efforts, I was running out of money (or so it felt at the time – I was actually doing quite well, I’d just set an unrealistic budget for myself). Worst of all, I missed my dog.
I could articulate none of this, of course. I just sat there sobbing.
Poor Ghosthiker. I don’t think she quite knew what to do. At first, she thought maybe I’d taken a fall somewhere along the trail because my legs were so covered in dust, she couldn’t tell if I was injured or not. She sat patiently while I ugly cried for a few moments. Once I was able to formulate coherent words, everything I’d been feeling over the last several weeks came pouring out in a torrent. I confessed to her that I was just not enjoying any of this. Ever since I started hiking this trail it’s been an endless series of foot and leg pains and emotional struggles. I told her in the evenings when she and Sparky would talk about how easy or beautiful the trail had been, it would occur to me that I’d hardly noticed these things because my feet had been hurting so bad that I had to keep my eyes down on the ground the whole time. I told her there were many nights where I bid them a cheery goodnight and then crawled into my tent and silently cried myself to sleep. It was childish and humiliating, but I was already crying in front of her so I knew I had nothing to lose by being honest.
Ghosthiker is the complete opposite of me. She is strong and self-contained, not prone to emotional swings of any kind, and extremely consistent in her attitude. It’s one of the things I admire most about her. That, and her endless patience with me. I felt terrible for unloading on her like that because I could tell she wanted to help me but maybe wasn’t sure how.
I’d composed myself fairly well by the time Sparky arrived with the car.
“Can I give you ladies a lift somewhere?” He said, grinning.
Then I’m sure he saw my red, blotchy face, because he asked if everything was alright.
“Yep!” I said, probably with too much fake enthusiasm. He didn’t look convinced.
Ghosthiker came to my rescue and immediately started chatting about where we’d go for dinner and what our plans were for the night. She told Sparky she thought it’d be nice to get a room at the Silver Pine Lodge again. We ended up getting the exact same room we’d gotten on our first night sharing a hotel together, room number 4, where Sparky got his own bedroom again and Ghosthiker and I shared the one with two beds. She insisted we switch beds this time and she took the trundle, even though I assured her I found it quite comfy and didn’t mind sleeping there again. I knew she was trying to help. She’d been watching me carefully all evening, but I guess I couldn’t blame her. What a sorry, sad mess I was. Am. Not much has changed.
That evening we shared some whiskey and brandy and sat around talking quietly. I shared a little of what was going on with me with Sparky but didn’t go into much detail. Mainly I just expressed my frustration about my feet and, more recently, my knees. Sparky was a great help in this area. Having had knee surgery in the past, he was able to explain in medical terms the different areas of the knee to be mindful of and certain aches and pains to watch for, the best stretches to perform on a daily basis and which painkillers worked the best. He and Ghosthiker both assured me that the issues I was experiencing with my feet, in particular, were more than they’d ever dealt with, at least for so many miles, and that my frustration was understandable. It was very encouraging, yet again reminding me to be thankful for my trail family.
An emotional meltdown followed by lots of greasy food, hard liquor, and encouraging company made for an excellent nights’ sleep.