June 4, 2018
Bullfrog Lake Trail – 802.7
The next day was rough, to say the least. When I’d read about people who successfully hiked the entire PCT and had issues along the way, never once did they consider getting off trail of their own volition. It was always an illness or an injury or some other traumatic something that took them off trail, and then half the time they got back on and finished.
I was in pain, and not a pain that was normal to hikers or that I could really talk about to anyone. I had some OTC medication to numb the UTI symptoms, but in order to make it last to our next town stop, I was only taking half doses. Thank God for that, at least.
Thankfully, it was easy to be distracted. That day we hiked up and over Glenn Pass and back down toward Rae Lakes, which were absolutely stunning. The water was so clear we could see all the little rainbow trout beneath the surface. Each lake had a small outlet that fed into the next lake down the mountain.
Everywhere I looked I was met with breathtaking views, even when we were down below the treeline. I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did, and the fact that I wasn’t able to just served to make me more miserable. I was sick and, I would later learn, not eating enough, but these things didn’t occur to me at the time. It was a weird psychosomatic thing. I felt guilty because I wasn’t enjoying my hike as much as I wanted to, as much as I felt like I should be able to.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the physical challenge. I reveled in it. The further I hiked, the stronger and more capable I felt. My feet were doing much better now that we were out of the scorching heat of Southern California and I was either keeping pace with or pulling ahead of my trail family most of the time.
It was stress. It was the uncertainty of hiking up and down steep snowpack and worrying about it falling apart under my feet and sending me tumbling down the mountain, or of the likelihood that post-holing (which we did a lot of) might result in a twisted or broken ankle. We’d gone up into the Sierra when there were still many, many feet of snow on the ground, which made the journey both more stressful and more beautiful, though that’s just my opinion. Now that I’ve done it, I’d like to hike the Sierra section again in the summertime so I can see it in an entirely different way.
Even after a few lovely days in Bishop, I felt physically and emotionally drained already, and my financial situation was giving me no end of stress. At the end of the day, my knees were throbbing and cramping up all night long as I lay in my tent trying to sleep. Was that normal? Would my knees ever fully recover after more than a week of this intense climbing and descending on ice and snow? I told myself it would get better once we were in Oregon and then realized that I’d said the same thing about getting to the Sierra Nevada. Would it ever really get better? Would I ever really get to a point where I was enjoying the trail all the time like Dixie seemed to have done in her YouTube videos, or like Ghosthiker seemed to be doing all the time? What was wrong with me? Was it normal to crawl into my tent feeling miserable and wanting desperately to just go home, and then wake up in the morning ready to hike out and see what the day would bring? Was that really how thru-hiking worked?
I know now that a lot of the physical issues I was dealing with were being exacerbated by illness. Part of my body was fighting a much larger infection that I was entirely unaware of, or maybe just in denial of, and so the rest of my body was struggling to keep up with the healing process necessary for hiking. If I’d fully known what was going on at the time, I might have handled it more wisely than I did.
We had to cross a lot of rushing rivers that day, including one that had a very cool and somewhat scary suspension bridge over it. Shortly after that, we passed the 800-mile mark. There was no marker made in stones like there are in the desert, but that was okay. At the last river crossing of the day Sparky hurt his foot pretty badly. He said he’d wait until morning and see how it felt, and if he needed to he would take the detour up Sawmill Pass and get off trail to see a doctor. I privately decided that I’d go with him if he did. I hadn’t told them my UTI symptoms had returned or that I wasn’t seeming to be able to digest my food very well. No sense in worrying them unnecessarily.
Our plans for each day were pretty consistent. We would camp as close to the next pass as possible and then rise early and climb up and over before the sun had a chance to melt the snow on the other side. Sometimes we made it down the far side without post-holing, but usually not. Usually we would make it about halfway before the snow started to cave under our weight, and then it was a long, slushy slog to dry trail. Once we’d conquered a pass we would hike as many miles as we could and get as close to the next pass as possible, make camp, and do it all over again in the morning.
Sometimes the passes were really close together, but rather than summit two passes on the same day, we’d take it easy and hike a short day instead. Other times the passes were too far apart, which meant we either hiked big miles or had a day in between where we didn’t go over any passes at all. We tried to play it by ear and listen to our bodies’ needs. They tell you not to expect to make the same big miles in the Sierra as you might have been able to do in the desert, so we correctly estimated that our average would be somewhere around 12 miles a day, taking into account that some of us would randomly have off-days (be slower than the others) but that we would essentially be sticking together. That first day after returning to the trail, we hiked 14.5 miles total over Glenn Pass and then hiked as close to Pinchot Pass as possible. By the time we set up camp we were all exhausted, hungry, and experiencing a whole new set of aches and pains. It was definitely an early night for all of us.