June 10, 2018
So cold. So very, very cold. One our way down the mountain we were walking gingerly to avoid slipping on the ice-covered rocks and roots. At one point, I put my foot down on a large, steep rock and just as I was thinking, “This is probably slippery-” my foot flew out from under me and I went down. My tailbone hit the angled edge of the rock with a jarring crack and the pain that lanced up my spine was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. At least one obscenity came flying out of my mouth and all I could do was roll over in pain.
Sparky and Ghosthiker jumped into action. They helped me stand, Ghosthiker got my pack off, and Sparky carefully felt the vertebrae of my back, asking me if I had any pain in certain places and basically making sure I hadn’t damaged my spine, which it seemed I hadn’t (but it sure as hell felt like I did!). Once Sparky was satisfied that I hadn’t broken anything, we rested for a bit, then I shouldered my pack and insisted we hike on.
Every step was painful. There was no way to hike that didn’t jar my tailbone in some way and wherever I didn’t need to hike with my trekking poles I used them to support my pack so it wouldn’t touch my throbbing tailbone. At one point there was an enormous log blocking the trail and there was no way around. We had to climb over it. I had to sit down and swing my legs over very, very slowly. It was excruciating and I actually started crying. Poor Gently Used was right behind me and looked very concerned, but he didn’t say anything. I need to go to a hospital as soon as possible now, not just for my internal issues but to make sure my tailbone is really okay.
With this new injury and my flaring UTI symptoms, I was in sad, sad shape that day. We had to cross many raging rivers including Bear Creek, renowned for being the most dangerous river crossing on the PCT. There were many hikers ahead and behind, so lots of support on either side of the river. It was one of the scarier river crossings but I was tall enough that it didn’t pose as much trouble for me as it did for some others.
Ghosthiker struggled a bit, though. I could tell she was nervous as soon as she stepped in the water so I jumped back in on the far side somewhat downstream from here and was ready to catch her if she happened to lose her balance. I don’t know that I’d have been able to do much good being in so much pain, but I was poised and ready to jump in if she fell, with my Garmin attached to my sports bra so someone could find us later if need be. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary. She made it across just fine, if a little shaken. It was definitely a scary river to cross. We waited around for the next hikers so we could direct and help them if need be. Gently Used and Breaker were next up and we made sure they got across safely before hiking on.
Luckily for me, someone left a note on Guthooks about having found good cell phone service at a random water source near VVR, so I hustled to that spot and, lo and behold, three bars of service! I called my insurance company right away only to discover that I had until the 30th to renew my insurance – plenty of time to get to Mammoth Lakes and see a doctor. Since Sparky and Ghosthiker were taking a long break, I decided to call home and see how everyone was doing.
With the stress of my health insurance lifted, I had a little snack and hiked on feeling better about the world, but the trail was still rough going. I felt like I was hiking in a daze as we made our way down a steep, rocky descent. It was surprisingly hot and my feet were burning up, and when I came to a small river crossing I didn’t bother taking off my shoes but walked right through the chilly water just to cool my feet off. My tailbone and connecting leg muscles (whatever they’re called – I’m not a doctor) were in so much pain.
Finally we reached the shore of Edison Lake, where we waited for the ferry that would take us to VVR. The ferry was actually a small motorboat with room for about 5-6 hikers and their packs, and there were enough hikers there to fill two boats so we waited for the next one. It was a long wait, at least an hour or more. In the interim I called my mom and chatted with her for a while, explaining my hopes of somehow catching an early ride to Mammoth Lakes. I no longer cared about the miles I would miss. I’d rather skip a few miles than risk not finishing at all.
When the ferry returned to pick up more hikers, it was Sparky, Ghosthiker, Breaker, Deva Steve, and me who got on board. I sat very carefully in the boat. Over the course of the day I learned that if I sat leaning forward, putting most of the pressure of sitting on my thighs instead of my tailbone, it hurt a lot less. Leaning back was incredibly painful, which meant that every time I stopped to rest I couldn’t really relax very well.
I’ll admit I could see the appeal of the Vermillion Valley Resort to some desperate thru-hikers, but I myself was not overly impressed. Other thru-hiker who’d gone before me hadn’t been wrong. VVR was an expensive place to stay for sure. The camping was free for hikers, which I thought was really cool of them, but everything else was kind of pricey. Oh well.
At the resort itself, showers were $7 for 7 minutes, the cheapest item on the menu at the restaurant was $19.00, and everything in the resupply store was not only pricey but mostly outdated. I completely understand that the owners of VVR are running a business and that getting supplies up to the resort can be expensive, but selling expired food items to starving hikers is not okay. We discovered later that Ghosthiker purchased an expired orange juice that made her sick for days afterwards. Nobody can afford that on a thru-hike.
As I mentioned, I asked the cashier at the store if any shuttles were going to Fresno, and she told me there was one leaving tomorrow and the cost was $210! I didn’t care if my shock showed on my face. That was too much. She said two other girls were thinking of catching the shuttle as well because they were sisters and one had the flu, and if all three of us went it would reduce my cost down to about $90. That still seemed like a lot to me.
Then she explained that to get to Mammoth Lakes I would need to arrange for public transit or a taxi in Fresno to take me back over the mountains (back the way I’d come, essentially) to Mammoth Lakes. Who knew how long that would take! But my situation felt a little desperate.
While considering my options and perusing the store for much-needed resupply items, I overheard the store owner talking with the cashier who must have been his wife. He was talking about the ride to Fresno that he’d be taking the next day to get supplies and that he hoped those two girls decided to go because he could use the money, and if there was a third he could easily make room if he moved some stuff around and only took one dog. I couldn’t believe my ears! Here I was among 20+ exhausted, hungry, and even some sick hikers, and this guy was charging $90 a person to take them to a city he was already going to! And those other two girls had the flu! I was so unimpressed that I decided I’d rather tough it out and pray a lot than pay that much for basically a hitch to town crammed in a backseat with a dog of unknown size/cleanliness, in a car that was already going that way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If I were running a campground 6.5 hrs away from the nearest city, with only one bumpy dirt access road and no cell service whatsoever, I would charge more for the amenities, too. But I wasn’t running VVR. I was a hiker on a budget, one that was incredibly hard to stick to during my stay there.
I decided to forego a shower, Wifi, and laundry services. I took a sponge bath, rinsed my laundry in the sink, and bought only what resupply items I absolutely needed to get me to Mammoth Lakes. We did get to camp for free, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I ordered the chicken off the dinner menu. It was pretty good.
At any rate, that evening Sparky and Ghosthiker went to bed early and I stayed up to spend some time with a big group of hikers sitting around a bonfire drinking beer, which was nice. I didn’t know any of them, but they shared their Stella Artios with me and it was nice to just sit and listen to them talk and laugh together.
When I went back to my tent, I was more than ready for bed. I did my usual tent-entrance which consisted of unzipping my tent, crawling halfway in, and then turning and landing inside on my bum so I could then pull my legs in and zip up the mesh quickly before any bugs got in. By this point in the hike, the maneuver was so familiar that I did it without even thinking. The moment my bum hit the tent floor, pain lanced up my lower back through my tailbone and I had to stifle a scream. I immediately planted my hands and lifted my butt off the ground, hovering there for a few moments waiting for the pain to subside. I grit my teeth and let a few tears slide out, then eventually I sat back down leaning well forward and set to work inflating my sleeping pad. Even the act of laying down on the inflated pad was painful.
Determined to get an oblivion-induced sleep, I took a glucosamine-chondroitin PM and a Tylenol PM, put in my earplugs, and was out like a light in no time. I needed a solid nights’ sleep uninterrupted by pain and UTI symptoms, and I knew being around so many snoring hikers was not going to help. My tailbone ached. It was going to be a rough journey to Mammoth Lakes, for sure.