June 26, 2018
I was wide awake at 2:00am. I laid in my tent in the darkness, debating whether to try and go back to sleep or just get up. My body was telling me to get up, and I was further motivated by the knowledge that somewhere along the ridgeline there was really good cell service. This was important to me because I hadn’t had a signal since Mammoth Lakes and there’d be no cell service in N. Kennedy Meadows, and I needed to touch base with my family while I could. I was also just really needing to hear some familiar voices from home. I decided to start getting ready to hike and was already putting my pack on when I could hear Sparky stirring in his tent. I quietly told him I hadn’t been able to sleep, that I was going to start heading up the pass to get to the cell service, and that I’d wait for them there.
I can honestly say that the climb up to Sonora Pass was my favorite hiking day on the entire trail. I think getting out of my head with exercise and music the night before had really helped me shed some bad vibes and regain my sense of determination.
The climb was gentle at first as I hiked out of the trees and into the open terrain, then it began climbing steeply upwards and I could see all the switchbacks leading to the top of the first ridge. Every time I completed one I felt like a rockstar, passing landmarks like I was running a marathon. I felt emotionally and physically capable, still listening to music as I powered 5 miles up without breaking a sweat or my stride, and I felt like I could have hiked up 10 more miles with ease. This was what I’d been waiting to experience – strength. Strength without immense pain. The higher I got, the stronger and more capable I felt, and the more I was rewarded with vast stretches of mountains and valleys laid out before me. It was incredible.
When I reached the point where I had two bars of service, I spent almost an hour talking to my parents. Sparky and Ghosthiker eventually caught up to me, took about 10 minutes to rest, then hiked on. Sparky later said that he’d felt a little like they were eavesdropping and wanted to give me some privacy to talk to my folks.
When I finished talking with my parents, I ended the call and saw that I had a voicemail from Mammoth Hospital. Uh oh.
According to the lab results that had come in a few days after I left, not only was the bacterial infection alive and well, it was still growing. All that had been done with the various antibiotics I’d taken over the last few months was slow the growth and weaken the symptoms, but it hadn’t killed the bacteria itself. That’s why the infection kept coming back. The ER doctor highly recommended I get off the trail and see a specialist as soon as possible because the nature of this bacteria was beyond his level of expertise. It could potentially cause long-term damage to my kidneys, he said.
When the message finished playing, I just stood there staring at my phone for a few moments. I had an infectious disease. I’d had it the whole time I was hiking, possibly before. Just when I was starting to feel stronger than ever before and was more determined than ever to finish, now this. I felt frozen, unsure how to even react to this news.
I decided not to panic. Reno, NV wasn’t far and I had friends there. I knew they’d be more than happy to let me stay with them for a few days while I went to see a specialist, then I could get back on trail. It wouldn’t even take me a week!
When I caught up with Sparky and Ghosthiker close to the top of the pass, I explained to them what was up and that I planned to hitch into Bridgeport instead of N. Kennedy Meadows and from there to Reno, where I was sure to find a specialist. It was a simple plan, and I felt good about it. I could catch up to them.
Regardless of this new setback, the rest of the hike was just as awesome as the first bit had been, and I was feeling pretty good. If I could see a specialist and get this issue taken care of without having to travel all the way back to Indiana, I’d be back on the trail in no time and could start cranking out the miles. I was even willing to get back on in S. Lake Tahoe rather than Bridgeport and skip a few days of hiking. By that point, I just didn’t care anymore. Whatever helped me get to Canada.
On the other hand, if I had to fly to Indiana in order for my insurance to cover this new medical issue, I was pretty sure that would be the end of my hike. I couldn’t financially afford to fly back and forth from Chicago twice like that. I told Sparky and Ghosthiker as much. They were disappointed at the prospect that I might not finish with them but understood the necessity of me getting off. Even though I didn’t talk about it much, they knew I was sick and were concerned about the possibility of long-term internal damage.
When we reached Hwy 108 there was a whole crowd of hikers on the far side of the road trying to get a hitch to N. Kennedy Meadows, while I alone stood on the right side to hitch the other way. They all got a ride fairly quickly, and I waved goodbye to my trail family once again. It took about a half hour before someone finally stopped to offer me a ride: a really nice guy in a little red pickup truck with a handsome Blue Heeler in the back seat. This, of course, sparked a great conversation about all things dog-related as he drove me into town. When I offered to pay him for the ride, he refused, saying he was coming this way anyway and it was no trouble. I thanked him profusely, shouldered my pack, and hit the sidewalk.
I’d already ascertained that the Bridgeport Hotel was the cheapest place to stay in town even if it was almost $100 a night for a room with no air conditioning and shared bathrooms. No matter, I was happy to be heading toward somewhere with showers whether I had to share them or not. And I wouldn’t have to share my room with anyone. It would be the first time since my initial stay with Scott and Jennifer that I would be sleeping in my own, private room. How odd.
It was hot in Bridgeport that day. I was walking down the sidewalk toward the hotel in the bright sunshine feeling a little dazed and tired after hiking so hard and then suddenly being in a town. My thoughts turned to Couch Potato. He was probably already on a bus halfway to Reno. In a way, I felt a bit relieved. He’d seemed to forlorn the last few days on the trail. I hope he finds what he’s looking for back at home.
I reached the front stoop of the hotel, wondering if I’d find many hikers there when a familiar Canadian rounded the corner and ran right into me. Like, literally ran into me. I about fell backward from the impact. Luckily, no one was hurt. Couch Potato laughed, gave me a hug, and asked what had brought me to Bridgeport instead of N. Kennedy Meadows.
I briefly explained in very little detail about my health situation and that I’d be catching the bus to Reno in the morning. He said that was a shame, he hadn’t even known anything was wrong and hoped they’d be able to sort it out in Reno. He seemed happy, now that he was off the PCT and getting ready to head home. Good.
After I paid for my room and dropped my stuff off, I grabbed all my filthy things and headed for the nearby laundromat. I hadn’t done any laundry since Mammoth Lakes and it was the first time I had to wear my rain gear while my clothes went through the washer and dryer. It was so hot outside I was sweating every time I went out, so I basically just hung around the laundromat on my phone trying to catch up on social media and posting photos and updates so people knew where I was.
After I’d done my laundry and had a good, long shower, I walked across the street to a restaurant called Rhinos, where I had an enormous salad, an order of fries, and two large Long Island Iced Teas. That last part was probably a mistake as I don’t drink very often, but I was just feeling really good and the hotel was right across the street, and I didn’t have to hike tomorrow, so why not? While I was sitting there, Wagon Wheel started playing over the radio and I couldn’t help but smile, remembering the time a few months back when M.C. Camel, Satyr, and I played and sang this song in that garage at Hikertown. It seemed like a lifetime ago. I wondered whatever happened to Camel. He was probably already in Washington by now, if not totally done.
After I paid my bill, I went back to the hotel and lay on my bed, leaving the door and window both open to get a little nighttime breeze flowing through the stuffy room. Most of the rooms in that corridor were full of hikers and I enjoyed listening to the familiar sounds of them as I lay reading a little more of Sunrises to Santiago. Eventually, I started drifting off to sleep, so I got up to close the door, turned out the lights, and fell asleep in a huge, cushy bed to the gentle sounds of a small town at night and the muffled activity of other hikers in the adjacent rooms.