March 12, 2021
Our room was so dry last night; even dryer than the desert, I think. At least dryer than the inside of my tent at night. My sinuses have been very plugged up on this hike and I’ve had to breathe through my mouth at night (gross). My mouth gets dry, sure, but last night I woke up at what felt like every hour with my throat and mouth so dried out I couldn’t even swallow!
Despite our best efforts, we did not sleep in this morning. We were both up and about by 5:00am. Got breakfast downstairs, weak coffee, did our laundry, and it’s only 8:00am!
We’re getting new fuel canisters today, so I decided to use what’s left in mine to boil water and put a little humidity into our hotel room. We also filled a trash can with water and put it in the corner. Hopefully it helps. Once the chores were done, we got an Uber to the nearest REI.
Now, I have to start by saying I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to share this story. I don’t like to rock the boat or bring up current issues in this blog because it’s about my personal hiking experiences, not a platform to preach. However, this was part of my hiking experience, so I’m going to share it.
As a long-distance hiker, I’ve been a long-time member of REI. I love shopping at REI. They’re my people! I have learned so much from their staff over the years and always find great deals on things I need.
Well, during our visit to the REI in Tucson I was harassed by not one, but three different employees. The mask mandate in Arizona was lifted a few months ago, I believe, but either way it’s not in place anymore. Regardless, if a business is requiring us to wear a mask, we do. It’s not hard. I’m not going to get into the whole Maskers/Anti-Maskers argument here. Being that Tucson is a big city, we fully expected to be asked to mask up and so we did without question or complaint.
Here’s where it gets tricky. I have mild claustrophobia, moderate social anxiety, and sometimes suffer from extreme headaches after wearing a mask for too long (and no, this isn’t something that I’ve managed to “get used to” or that had gone away over time. It’s a thing and I’ve dealt with it the best I can since the shutdowns started). Sometimes, like when I’ve been struggling to breath in the dry desert air and I already have a migraine, I pinch the front of the mask and hold it just an inch or so away from my face so that it’s still doing its job, but also letting me breathe more freely. I also try to make sure and keep my distance from other people, to be considerate.
Well, apparently this was not okay at the Tucson REI. Their employees must deal with a lot of people refusing to mask up and were just done, apparently, because I was told repeatedly to seal the mask over my nose and mouth or I would have to leave.
I tried to explain my situation to one of the employees who approached me, and the look on her face was so cold it was kind of shocking. Absolutely zero shits given, like she thought I was lying or something. Usually, customer service people are fine as long as the mask is within an inch of my face, which it was. But whatever; I put it back in place and continued shopping, trying to be quick because I could already feel myself starting to get twitchy and panicky (ah, the joys of claustrophobia. Getting an MRI is a real treat, lemme tell ya!).
When I got into a section of the store where there was literally no one anywhere near me, I pulled the mask away just enough to take a deep breath because I was seriously starting to feel my heart race. Almost immediately, an employee popped up out of nowhere and started berating me, telling me I needed to “put that mask back on or leave the store immediately”. I didn’t even take it off! He startled me so bad I literally jumped and nearly peed myself. I immediately put my mask back in place, rushed through the checkout process, and walked outside almost hyperventilating, having only purchased half of the things I needed.
It was not a great experience.
My mom chose that moment to call me and ended up helping me through my panic attack (before it got bad), thankfully. By the time Ghosthiker came outside, I had already calmed down enough to explain to her what had happened and why I left the store without saying anything to her. She encouraged me to call corporate and file a harassment complaint – I thought “harassment” was kind of a strong word but maybe that’s why I was so easily upset? Maybe I’m just a pushover? I don’t know. All I wanted at that point was to leave.
You know what’s a great cure for anxiety? Cheesecake.
You know what was just a short walk away? The Cheesecake Factory.
After that, we hitched another Uber to Walmart, where I found the rest of the things I needed to complete my resupply, and we got a ride back to the hotel. We lounged in the outdoor hot tub until we were good and wrinkly, ate dinner, and went to bed before the sun went down.
I never did end up filing a complaint with REI. It was just that one store, not the whole co-op, and these are difficult and stressful times. I mean, really, I should have just taken responsibility for my own health issues and left the store. I don’t normally have issues wearing a mask, but sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s physically hard for me. They could have been a little nicer or understanding about it, but it’s whatever.
Tomorrow we’re back on the trail, where the air is clean and masks don’t matter.