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Thursday, July 5, 2018

PCT - Day 69: 7/4/2018 - tough decision and true friends

Trail miles: 9.1 from 1126.9 - 1136.0
Miles walked: 16.5 (side trail & Reno bonus miles)

My ankle was in intense pain all night long. I barely slept at all and that’s after a Vicodin and an Advil PM. I decided at 5:00 am that enough was enough. I was getting off trail. My ankle was becoming a liability, and honestly hiking day after day in progressively worsening pain was not fun.

I ate a few handfuls of granola and a Snickers bar while watching the sunrise. I cried numerous times today, but the tears that came with my final PCT sunrise were the most intense. My dream of completing this 2650 mile journey was coming to an end before I even reached the halfway point. My tears were not just from the broken dream. They were also for the great friends I would be saying goodbye to, and some that I would never get the opportunity to say goodbye to. My tears were also for the uncertain life circumstances that awaited me back in Colorado. But mostly my tears were for the love that I’d be missing; love that I felt daily from my trail family, trail angels, and the trail itself.

I limped away from my final PCT campsite around 5:50 am. Ten minutes into my morning, I walked past where Opera and Tapeworm had camped the previous night. Apparently I had stopped .2 miles short of them last night.

It was obvious to them that I was in a great deal of pain as I hobbled toward them. I told them I was going to get off trail because of my ankle problems. Tapeworm gave me a hug and I choked back some tears. Opera then gave me a hug and I couldn’t stop my tears when I saw that she had tears in her eyes too. I wished them well and walked away slowly while sobbing to myself and hiding behind my sunglasses.

An hour later Opera and Tapeworm caught up to me. I had only covered about a mile in that first hour. I moved over to let them pass and they told me they were going to hike with me to make sure I made it out safely. Love filled my heart from this gesture, but I still felt guilty since they were having to slow down significantly to hike with me.

We hiked up to a ridge that would ultimately lead to the Alpine Meadows Ski Area. We walked through beautiful fields of purple, blue, and yellow wildflowers. During our morning, we reminisced about good times we shared in the desert. Recalling these great memories was enjoyable yet it hurt too; since I knew I would no longer be out here creating those memories. I walked in front of the three of us sometimes laughing, sometimes crying silently. All the while they retold stories from earlier in our adventure.

We finally reached a creek where we refilled water. Opera asked a day hiker where the nearest trailhead was and learned there was a trailhead on Alpine Meadows Road about four miles away. I decided I would exit the PCT here.

We ate lunch while I soaked my swollen ankle in the cold creek. Tapeworm asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I handed him the picture of Jack that I’d been carrying and asked that he take the photo north, so Jack’s adventure could continue. He agreed and slipped the picture into a Ziploc bag and tucked it into his pack. This means the world to me as well as my brother’s family back in Massachusetts.

After lunch we hiked .1 mile to the Five Lakes Trail junction. Here I would head east to Alpine Meadows Road and they would continue north towards Canada. Tapeworm stopped and took his pack off and pulled out the remainder of a bottle of whiskey. The three of us stood there in the afternoon sun passing a Coke bottle full of Evan Williams whiskey back and forth until it was all gone.

We then hugged again and this time I lost it. Tapeworm and Opera both in turn each said “I love you.”

I was choked up by this and could only get my failing voice to mumble an “I love you too.”

I turned and started walking away with tears filling my eyes. I looked back only once, just in time to see them as they hiked out of sight.

I hiked down that side trail lost in thought. Eventually I made it to Alpine Meadows Road and quickly got a hitch to highway 89. After another 20 minutes in the sun, I was picked up again and given a ride to I-80 in Truckee. I attempted to hitch to Reno for about 45 minutes before I finally just said “Fuck it” and paid another $88 for an Uber to Reno.

I checked into my free room at Harrahs, showered, did some laundry in the sink, and put on wet boxers and shorts. I then hobbled 1.5 miles to a Walgreens and back to buy a bag of jalapeƱo potato chips, some Mt Dew, and deodorant; which I assume the passengers on my flight home will appreciate on Friday.

I then made the mistake of eating at a sushi restaurant in the casino. The sushi sucked. It made day old gas station sushi seem like a good idea. Disappointed and still depressed about leaving trail, I stopped at a blackjack table on my slow walk back to my room. I turned a $100 into $300 in ten minutes, so I cashed out and decided to go put my glorious king size bed to good use. Hopefully my ankle would allow sleep tonight.

I’m planning on visiting my orthopedic surgeon next week. If there’s some miracle he can perform, I might be back. I do feel like that’s unlikely though. Either way, I truly enjoyed my 1100 miles or so and have memories that will last a lifetime. I also created connections to people that may necessitate new travel adventures all over the planet to keep in touch.

Thanks to all of my blog readers, all the amazing trail angels, anyone who ever gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking, Siona for tirelessly helping with my resupply, my Dad for putting these blog posts together, and the wonderful people I work with for allowing me to embark on this crazy adventure in the first place.

The biggest thanks however goes to all the other PCT hikers. Each and every one of you shared your beautiful soul with me for hours, days, weeks, or months. Your smiles, our shared laughter, and our genuine love created a bond that made this adventure what it was. I love you all! I will never forget you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

PCT - Day 68: 7/3/2018 - Susie & a Bag of Dicks

Trail miles: 25.3 from 1101.6 - 1126.9
Miles walked: 25.6

It was a hot night last night next to Susie, and as a result I didn’t sleep well. Susie is a lake by the way. I finally crawled out of my tent at 5:00 am. Two falcons dive-bombed me as I hunted for a private place to go to the bathroom. They buzzed my head a few times and were very vocal that my presence was not welcome. I assume this is for one of two reasons.  Either, I was unknowingly walking near their nest. Or it could be, that they being falcons, are still bitter about blowing a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. These birds must have seen my Boston Red Sox hat and just assumed I was also a New England Patriots fan.

I was on the trail at 6:00 am, walking away and stealing a last look at Susie from above, but now my focus was on Dicks. Dicks is the name of a Pass and a lake, but it’s spelled Dicks, not Dick’s. This led me to wonder why this lake is named after dicks. It’s not shaped like a dick. I mean, Guitar Lake was shaped like a guitar, so I thought maybe Dicks Lake would be shaped like a bunch of dicks, or at least more than one dick since the name is the plural Dicks. Instead the lake is sort of shaped like a bag of dicks, but it’s not named “Bag of Dicks Lake”, just Dicks Lake. I met several southbound TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) hikers walking away from Dicks and I would ask “Did you just come from Dicks?” I got a lot of weird looks for asking this question for some reason. Also, nobody could tell me why it wasn’t named “Bag of Dicks Lake”. Oh well, it’s a mystery.

Thankfully the PCT skirted Dicks. It instead brought me right along the edge of a spectacular lake named Fontanillis. I don’t know what that word is, but I assume it’s related to dicks. After all, in a few miles I also walked along Blackwood Creek. Blackwood is certainly related to dicks.

My ankle was really tender and painful all day. I had taken a Voltaren to start my day, and by 11:00 am, I needed to swallow a Vicodin just to be able to walk. I again ran the gauntlet of thoughts and emotions about possibly getting off trail due to my piece of shit ankle.

I was still making decent time though, and around 1:00 pm, I stopped a couple miles into the Desolation Wilderness to eat lunch. I had already covered nearly 17 miles. I elevated my ankle and foot like I do on all my breaks, and tried to nap, but my brain wanted to continue to hike. I wanted to try and knock out 25 or maybe 30 miles.

Around mile 21, I knew I would not be doing 30. My ankle was screaming in pain. The pain only subsided briefly while I was chatting with a cute French woman from Paris who was hiking a section of the TRT. Another mystery from today is why do I get so worked up over girls with foreign accents? I know I’m not the only one this applies to either.

After I slogged a few more miles, I found a solo campsite overlooking Lake Tahoe in the distance. I was trying to catch up to Opera and Tapeworm but this view was too good to pass up, and my ankle desperately needed rest.

I am going to try to do another 25 miles tomorrow in hopes of closing the gap between myself and Chilly Bin and Peanut Butter. If I wake up and my ankle is worse than today, I may have to make a tough decision on whether or not to continue and hike in severe pain all the time, or get off trail and let my dream of thru hiking the PCT die. That’s a decision I’ll delay for yet another day, like I have been doing for a few hundred miles now.

PCT - Day 67: 7/2/2018 - Back on the Trail

Trail miles: 9.3 from 1092.3 - 1101.6
Miles walked: 9.8

I returned to the PCT today after spending eight days traveling and hanging out with my family in New England. I was hopeful that my unexpected time off trail would have at least served as good rest for my ailing right ankle.

Yesterday I left my brother’s place in Fitchburg, MA around 3:15 pm ET. After a 75 minute drive to Boston, two flights, and an $88 Uber ride, I was curling up in a king size bed in a room at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe around 1:30am PT.

Of course, I woke up around 6:00 am. After reading a bit, I showered and then checked out of my room. It was hard to leave the luxurious accommodations especially since my room was complimentary. I still get free rooms sometimes in Caesar’s owned casinos thanks to my reputation from my poker playing days.

Around 8:30 am, I was sitting in front of the office at the hostel awaiting the 9:00 am opening so I could get my resupply packages and stuff I had left there a week prior.

While I was sitting there, Tapeworm and Opera walked downstairs. We hadn’t seen each other since Crabtree Meadows on June 4th. It was really great seeing my friends again and we shared a hug. Tapeworm informed me that I had missed Chilly Bin and Peanut Butter by no more than 30 minutes. This saddened me slightly since I was really looking forward to seeing them.  Opera and Tapeworm hung out while I opened all my packages, which included a much needed new pair of shoes. Yay!

Tapeworm & Opera

After buying some fuel, eating, and shipping home my bounce box, we took an Uber to Echo Lake where we would pick up the PCT again.

Echo Lake was mobbed with day hikers which added to my less than awesome feeling. I was struggling getting motivated and after an average $8 milkshake, I was really ready for a nap. Instead of a nap though, we began our hike at 2:30 pm in the hottest part of the day. Almost immediately I was sweating like a whore in church.

Echo Lake
Within an hour I realized the eight days of rest did nothing for my ankle. It hurt as much as ever and felt unstable and weak to boot. I have self diagnosed my ankle problem as an anterior ankle impingement. I don’t believe there’s much that can be done.

By the time we reached Lake Aloha, I was considering where I would be ending my hike since I think my ankle will continue to get worse with each day. This was one of a handful of reasons I was in a somber mood while taking in the views of this spectacular lake.

Another reason for my somber mood was because I kept thinking about Jack. I now carry a picture of Jack in my backpack, which I took out at Lake Aloha so Jack could share the view. I kept wondering if Jack knew how much he is missed by his friends and family.

I limped across the imaginary line at mile 1100 and stopped shortly after to get water.

Mile 1100

 While putting my water treatment bag away, a guy walked up who looked really familiar. It took me a second but my mouth dropped with surprise when I realized it was Paint Peeler! I hadn’t seen him since the town of Julian around mile 80 back on day five of my hike. Over a 1000 miles later there we were, talking and walking together like we’d been hiking together the whole time. This was really strange since earlier in the day, I had crossed paths with Surgeon and Mouse while buying fuel. I hadn’t seen them since Idyllwild. I learned that Paint Peeler had also been battling ankle problems in addition to a broken toe. His perseverance motivated me to continue rather than bailing on my hike even if it meant hiking with constant ankle pain. Paint Peeler stopped for the night around Heather Lake. I pushed onto Susie Lake where Opera and Tapeworm were waiting.

We ate dinner and shared laughs like old times. A little bottle of whiskey even made the way around our triangle. It was so heartwarming to be sitting in the dirt and eating with my friends again.

After dinner, Tapeworm and Opera were busy rigging a bear bag hang as I took a short stroll and watched the final alpenglow fade on the mountains in the distance. I thought again of my nephew Jack. I thought of a few people that I wished I could share this moment with. Instead, I stood alone on the rocky hillside watching the last of the light fade to black. Then suddenly, that moment of my life was gone... shared with no one.

Tomorrow may bring another moment similar to this, but then again, maybe not. Every single moment is precious.   If everyone treated these moments as THE potential last moment, just imagine the powerful love we’d all share.