“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”
― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
I have been reticent to start this post as I don’t have the usual pictures and stories associated with my PCT prep to provide. You see, I am being plagued by an arrestingly uncooperative knee. I mentioned in a prior post that my right knee was causing trouble and I saw a sports doctor to get to the bottom of it. He said to do a lot of hamstring stretching, icing, etc. Well, doing that seemed to make the knee worse. I had to back off on cycling and hiking in hopes that things would eventually get better.
I decided to do a road trip to San Diego and visit friends and family for the holidays. While there, I did a little very light bike riding. One morning when I was getting dressed, my right knee popped and buckled beneath me, my left leg went into action, preventing me from hitting the ground. After that, I was on crutches for a couple of days (my friend happened to have a spare pair). Now, I know I should see the doctor again as I probably tore something important down there but, since I’m unemployed and no one will provide me with health insurance due to pre-existing conditions, I can’t really afford to go. After all, the doc already did x-rays so the next step will likely be an MRI at somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500. The only productive thing I can expect from the MRI is that I will need some kind of surgery at a price tag that is beyond my meager retirement savings. So, what am I to do?
I signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, in Texas, as that is my legal residence now. I found the best option for me to be a Silver level PPO, multistate plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Due to my low income this year, I qualified for government assistance with my payments. My monthly will be about $180 with $1500 deductible and $1500 max out of pocket. Not bad! Only problem is, it doesn’t start until Feb 1. What do I do until then? The closest doctor I could find in NM that is in my network is in Albuquerque, which is about 2.5 hours drive from here. I’ll be giving him a call tomorrow to see if he can suggest what to do before my insurance kicks in.
Since my knee popped, my anxiety has been directed at the prospect of not being healed before the PCT hike, mid April. I don’t mind being out of shape, but I can’t be injured, or still healing from a possible surgery. I shouldn’t stress over it until I hear bad news from the doctor as I may not need surgery after all. Maybe all I’ll need is a good dose of physical therapy to stimulate healing in my knee. Either way, if I’m not ready for the hike in mid to late April, there is another option. I can go southbound on the trail rather than the more popular northbound direction. Southbounders leave after the Washington snows melt down to a reasonable depth, which turns out to be sometime mid-June. That would give me a couple of extra months to heal if needed. There are reasons why going north is preferred by 90% of PCT through-hikers. Here’s some that I copied from a blog by a through hiker named Francis Tapon:
- Starts in deep snow which covers a few hundred miles in Washington (our snow didn’t let up until we got south of the Goat Rocks, halfway down the state).
- Have to climb up snowy north faces and climb down dry south faces; Nobos do the opposite, which is easier.
- Must navigate extremely well because there are no footprints or tree markings to follow (like the Sierra has in June).
- Face extreme isolation (we didn’t see anyone hiking our direction until we got to the middle of Oregon—and they were just out for the weekend).
- Need to read the guidebook backwards since it’s written from Nobos; it’s easy to make errors when “left” means “right” and “ascend” means “descend.”
- Have less daylight than Nobos, who enjoy the summer solstice in the middle of their journey; Sobos start around June 21 and lose daylight immediately.
- Must rush to get out of the Sierras by the first week of October or risk snowstorms.
- Encounter the California desert in the fall, when the water availability is at its lowest point of the year and caches are not reliable.
Also the hiking window is about 4.5 months, where the northbound window is about 6 months, which means hiking more miles per day and taking fewer zero days. Some good news for southbounders is that there are significantly fewer bugs, cooler travel in dessert sections with few snakes, much less rain, and prime time in the Sierras with low river levels. I can prepare for both hikes and decide at the last minute if I need to go southbound. At least there’s more hope that I’ll have enough time to heal and can still do the hike.
For now, I’m still doing some walking (50 minutes today) and will start riding my bike again tomorrow. I started stretching again today. I will increase the distances as my knee allows. The icing and NSAIDS continue as before. I swear the equipment list will be in the next post. Happy Days,