An Explanation for going silent

To all my followers, my apologies for the lack of posts.  I can explain…

I typically start my day getting up around 4:30 am and making breakfast while still in my sleeping bag.  It’s really tough to get out of the bag as it is usually very close to freezing temperatures.  After eating, I will floss, brush my teeth, take my pills and start packing up, which often takes over an hour to an hour and a half.  I take 800 mg of Ibuprofen to cover the first 4 hours of pain.  When I first step out of the tent, I can barely walk.  My knees don’t work and my feet feel like balloons.  I pack up my tent, go dig a cat hole for the morning constitution and start hiking.  It’s usually around 6:30 am when I start.

My first hour is the best hiking of the day, even though it’s now in the dark.  My feet have very little pain and are only numb.  My right knee sometimes gives me trouble and causes a limp, but it’s better than the foot pain.  After about 2 hours, I need to stop for about 10 minutes because of either foot pain or hip/shoulder pain from the pack.   Every hour after that requires 5-10 minutes rest due to foot pain.  Every 4 hours, I take another 800 mg of Ibuprofen.  If I forget, the pain in my feet gets so bad, I can’t walk anymore, so I stop and take the pills.  By about noon, I feel like the pain is so harsh that I won’t be able to continue, but I do.  I just keep grinding away, counting the hours until about 6:30 – 7 pm, where I can no longer take it and all I want to do is get in my tent and off my feet.  It’s dark at that time and very difficult to find the camping site with a head lamp.

I set up my tent, throw my whole pack inside, and I dive in.  I explode my pack all over the inside of the tent, get my dinner from the food bag and start cooking in the tent.  All it takes is boiling 2 cups of water to add to the dehydrated meal.  I often have either a pouch of tuna, beef jerky or something else to eat while the water is heating up.  I put the water in the freezer bag of dehydrated food, seal it and put it in a homemade cozy to keep it hot while it is cooking.  While waiting, I setup my air mattress, unpack my sleeping bag, change into my night clothes (long underwear) and get in the bag.  I loosely stuff most stuff, including the food bag, into my backpack and use it to elevate my back and head.  I also stuff my down jacket into a stuff sack and use it as a pillow.  On really cold nights, I had to wear the down jacket, but that was rare.  Next I turn on my Kindle Fire pad and started one of the downloaded HBO programs like “Boardwalk Empire” and watch it while eating my dinner.  After that I either go to sleep or listen to a podcast while falling asleep.  That is my typical night pattern and I really liked it.

Anyone who has followed this blog for the last couple of months knows that  I have a major issue with my feet that I have not been able to resolve.  I finally made the decision, after hiking downhill for 5 hours on rocks, to end my hike.  My feet hurt so much that I can’t get in the 20 miles/day that I need to do as a minimum.  My right knee also is a secondary source of pain that prevents me from moving quickly.  I am basically walking stiff legged on my heals and the sides of my feet, avoiding any pressure on the balls of my feet and preventing any weight on my knees when bent.  Since most days include steep climbs and descents, it can be very tough walking in this manner.  Enough is enough.  I am mentally and with the exception of my feet, physically ready and willing to continue, but I just can’t take the pain anymore.  It’s not getting any better over time, but rather it’s getting worse.  I worry about doing permanent damage.  Also, I worry about all the high doses of Ibuprofen that I have taken over the last couple months.

When I had my accident in June, I was pretty certain that I would not be able to get the whole trail done before the end of the year, but I never knew my feet would be the reason to end it.  Upon reflection, I can see that there are really several good practical reasons to stop now. 

1.  The snow is getting worse.  I’ve had snow over the last 4 sections and it’s deeper each time, making it very difficult or impossible to get 20 miles completed each day.  It’s also very difficult to find the trail at times.  Without GPS, I’d still be up there walking in circles.  If I was in the middle of a section, 2-3 days from town, and a heavy snow storm came, it could be very dangerous.
2.  If I exit Northern California because of snow and skip down to do Southern California, I fear I will run into very dangerous water issues.  The deserts this time of the year are very dry, and this was a dought year.  Even in Northern California, many of the so called “reliable” water sources were dried up and I got in trouble several times because of this.  How can you plan your daily water needs if the water sources are not where you expect them?  It becomes dangerous.  I can only imagine the deserts to be much worse.  I’m not out here for the danger, but for the fitness/health benefits.  I don’t want the risk.
3.  I’m about out of money.  I will need money to hold me over while looking for work.  While on the trial, my home expenses continued to mount.  Without details, my bank account is close to empty.  I have to face reality and get back to work.  It’s been over a year.
4.  I lost about 30 lbs.  Before the hike, while preparing in New Mexico, I lost another 25 lbs.  That’s a total of 55 lbs.  I was hoping for a little more, but I’m pretty happy where I am and will attempt to lose more at home via diet and exercise.  We’ll see how that goes…

I’ve met many many hikers doing the PCT and had conversations with them.  I never ran into a single jerk or ass while on the trail.  All were very friendly and helpful.  They all seemed to be so grateful for being on the trail and expressed a love of hiking, especially through-hiking.  When they asked my how I feel about through-hiking, I always said that I don’t really like it.  It’s like being in a pain amplifier that starts low at the beginning of every day, and the dial increases with each hour.  Every day you have to get your 12-13 hours of hiking in and it seems like an eternity.  It’s a grind.  In normal backpacking, you can be happy with 10-15 miles a day, and even spend some days in a camp while you do day hiking without the heavy pack.  That’s a lot more fun.  You have friends hiking with you because you don’t have to hike your maximum pace and can all stick together.  Most people through-hike at their own pace, but often meet up with friends at the camp site at the end of the day.  You’re alone grinding it out all day.

I exited the trail at a place called Buck Lake.  It allowed me to get off the trail one day earlier than planned.  I’ll go over the details in a later blog, when I finally catch up.  For now, I’ll just say that I spent the night in Buck Lake, walked/hitched to the nearest town, Quincy and picked up my resupply.  I stayed two nights and caught a bus to the next nearest town of Chester.  I spent the night in Chester and then took a bus to Sacramento where I spent the night and the next day caught a flight to San Diego.  I’m back in Corona, CA to get my life back in order and then start looking for work.

On the flight to San Diego, I left my phone on my seat of the plane (it fell out of my pocket) and have not been able to recover it.  Unfortunately, all my last trail notes are stored as voice messages on the phone.  I will have to do the last blog entries without my notes, which means wild guesses for daily mileage and elevation gains and not much dialog accompanying the photos.   I was hoping the Airlines would find the phone and send it to me, so I held off finishing the blog posts.  I no longer believe I’ll see the phone again, so I’m just going to wing it.

Thanks to everyone who is following my blog and provided comments and support.  It’s very appreciated.  A special thanks to Kate and Tom for hosting me in Vancover, WA for several days.  Also thanks to Lou for sending that great surprise package in Stehekin, WA. The final PCT blog posts will follow this one.  I do plan to continue posting after the hiking posts are completed.  I plan to review some of the equipment and give a final equipment list.  Also, I plan to make random posts of things happening post-hike, which will likely be more philosophical random thoughts of current or past events.  You may or may not wish to plug in for these posts.  I will welcome all enlightened opinions and comments but will screen out divisive, rude or otherwise useless comments.  I don’t really expect many of these. 

Happy Days!!
Bill (Blackhawk Down)

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3 Responses to An Explanation for going silent

  1. Chris Horst says:

    Bill, you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. It’s more than most of us have done. Seems like a wise decision to me. Permanent physical damage to your body it not a viable trade-off for completing the hike. Best of luck and success and you move into the next passage of your life.

    • Chris Horst says:

      Corrected version below.

      Bill, you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. It’s more than most of us have done. Seems like a wise decision to me. Permanent physical damage to your body is not a viable trade-off for completing the hike. Best of luck and success as you move into the next passage of your life.

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