It’s been quite a few days since I’ve blogged and a lot has happened. If you read the last post you will know that I was super-excited about my wife, Lisa, coming back to the trail. She’d hiked from the start in Campo and had completed around eight hundred miles before the foot pain that had been troubling her had led to a decision for her to retire fom the trail, at least for a while, and let her foot rest. After four weeks off, she flew in to Reno and I went out to pick her up in anticipation of resuming hiking together.
We took advantage of the opportunity to go out to REI and pickup, or change out, a couple of bits of gear, before heading into suburban Reno to meet up with several other hikers at the house of one of their family members. It was great to take a chance to relax with others we’d met through the hike. One of them had family in Reno and his brother kindly hosted a group of us, cooking great food and giving us a place to relax and restock as well as driving us back to the trail the following day. Perfect trail angels! I don’t think I have mentioned trail angels before here. It is a tradition in many of the towns these hiking trails pass through for kind members of the community to help hikers however they can. This can range from a cooler full of drinks left at a trailhead to rides in to town, or in some cases people will even offer to host hikers overnight. It is extremely generous and it means a lot when you receive these random acts of kindness from strangers.
Our first day back on the trail together saw us climbing high onto a ridge above Packer Lake.The views were awe inspiring, looking out across miles and miles of pine forest and lakes, criss-crossed by a network of forest roads. It was great to be together again and we chatted lots as we hiked. I was able to catch up a little on some news from back home and I was able to fill Lisa in on some of what I’d seen while she had been off the trail. We tried to take it easy that first day and hike gently as Lisa had to adjust to the exertion of hiking all day once again. The need to reach a water source saw us hike eighteen miles that day however. Much of that was across loosely wooded ridges of aspen forest, but as the day wore on we found ourselves descending into denser, darker forest, trees crowded the trail and filtered out the afternoon sunlight. Lime green lichen clung to tree trunks at about a level of ten feet and above, revealing the extent of the previous winter’s snowfall, and equally green ferns pushed their way through the dense and sometimes spikey scrub that filled the space below the canopy of dark greens and browns above. As we neared the lower slopes the dusty, needle-covered red earth became darker and firmer, hinting tantalisingly at the possibility of moisture. Eventually we began to hear voices and with tired feet we rounded a corner to find several hikers all scratching out clearings amongst the deadfall and detritus of the forest floor to make camp. As was often the case when there was only really one water source in a long dry stretch, we had the opportunity to meet other hikers and socialise while having some dinner. The water source itself was little more than a trickle remaining in a rapidly diminishing creek bed. In another few weeks thus would dry up and hikers passing through would be looking at a two-day stretch without water. We’d been lucky. This year was considered to be a ‘normal’ rainfall year. The previous four years had been significant drought years in California.
Keen to get some rest and sleep before another day’s hiking, we soon got our little tent squeezed onto an almost flat patch of clear dirt between trees and settled in to our sleeping bags. We’d just about got ourselves comfortable and were dozing off to sleep when there was a loud crack of a stick and the ominous sound of something heavy pushing through the branches of the bushes behind the tent. Lisa sat bolt upright and whispered, “what was that”? We could only sit there with our breath held considering the possibilities. We had a kevlar bag, designed to resist a bear attack, in which we stored all of our food. This we had diligently tied to a tree a little way off from the tent. We need not have worried. A quick look revealed that several deer had chosen to completely ignore our presence as we were getting in the way of their grazing some of the greenest leaves in this section.
The following day we hiked out early keen to beat the heat of the sun. A long, steady climb took us back up to, often exposed, ridges which we’d traverse for the next couple of days dropping down only for roads and water. Over this time Lisa was increasingly getting foot pain again. We couldn’t believe it. She’d done everything right; rested, been to doctors, been cleared to continue hiking, and yet the pain had returned almost immediately. Something wasn’t right. We quickly decided we couldn’t continue as we were and that we needed to seek medical advice. We were coming in to the small mountain pass resort of Belden, so we would find a way off trail there and work out what would be the best course of action.
When we arrived in Belden we found a music festival in full swing. It was more than a little surreal stepping off the trail and into the colour, lights and crowds of a party in full swing complete with face painting, crazy costumes, pumping house music and inflatables on the river. The partygoers were incredibly welcoming of these sweaty hikers however and within minutes of arriving we’d been handed free beers, offered ‘love pills’ and thoroughly encouraged to join in. Tempting as it was our minds were on Lisa’s foot and getting a clear diagnosis. We sweated out in the full heat of the sun by the road trying to hitch for as long as an hour before we decided to quit and went in to get some lunch and cold drinks. On our second attempt we had more luck, or at least so it seemed. Our ride was an aging Toyota pick-up, with an equally aging driver. The odometer revealed that the truck had done more than a quarter of a million miles, and it seemed that the driver had done at least twice that. I climbed onto the cramped shelf behind the cab seats allowing Lisa the luxury of the only free seat. I’m not sure who had the worse deal as there was as much litter on the seat and in the footwell as there was in the limited space I had to occupy. Our driver peered out through the steering wheel without his prescription glasses, taking his eyes off the road periodically to peer at us while consulting us on where it was that he was going in the first place! After no small amount of debate it appeared that we were intent on travelling in the same direction, us to Chester and a medical centre, he to Chester and, well, it seemed to be something to do with a man, and a deal and panning for gold. Well at least it would supplement his current income from farming cannabis! Perhaps now we were starting to understand why we were veering from the center line to the shoulder side drop-off in such an erratic manner, although that may just have been that he couldn’t actually see the road! Nonetheless he got us to Chester without harm and the following day we were sat in the ER while Lisa’s x-rays were processed.
I could write another whole page about our farcical interaction with a Romanian locum doctor who couldn’t give a clear diagnosis, but told us ‘lifes like that, go home, buy cat, stroke it, but I’ll save that for another day. After two days, and a second opinion, we had confirmation that Lisa had stress damage to her 5th metatarsal that would likely result in a full stress fracture if she continued hiking. So as quick as that it was decided and my lovely wife, whom I had waited so long for to hike with once again, was going home for the second time! We were both incredibly disappointed but there was really no option. We made arrangements for a flight and I went with her out to Reno to the airport to say goodbye before returning alone to the trail two days later.