This hike has been delayed…

It happens to the best of us. No matter how cautious we are, we can end up sidelined for an injury, illness, or other emergency. I’d been hiking along without any major issues for over 1,300 miles and WHAM! I managed to get a bad case of poisonous plant exposure. I’m not certain which plant – ivy, sumac, or oak – because I know what those look like and cautiously avoid touching any of them. Actually, I avoid letting any plant touch my exposed skin unless I know exactly what I am touching, like blackberries! I wear l0ng pants and crew socks to protect my legs, too, since many times these plants grow along the edges of the trail and are hard to avoid.

Contact dermatitis

Based on the locations of the rashes, (yes, rashes with an s) I can only think that I came into contact with whatever plant when I was climbing through the branches of a blowdown over last weekend.  There were a several blowdowns recently in Virginia because of the heavy rains and thunderstorms. Some of them were simple to climb over or under a trunk. A few had open enough branches across the trail that I could push my way through and remain on trail. Others required traipsing through a side trail, because there was no way to get over, under, or through the obstacle. Whenever I was exposed, it touched several places on my arms, neck, hands, and back where a few leaves must have gotten between my pack and shirt.  It also must have gotten under one of my trekking pole straps, because my wrist and the back of my hand got the brunt of the rash that extends down my forearm. A large blister formed right on my wrist, too.

So, I had a telehealth appointment with my doctor back home and he sent a good steroid prescription to a local pharmacy. Fortunately, I zeroed at a good friend’s home last week before this breakout and she was able to open her home to me again. I love visiting with her and her family! I’m just antsy to get back on trail. Especially since it’s not really a hiking injury, just awful rashes and some blisters that I don’t want to break open and get infected in the forest.

Taking it all in stride

Before this hitch happened, I was hiking along splendidly in northern Virginia, Shenandoah National Park, and central Virginia.  Remember a few posts ago when I said experienced hikers were telling me that I would be flying along when I got down here? I’m happy to say that until this disruption, they were right! I am amazed at how easy the miles are and how quickly I’m covering ground without really trying. Up north, my default pace was around 1.5 mph. Down here, I’m easily doing over 2 mph. (Just a sec, I need to knock on wood so I don’t jinx myself for the rest of the south.)

The first week back was really hot and humid. I still made decent mileage every day, but was cautious about water and overexerting myself.  I took long breaks to cool off at shelters or in towns when necessary.

I really enjoyed hiking through the Shennys. It was still warm and humid, but I was racking up the miles last week! I had my longest day with 20.4 miles followed by another decent day of 15.2 miles. (Did I mention I am STILL getting stronger?) A few days later, I took a zero at my friend’s home and came back to the trail to add another 18.2. I was fortunate to enjoy my 20 miler and 15 miler with a section hiker, Gonzo. We had a well-matched pace and knocked out the 20 miler in about 9 hours, despite the heat and humidity. Overall, this was my biggest mileage week, even with the zero!

Avoiding other trail hazards

As much as I have to be cautious about the heat and humidity in August, the snakes really love it! On Sunday, I saw a small northern water snake that had no interest in leaving the trail. On Monday, the day of our big miles, Gonzo caught up to me right after I encouraged a rattler to move off-trail. It had been sunning itself on a rock on the trail. I gave the rattler space, took some pics, and tapped my poles on a rock which resulted in a warning rattle.  Then I tossed a few sticks into the brush a few feet in front of it. It got the hint and moved along. Gonzo called my name a few moments after I passed the sunny rock and I warned him, but the rattlesnake had moved far enough into the underbrush that Gonzo couldn’t see it.

The next day, we came across another rattler sunning itself in the warm dirt of the trail. This one was a bit bigger but had no interest in our tapping poles (other than rattling at us), or anything we tossed into the brush to encourage it to investigate. Finally, after waiting it out 10 minutes, a NOBO hiker came along with his dog. We warned him of the snake, so he removed his pack, tied his dog to the pack, and cautiously came forward to investigate the situation. We told him we had been waiting a good 10 minutes. This brave (foolish?) hiker extended his trekking pole all the way, reached way out, and gently nudged the snake. A few minutes later, the rattler moved along, rattling its tail a few times, and we were able to safely pass. Whew! That was a close one. I don’t know that I could or would do that.

Getting back on track

I’m hoping I can get these rashes, especially the blistering ones, healed up so I can get back on trail over the weekend. Maybe I’ll have more big mile days and weeks with all of this rest. In the meantime, I’m walking around town every day to keep moving, and enjoying the evenings with her and her family. What would be the most challenging part of being forced off-trail for you?

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Comments 1

  • Tinkerbomb : Aug 20th

    I’m really enjoying your posts Kristine! Thanks for the photos too, they’re absolutely gorgeous. I sure hope your rash clears up soon – aloe vera can be very soothing & after it dries put some calamine lotion over the rash. I’m looking forward to your next post! -Nan aka Tinkerbomb


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