The Time I Unknowingly Hiked the Kinsmans with Covid
Day 168: 4,680 ft ascent, 16.3 miles
I woke up at the Notch Hostel still with a headache from the day before. My watch told me I had slept horribly. We only had 16 miles to hike that day and I wouldn’t carry a full pack, so even a little sore throat wasn’t going to keep me down for a third zero day in a row. I was looking forward to another day slackpacking and giving my knees a break.
There were two shuttles back to the hostel that night at 4:30 and 7 from our ending point for the day. Erik and I did quick math and decided to sign up for the 4:30 shuttle. Our typical moving pace with packs was about 2 miles an hour. Since we didn’t have packs, we thought for sure we could beat that and have no problems with the early shuttle.
There was a full van of hikers from the hostel with the same plans as us that day. We all got dropped off at the trailhead together. Erik and I took off first, but the others soon caught and passed us. I wasn’t carrying anything besides my hiking poles. Erik was kind enough to carry my essentials for the day in his pack, including food and water. What a guy.
We made a steep climb out of the valley from the parking lot. I was moving slowly, tired from not sleeping well the night before. We got to the top of the first climb. There was an intersection with another trail that went back down the mountain. I looked at it and told Erik I would suggest we take that if we had full packs. I was feeling worse the more we hiked. But I decided I could push on since it should be an easier day without packs.
The rain from the day before was still lingering. It was cloudy and would sprinkle off and on. When the wind blew it would rain on the trail from water left on the trees from the rain the day before. It wasn’t quite enough to need rain coats but enough to be annoying. And more than enough to soak the trail and make some sections impossible to pass without getting wet feet.
After two days without hiking, I had gone into the day assuming it would be easy. Sure there were some climbs. But we had been doing climbs before this and I didn’t have a pack. Wow was I wrong.
We stopped at a shelter to eat a quick lunch. I was doing math with our pace. I was shocked how slowly we were moving. Slower than we had been with packs. We realized we probably wouldn’t make the 4:30 shelter at the other side and would need to catch the 7:30 one back to the hostel instead. I coordinated the change with the hostel as we pushed on.
We got to the second big climb of the day. This one was straight up. My feet were wet and muddy. My body was aching. I was so discouraged. I started thinking that the Whites were going to beat me. Why was a struggling so much? The tears started flowing as I climbed.
The clouds cleared as we made it to the top. We got fleeting views of the valley below. We didn’t have time to linger to enjoy the views. I was hiking slower and slower as the day wore on. We were at risk of missing the second shuttle.
Eventually we realized we wouldn’t make the 7:30 shuttle. On top of that, it would be getting dark at 7:30 and we only had one headlamp between us. My entire body hurt. The tears started again as we made our way down the mountain. This time not from mental fatigue but physical. My hips hurt every step. I had to stop every few minutes to stretch and try to get some relief.
We crossed a couple of streams after nightfall. We didn’t stop to take in what we were crossing as we were in survival mode. Later when talking to my dad, he was impressed that we had crossed those streams at night. They had worried him when he crossed them in daylight about three weeks prior.
Finally we made it back to our pickup point at a parking lot. We didn’t have a ride back. We caught up to another thru-hiker in the last mile who was also Slackpacking that day, but was staying at another hostel. His hostel graciously agreed to give us a ride back to ours.
I was so relieved when we finally made it back. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I was so discouraged with how difficult the day had been. I knew the Whites were supposed to be hard. Were they really this hard? I went to sleep questioning if I was physically up for the challenge of hiking in the Whites.
Day 169: Zero
I didn’t sleep well again. I had been up half the night, my body aching and waking me up every time I moved. When I woke up I guessed I now I a fever too. It was raining so we had already planned to take the day off. I woke up grumpy and wouldn’t have made it far if we had tried to hike. Besides, our next day of hiking was Franconia Ridge and we had been told multiple times to wait for a good weather window for that section of the hike. I had come too far to miss the best parts!
I still felt awful. I hate going to the doctor, but I knew I needed help if I wanted to keep hiking. I called my doctor from home and he got me in for a telehealth appointment. He recommended I take a Covid test. Covid, really? I could still taste and smell so I hadn’t even considered Covid. Apparently the dominate strain was more like a cold or the flu, which fit my symptoms.
Erik rode a bike to the pharmacy and got us both rapid tests. He wasn’t feeling as bad as I was but he was tired and had the same sore throat as me. It didn’t even take 15 seconds for my test to turn positive. Erik’s was negative, but we think he still had it but not as badly as I did.
My doctor prescribed me Paxlovid. He understood I was thru-hiking (he had written me a prescription for doxycycline to carry for Lyme disease before I left) and wanted to get me back on my feet as soon as possible. He advised that I stick around in town for a few days and that “Katahdin could wait”.
I was crushed. I didn’t want it to be Covid. We didn’t have time for me to wait around and heal. We had made a plan at Harper’s Ferry for how many miles we would do every week to finish by October 14th. We had planned extra time for the Whites, but we didn’t have any to spare for me to get Covid. For months we had been working our plan. With that diagnosis our plan was going to fail.
To make matters worse, Hurricane Lee was headed right towards us. Even in the best of health I didn’t want to be at high altitudes in a hurricane. At best we may have been able to make it to the next notch over before the storm hit. At worst we could get stuck on a mountain with our tent blown away.
It was Wednesday. We made the hard decision to stay in town through Saturday and then re-evaluate if we would take off Sunday morning. The room we were staying in at the hostel was booked for the next night so we couldn’t extend our stay. The hotels in town were all $300+ per night. Not the best location to get Covid. I ended up finding us a small cottage a few miles away for $150 per night. Not ideal, but it was located where we could potentially walk back to the trail when we were ready to go. I spent the rest of the day feeling sick and moping about our predicament.
Day 170: Zero
Another bad night of sleep. I woke up feeling even more sick than the day before. The Covid medicine made my mouth taste like metal. Between that, the body aches, and the fever I was just miserable. Add to that thoughts that this sickness would ruin any chance we had at finishing the entire trail and I was pretty dejected.
Erik jumped into action to take care of things for both of us. He brought me coffee and made us breakfast. He helped pack my gear. He even coordinated with the hostel to give us a ride to the cottage. He helped me get moved and settled in at our new home for the next three days, then he let me nap while he walked two miles to a grocery store to get us supplies for the day. I spent most of the day napping.
Day 171: Zero
Friday. Still sick. Still not feeling any better. Coughing, sore throat, fever, body aches, and now a terrible taste in my mouth from the Covid medicine. Erik again walked two miles each way to get us groceries for the day. It kept him busy. I stayed in bed all day.
I checked in with my dad, No Name. He was at Shaws Hostel in Monson and was planning to start the 100 mile wilderness the next day. I was worried about him with the hurricane coming in, but there was no stopping him as he had the finish line in sight.
Day 172: Zero
I woke up finally feeling like I had turned a corner. I didn’t have much energy, but I was finally feeling better instead of worse. I joined Erik on his now daily pilgrimage to the grocery store as Hurricane Lee finally made it to our area. We also made a stop at Dunkin, always a treat on trail.
The winds blew all day. Although I was disappointed with our delay, I was glad to be safe inside instead of stranded up in the mountains. I decided I was ready to try to hike the next day. I was still weak, but I was finally sleeping better and I hoped the medicine would continue to help me feel better. The weather the next day was forecast to be clear, so we made plans to take off for Franconia Ridge.
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