Week Four: Sick as a Dog
Day 21: 13.6
From Standing Bear, McFly and I had a rainy morning climbing up to Snowbird Peak. We were wildly unprepared for the cold front that awaited us at the top. It was all of a sudden very snowy and VERY cold. We decided to camp on top of Max Patch so we could see sunset and sunrise. The top of Max Patch was covered in ice and exposed to the elements. But we decided to stay anyway and set up our tents just quickly enough to be able to sit and enjoy sunset. I tried to take out my phone to take a time lapse but a gust of wind came that was so cold my phone spontaneously died. *Yikes.* The wind was so bad that we were forced to cook inside our vestibules which made me really nervous.
After sunset, a guy came up who was very clearly unprepared for the weather and very inexperienced with camping. I put up his tent for him before I snuggled up in mine. I put on every piece of clothing that I have and I’m still shivering. I think it’ll be a long time before I fall asleep.
Day 22: 19.5
My alarm went off this morning for sunrise and I had absolutely no desire to get out of bed. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to sleep with my water so all of it and all my food was frozen solid from the below-freezing temperatures. At one point overnight, I checked the temperature gauge on my backpack and it said 15 degrees, without wind chill! I jumped into McFly’s tent and we snuggled up next to each other to watch the sunrise from his tent. We forced each other up to break down camp as quickly as possible.
I rolled out of camp wearing every single piece of clothing I have. My mom sent me heavy fleece sweatpants for sleeping in the Smokies, which I wore for the first half of the day as we meandered through the snow down from Max Patch. When we started climbing up Bluff Mountain, McFly and I were shedding all of our layers fairly quickly. McFly and I got service at the top of Bluff Mountain so we checked in with our squad. We are meeting Aloha, Aquaman, Falcon, Schmutz, and Recap in Hot Springs at Laughing Heart Hostel. They were the only hostel who would accept a reservation for seven people. Bluff was pretty much the last climb of the day so McFly and I practically flew into town for our almost 20-mile day.
We arrived at around 3 p.m., impressing our friends with our speedy day. Laughing Heart was super-welcoming and relaxed. It was the first time in a week that I was able to do laundry and shower. Both felt beyond awesome. We all went out to dinner with Hermes, Ax, and Cans at the diner in town, where I overestimated my stomach’s capacity for food. Ya live and you learn! We also went out to a bar, where I met Sundial, Blacksmith, and Cans.
Day 23: Zero (Two Miles NOBO, Two Miles SOBO)
I woke up pretty early this a.m. and went out to the common area to find Aquaman hanging out. He taught me this bizarre game and we played for a bit before everyone else woke up. I was going to hike out today with The Boys to the first fire tower just outside of town. I hiked two miles out of town and sat down on a lovely little rock with an overlook. Conflicted on what to do, I called Aquaman to talk. Both of us felt like we were losing our sense of self while hiking with the group. Thinking about it by myself on this random rock, I realized that I felt more compelled to zero in Hot Springs with McFly than continuing on with the group. So I hiked SOBO two miles back to Laughing Heart and had a chill night with McFly.
Day 24: 8.2 miles
We left Hot Springs today! My stomach has been killing me all day today and the miles did not come easy. We came across Sundial in a stealth spot so we sat and had dinner with her and chatted up a storm. I was so tired and so grateful to have found her camped at an earlier spot than the fire tower. I set up camp for the night. McFly decided to push on to the tower and we agreed to try to meet up the next day. My stomach is feeling worse and worse and I’m nervous I have food poisoning. I’m going to try to read a little of a book I picked up but I’m drained as all hell at frigging 5 p.m. and hope to fall asleep soon.
Day 25: 19 miles
Sundial and I rolled out of camp maybe 30 minutes apart. I pushed my miles this morning so I could hopefully catch McFly by lunch. I ended up catching him and Firefly! We were cruising the rest of the day. McFly and I hit some awesome viewpoints: Jones Meadow, Whiterock Cliff, Blackstaff Cliffs, Big Firescald Knob. We had an AWESOME ridge walk to close out the day. Exposed and high up, we were clambering over rocks to get to camp before a storm was supposed to come. We hit the 300-mile mark shortly before camp, which ended the day on a great note! Firefly, Sundial, and new friend Evergreen are all camped with us at Jerry Cabin Shelter. My stomach is still pretty bad but today was relatively manageable. I’m not eating much, which kind of helps.
Day 26: 15.6
Today was rough. I couldn’t stomach any food coming out of camp in the morning. McFly was running a little low on food so we got a hitch into a random gas station to restock him. I picked up some meds to try to manage my stomach problems. Doing research online, I’m worried that I have something like Giardia or noro because food poisoning definitely wouldn’t be lasting this long or this bad.
The last six miles of the day were hell on earth. I had to stop every half mile and rest for a good bit of time, so what should have taken me 2.5 hours maximum took me four hours. Coming into camp to see Evergreen, Firefly, and McFly all waiting up for me felt so good. They were angels and got water for me while I tried to stomach some peach rings for dinner. My food today has consisted of breakfast essential coffee, chips, and four peach rings. Nothing is staying down and my appetite is at an all-time low. I’m nervous.
Day 27: 3.3 (+ 1 Mile SOBO)
McFly and I wandered into Sams Gap this morning to find Sundial feasting on some trail magic breakfast. I ate a breakfast bar this a.m. but couldn’t keep it down so I was glad to see something not trail food related. While we sat, I had some OJ and a bit of hash browns. McFly and I finally managed to drag ourselves away from the nice chairs after 30 minutes of laziness in the sun. Sams Gap was way busier than I expected, with tons of people at the trailhead. I started walking out of the gap but could barely make it ten minutes at a time without stopping. My stomach was cramping and I broke down crying.
In crisis mode, I called my mom and told her that this was day four of being sick. She talked some sense into me and told me to go back to the trailhead to see if anyone would be willing to take me to the ER. Thankfully a nice lady was there doing trail magic and graciously was able to give me a ride to the ER in Erwin. The bed in the ER weighed me with my shoes, water bottle, and fanny pack on and I was still drastically underweight from the last time I weighed myself at Standing Bear. They hooked me up to an IV drip and let me sleep for a while while that filtered in. My bloodwork came back normal so they weren’t able to officially diagnose me with anything specific, but prescribed me a massive dose of antiparasite medication to kill whatever is going on in my stomach. I took that at around 6 p.m. and curled up in my king-size bed for the night at the Mountain Inn.
Day 28: Zero
I slept in this morning and took a luxurious shower before heading out with all of my gear. I still feel like garbage with little to no appetite. Coming out of the Mountain Inn, I had hardly taken a step onto the road when the town fire marshal drove by me and asked if I was a hiker in need of a ride to Uncle Johnny’s. So convenient!! He dropped me off safely. McFly and Evergreen were so relieved to see me alive. We all decided to split a cabin with Schmutz for the day and binged a bunch of trashy movies while doing some face masks from Walmart courtesy of Evergreen. The local black cat and I bonded real hard and I wish I could take her home with me. I still feel like garbage so I’m hoping this real zero day and a good night’s sleep will help once and for all.
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