I wrote my last post in a very optimistic mindset. Sadly, it was not also realistic. I do have a stress fracture and have spent the last few weeks in a boot. I’ve been X-rayed twice, had an MRI and a DEXA scan. I’ve got a couple more appointments on the calendar.
What Did I Do?
For a moment, let’s focus on what I did accomplish. I hiked the 703.4 miles from the Mexican border in Campo, Ca to the gateway to the Sierra Nevada in Kennedy Meadows South. On the way, I partied at my cousin’s wedding in Utah. Then, I celebrated my college degree, walking at graduation back home in Seattle whilst the snow melted on the trail. Then, I hiked from Chester, Ca (PCT mile 1332.4) to Ashland, Or (PCT mile 1718.8) before hitting Yosemite with some friends. Don’t forget that marathon day into Ashland! From there, I flew home (for the second time) to celebrate the life of my grandma. Finally, I returned to the trail for the final time, hiking to Hobart Bluff Trailhead (PCT mile 1732.4) and in the process, realizing that I was simply in too much pain to continue. I left the trail again from Ashland, flying home for the third and final time this season.
Total Distance: 1103.4 miles
Number of “Zeros”: 4 (not including traveling away from the trail for purposes other than purely a zero)
Start: April 14th
Last full day on trail: July 8th
Final departure from trail: July 20th (after Yosemite and going home I had 2 half days before bailing)
Nights outdoors: 61
Longest day: 26.5 miles
Shortest day: 2 miles
What Did I Learn
To start with, thru-hiking is unequivocally not backpacking. Maybe you could say that backpacking is a broader, umbrella term under which thru-hiking could be included, but my previous definition of backpacking did not encompass thru-hiking. Thru-hiking is a selfish and unplannable consumption of your brain and body, whereas backpacking is an excursion that you plan to get away from what else is consuming you.
To this end, I learned that I needed to pack sandpaper to remove dead skin from my feet to prevent calluses from getting too thick. I learned the snack quadrants. I learned that if I plan to eat less, my pack is lighter, but that a fresh onion really does add something to trail dinners.
I learned that I feel sick if I eat before 7 am and that I am incapable of cooking oatmeal on the trail to anything other than the consistency of wet cement, so I should just cold soak it. I learned that flax and chia seeds do add essential amino acids to your diet, especially if you are vegetarian. I learned to buy reef-safe sunscreen (I mean, I knew I should, but now I actually do it). I learned how to buy backpacking food at normal grocery stores and still not eat ramen. I learned how to make passable spaghetti on the trail, and that if you are carving chopsticks, you’d best find very, very straight sticks.
I learned how to sit in towns, patiently waiting for my next form of transportation to arrive, and that often, people are kind and generous, when given the option to be. My small talk game got way better.
I learned that I needed to have been taking a multivitamin to boost my calcium and vitamin D intake, and probably my iron intake. I learned that female athletes are more likely to suffer from stress fractures than male athletes, and that we stop building bone density around the age of 25. I got shown that nothing goes to plan, but that my body is capable of more than I thought.
Looking into the Future
I am weaning out of my boot now, but it’s slower going than I thought. My foot is certainly not 100% back to normal. In trying to figure out why this happened, I have learned that I have lower bone density than what is expected. It could be a systemic issue, or could be associated with nutrition on trail. So, the future holds more doctors appointments, trying to get to the root of that. Hopefully it is fixable, but it certainly increased my risk of fracture. Since I would really like to finish the PCT someday, time invested now in sorting this out is well worth it.
To conclude my journey, I drove over to Mazama and picked up three hikers who had just tagged the border monument and were headed to the airport. Two were returning to the Sierras to complete the trail, and one was headed home. We chatted about the trail, about the smoke and rain in Washington, and I was extremely gratified to hear that the Goat Rocks was all of theirs’ favorite stretch on trail. What can I say, Washington is pretty cool. It was good to be around thru-hikers one last time this season.
Someday, I will be back. Maybe next summer, maybe in several years. For now, I am excited to see where my first full time engineering job will take me and will hold the rest of the trail in my back pocket as something to look forward to doing when the time is right.
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