The Inescapable Coronavirus, Vol. II: PCT Days 64-74

Day 64.  Miles: 19.9  Total: 1006.8

At sunrise, I’m hiking along Wilma Lake when I encounter a deer on the trail. The doe looks at me but doesn’t move out of the way, not even when I wave a trekking pole at her. These Sierra deer have no fear of humans at all.

“Have a nice day,” I say as I walk past her, only a few yards away.

The terrain is easier today, and I make good time. It’s a little bittersweet to be alone, but I’m having a surprisingly good day anyway. I’m moving at my own pace. After a brief, heavy thunderstorm, I reach the 1,000 mile mark for lunch. I drink my little bottle of celebratory rosé and pose for selfies with the marker spelled out in stones.

I listen to podcasts and Addie LaRue. In the afternoon, a second thunderstorm rolls in just before I begin a climb. Instead of proceeding upward into the lightning, I find a sheltered patch of pine needles in a gully and sit huddled beneath my umbrella. Fifteen minutes later, the sun returns.


I am approaching 20 miles for the day. My legs are feeling good, but I have a suspicious tightness in my throat. When I get to camp and meet a Scottish hiker named Stealth, my voice sounds hoarse during our conversation.


Before bed, I see a familiar face arrive in camp. It’s Jackrabbit, having already caught up after his detour into Yosemite Valley. He sets up nearby and tells stories of his adventure. It’s a cold night, and Stealth shares packets of hot chocolate. The warmth soothes my throat, but it’s still undeniably sore. Pressure is building up in my sinuses as well.


Please just be a cold, I think to myself. Please don’t be COVID.

Day 65. Miles: 10.1 Total: 1016.9

I think I have COVID.


I feel like garbage. Sore throat, painful cough, and a hoarse voice. I hike up Sonora Pass early in the morning, counting down the miles until I get to the road into Kennedy Meadows North.


The first part of the climb is surprisingly easy, with beautiful views. When the trail curves around the far side of the mountain, there are still some snow fields. Just as I reach the edge of the longest one, I post hole. My right foot drops through the snow into empty space, and I fall hard onto my left shin, scraping away the skin on rock. I sit for a moment. The initial pain fades, and I stand up gingerly. I’m okay, just bruised.


I keep hiking. There are a few more chutes of snow on the descent toward the road. The sun is bright now, and I’m wary of post-holing again, so this time I try to pick my way down from the trail to go around the snow. My right foot slips on scree and I go down again. This time, I slide a few feet down the steep slope before I manage to stop myself. When I stand up again, my upper thigh burns, raw where my shorts rode up during the slide.


Between the sickness and not one but two falls, I am feeling downright sorry for myself. But I am so, so close to being done with the Sierra. The only way out is through. I keep going.


There are lots of day hikers around. Each time they greet me, my response is more and more of a croak.


When I am moments away from the road, I am passed by the very first person I met on the PCT, a hiker who is now going by the trail name Zero. We shared a hitch into Julian together way back in April, and I haven’t seen him since. He’s fast, so I’d assumed he was far ahead by now.


Thru-hiking is funny like that. You never know who you’re going to see again.


When we reach the road, a hiker named Sailor offers trail magic and a ride. While we wait for a couple more hikers to fill up the car, I notice that my leg and butt are still stinging from my second fall. When I touch the back of my thigh, right where leg meets cheek, my fingers come away bloody. The scrape must extend above what I can see when I twist to look at it. I don’t want to bleed on the seat of a trail angel’s car, so I sheepishly ask Sailor, the only other woman around, to take a look at the wound from sliding down the scree. She laughs and checks it for me. She confirms there are two bloody scratches. I cover it with some tissues and wear a mask in the crowded car down to the campground, feeling gross on so many levels.


Today is Sunday, so Kennedy Meadows North is packed with visitors. The thru-hikers have a covered area with some picnic tables in the back. I find Captain Something, Billie Goat, Poseidon, Jackrabbit, Feels, and Booster. It’s good to see them, but the reunion will be short-lived. They arrived less than two hours before me, but they intend to hike out this evening.


There’s no denying how sick I am at this point. As much as I’d like to rejoin my friends, I can’t go on today. I pay to camp at the campground and sign up for a shuttle back to the trail in the morning. Maybe I could zero here, but it’s crowded. I would be able to avoid people better on trail. My symptoms, although uncomfortable, don’t feel severe enough to keep me from hiking entirely, just not ambitious miles.


The store doesn’t sell COVID tests, so I just assume I’m positive and take precautions accordingly. I mask indoors and keep my distance from others even outside. It feels good to rest and shower. For a tiny store, KMN has an excellent selection of hiker provisions. I buy enough food to reach South Lake Tahoe, as well as a new filter and a box of cold medicine.

Day 66.  Miles: 14.3  Total: 1031.2

North of Sonora

The landscapes begin to change

This rock’s volcanic

Day 67.  Miles: 22.0  Total: 1053.2

I’m still very sick, but the trail is scenic and not terribly difficult. My hip is feeling completely better, but I’m not sure if it’s because of my nearos or because I’m on round-the-clock Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu.


A different bubble of hikers is leapfrogging around me now. I’m never very fast, but especially not this week. People pass me constantly, and then eventually I pass them back by plodding along without many breaks. I am eager to meet some new friends now that the Second Breakfast Club is half a day ahead, but while I’m this sick, I feel compelled to keep my distance. Still, Zero and his friend Food Drive check on me each time they pass by, which I appreciate.


When I reach my goal campsite, there are close to twenty thru-hikers here. My voice is a wicked-witch croak, but I sit with the others in a big circle for dinner and listen to the hiker chatter. We watch and giggle as a few try to hang bear bags. Eventually, the food dangles from a dead pine in a less-than-perfect spot, but it’s so busy here that I doubt a bear will come knocking. I still have my cannister for now.

Day 68.  Miles: 20.0  Total: 1073.2

Lots of lakes today

I fall behind the bubble

And camp by myself

Day 69.  Miles: 17.6  Total: 1090.8

Usually, on town days, my mood is buoyed by thoughts of milkshakes and hot showers. Today, though, I am not in a good headspace. Carson Pass is surprisingly challenging, and I still feel very sick. My solo section from KMN to here has included peaceful moments when I have relished the solitude, but I’ve also thought a lot about quitting. Like in the Sierra, I always arrived back at resolving to stay on trail, but only because my post-trail prospects feel even worse.


I keep hiking, and the forest around me is dense and green. Moss clings to the trees. The forest floor is carpeted in ferns. The woods are so saturated with life you can practically taste it in the air. I breathe deeply and eventually begin to feel better.

The last few miles of trail cross an area that burned last year. There were a few old burns in the desert, but this is the most extensive and most recent I’ve seen so far. The trail winds downhill and I hike quickly. I complete over 17 miles before two p.m. and hitch into town with another hiker named Gandalf the Green.


I’ve booked myself a dingy motel, and after a quick resupply, I go there and lock myself inside. I haven’t rested indoors in ten days, and it feels so good to shower and relax on a bed. I didn’t intend to leave again, but Captain Something texts me that the group is having dinner just across the street from my motel. Once I confirm that there’s an outdoor seating area where I can keep my distance, I wear my rain pants and puffy across the street to the restaurant.


It’s fun to see everyone. At first, when they hiked out of Kennedy Meadows North the first evening I was sick, I fretted that I had done something to offend them and they were ditching me deliberately. After all, they left me alone for four nights all so they could arrive in Tahoe less than four hours before I did. But sharing a meal together reassures my anxious, socially clumsy side that it was purely a question of pace and HYOH.


My voice is still a croak and I already ate at my motel, so I mostly stay masked between sips of beer and just listen, letting the conversation and laughter wash over me. It feels good after an unusually isolated week in woods.


I get a message from Rookie that he will be in Tahoe tomorrow and has a room he’s willing to share, even if I have COVID. He had the virus in Bishop and thinks he might have passed it along to me, so he’s confident he’s immune to this strand. The timing doesn’t quite align for Rookie to be the culprit behind my current situation, but it makes sense he’s likely safe from reinfection. I agree to split the room. With 4th of July weekend upon us, prices here in Tahoe are skyrocketing.


After my most challenging week on trail yet, I am relieved to plan a zero.


Day 70.  Miles: 0  Total: 1090.8

From dear REI

I bought shoes and a mattress

But they sent… a spork?

Day 71.  Miles: 12.6  Total: 1103.4

Yesterday, Rookie bought me a Covid test. Sure enough, I was positive. I held out for over two years of this pandemic, but it finally happened. He also got me an N-95 mask, so I wear that on the bus back to the main intersection of South Lake Tahoe. Another zero would probably do me good, but it’s the Saturday of 4th of July weekend. No lodging in Tahoe is under $300. I might as well rest on trail, where I can stay in my tent away from others.


Back on trail, I hike past Echo Lake and into the stunning Desolation Wilderness. A young ranger with a shovel over his shoulder asks to see my permit. I pull it out almost eagerly. In 1100 miles, this is the second time I’ve used it, and the first was just to get pie in Julian.

Day 72.  Miles: 23.4  Total: 1126.8

I should be resting. Instead, I wake up early, unable to sleep. REI inexplicably sent me a Coleman spork instead of a NeoAir sleeping pad, so I only have my worn-out pancake of a Z-lite to sleep on until I get my actual order in Quincy.


At first I hike slowly, feeling sick and glum. Then, toward the middle of the day, Rookie catches up, and we hike together for a few hours. Talking helps to pass the time. It turns out we’ve experienced oddly parallel chains of events leading us to the PCT in 2022, including similar family health challenges and rough pandemic breakups.


The flowers are beautiful. The yellow and purple fields remind me of Braiding Sweetgrass, in which Kimmerer marvels at how bees are most perceptive of these two colors together, and how strange and lovely is it that we humans are drawn to the same colors as bees?

Day 73.  Miles: 27.0  Total: 1153.8

I’m a bit less sick

So I get my free 40

COVID marathon!

Day 74.  Miles: 3.2  Total: 1157.0

Today is a day of rest. I splurge on my own room in Truckee. Based on current CDC guidelines, it should be safe to assume I’m no longer contagious, but I am craving the comfort and solitude.


Finally, my symptoms begin to disappear. I eat a giant healthy salad and then a full dozen Oreos, dunked in cold milk. I’m in bed by eight p.m.


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