Top Three Fears and the Flimsiest of Plans
Tomorrow’s the day, lads. My flight for San Diego leaves at 6 a.m.
Side note: Why do I consistently choose the cheapest flight (cheapest meaning maybe a $30 difference) and never consider the logistics behind it? I’ll be spending $30 on cab fare at 6 a.m. when I could have chosen the later, minutely more expensive flight, and had someone drive me for free at a more reasonable time. As Harry Styles once said, “We never learn, we’ve been here before…” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ll be staying with legendary trail angels Scout and Frodo tomorrow night. They’re picking me up (and whoever else is heading out Friday) from the airport, feeding me, giving me a place to sleep, and driving everyone to the border at the crack of dawn Friday.
For those who need some background, a trail angel is a person who helps thru-hikers in any way, big or small. They might pick up hitchhikers, offer places to shower or rest, or even set up a pop-up table and cooler on trail to feed whoever comes passing by that day. When something like this happens, it’s called trail magic.
I don’t get it. Like, I do, because people are good and the hiking community is incredible and trail angeling is the best way to stay involved with the community when you can’t hike or whatever. But. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I fully recognize that thru-hiking is such a supremely selfish act—which isn’t to say it’s bad. I just don’t think anyone should pretend that it’s anything but selfish. So the idea that someone would give up one second of their time to help me out of the goodness of their heart, let alone the amount of time and effort that Scout and Frodo and so many others do, is just so mind-boggling to me. I’m going on a five-month vacation? Why are you helping me?
I know the answer is just like I said; people are good. But just—wow.
So, Scout and Frodo will shlep me and whoever else to the border Friday morning, and then off I go. And that’s it, folks. That’s pretty much all I can tell you.
I lied. I have a mini plan, which isn’t even really a plan, but more of a mantra, a way of thru-hiking life, if you will:
Embrace the turtle.
I plan to take it supremely slow for at least the first week, if not more, for a variety of reasons that actually tie nicely into my top three fears.
Fear #1: Injury
My first day on the Camino in 2017 I did the full 15-mile uphill climb from SJPP to Roncevalles.
And I felt fine. It was pouring rain, and my pack wasn’t adjusted properly, and I clearly remember thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I made it. No big deal. Except I did 15 the next day. Then 20. Then 20. Then 20. And so on.
That’s a big deal for someone who had never hiked more than 15 miles before, let alone 20 repeatedly.
I ended up with achilles tendinitis in my left foot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my boots, which I thought I’d bought big enough, were too small to fit my feet after all the expected swelling. They were waterproof, which meant that my extremely hot and sweaty feet (mmm, don’t you just love hiking talk?) never truly dried out, and they were heavy. Something like three pounds per boot. All this plus the big mileage straight out the gate set me back big time.
The pain started bad and then got progressively worse. Around day eight or nine I felt a sharp stab of pain in my left ankle where the tendon is, and I had to hobble into town on the verge of tears. It was bad. I couldn’t walk down stairs in the hostel, let alone anywhere else. I ended up taking four zeros (days where you walk zero miles) and switching to Teva sandals on the recommendation of a friend. Which worked shockingly well. Still, I had tendinitis for the rest of my hike. It continued for about three months afterward.
So ten-mile days to start it is. Stretching. Trail runners. Elevated feet at night. IDK!
Fear #2: Snow
Luckily (or unluckily. Again, IDK!) the weather in the big, scary, beautiful Sierra mountains this year has been such that I have no need to rush the 702-mile desert portion of the trail. The snow-water equivalent (SWE) in the Sierra is at something like 170% of the average currently, which to a dumb-ass like me just means that there’s a lot of snow up there that’s gonna screw me if I try to head in too early and a lot of water in that snow that’s gonna screw me when it melts if I head in too late.
Typical Sierra entry date is June 15. I have plenty of time to get there, but I also am shooting for an early August finish, so it’s possible (maybe even probable) that I’ll flip up to Oregon to hike if I hit Kennedy Meadows, the Sierra entry point, way too soon. (update: Now you demons are trying to tell me that Oregon is too snowed in, too. The audacity.)
Trying to figure out exactly when to enter is pretty futile until you’re days out from making the decision, so here’s to living in a general state of saying “meh, I’ll worry about that later,” while simultaneously worrying about it constantly for the next month or so.
Fear #3: Hyperhidrosis and Sun Allergy
I have two modes: bone dry and sweaty mess. There is no in-between thanks to hyperhidrosis, a neurological disorder in which my body says, “Oh, you’re alive? Guess you gotta sweat!”
While most people sweat due to heat, physical activity, or nerves, my default setting is just sweaty. Like, soaked, freezing cold, clammy sweaty.
Unless I take some sweet, sweet meds. I’ve taken glycopyrrolate for ten years now, which has been great for quality of life because no one likes 15 year olds, much less sweaty 15 year olds, but not so great for any time that I actually do need to sweat. When I’m on glyco, the “sweat threshold,” as I call it, is much, much higher than it should be. Often I just don’t sweat at all. Sounds nice, but it can actually be pretty dangerous in my experience.
Through trial and error, cotton mouth and dripping hands, I’ve figured out the dose that works for me. It’s a fine line, though. I’ve been extremely sensitive to heat in the past, given that I can’t sweat as needed, but I think I’ve gotten the dosage to where I need it to be for the PCT. I should be able to sweat enough so I don’t overheat, but not to the point of severe dehydration and electrolyte deficiency as I might without the medicine.
I also tend to get pretty severe sun allergy (those red bumps that itch and burn) during the first few weeks of intense sun. Hopefully my long sleeve shirt will do the trick.
I feel like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ is going to be my default state for the next 2,650 miles.
But, you know, there’s a difference between worries and real fears, I’m starting to think. I’m nervous about meeting people and the general unknowns out there, but I also I know that I’ll ultimately be OK. Which is a relief, tbh, because just thinking about the injury-snow-sun trifecta was enough to have me staring at my bedroom wall for a good 45 seconds just now.
Just to leave things on a happy note, here’s a quick list of good things!
Things I Am So Incredibly Pumped For
Eating all day long.
Sleeping outside when it’s just cold enough to be chilly but my sleeping bag is nice and warm.
Trail names (everyone gets an alter ego on trail).
Not doing anything but walking an obscene amount, eating an obscene amount, and meeting an obscene amount of people for the foreseeable future.
Dude, I’m heading out tomorrow. Nice.
Follow me on Instagram at mczonthepct.
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