Right Place, Right Time When Bad Things Happen: Getting Sick on Trail

Getting sick during a long-distance hike is pretty awful. It’s up there with losing your water filter down a river and hiking down 1.5 miles only to realize you are on the wrong trail and need to go back up those 1.5 miles. All three of these trail mishaps happened to me on the Colorado Trail in the past five days.

Silver Linings

However, if these set backs were going to happen, I certainly lucked out with the timing. My little trail detour only added an hour of hiking, and I was heading to town the next day to see my mom and eat ice cream. Besides, what’s the difference between 24 miles and 27 miles during a long-distance hike?

Losing My Water Filter: A Blessing in Disguise

I got off trail before getting sick, when I felt strong and healthy and the 20+ miles a day were a piece of cake. I got back on trail before I was fully recovered. The morning I lost my filter was my second day post sickness, and I woke up feeling nauseous and dizzy. I had a 20.5 mile hike into town. I knew I probably shouldn’t push on for that long when I wasn’t feeling great. Still, I  got packed up and ready to hike.

I had a bout of dizziness while filtering water and my filter was downstream before I could think straight enough to grab for it. There was no way I was hiking over 20 miles on a liter of water and no filter and I wasn’t feeling great. Thankfully, I was near a road and got extremely lucky with the long hitch into town. Had I not lost my filter, I probably would have pushed on. I may have found myself in a dangerous situation far from a road and cell service down the trail.

Mom Cures All

The worst inconvenience, of course, was getting sick. But if I was going to get sick, it couldn’t have happened at a better time or place. I woke up in a hotel room with my mom, her friend, and her friend’s daughter. They had a car to take me anywhere I needed. The hotel had plenty of Gatorade and supplemental oxygen my mom was more than willing to buy for me.

Most importantly, my mom was there.

She even held the bucket while I threw up. There is just something about having my mom there to take care of me when I am sick that makes everything better. Also, my mom is an amazing woman who makes everything better for everyone, whether you’re her kid or not.

You Can Get Altitude Sickness Even if You’ve Been Hiking for a While

I don’t know exactly what was wrong with me, but the hotel staff and my mom came to the conclusion that I had altitude sickness brought on by dehydration. The day I hiked into town, I did a fast 17 and some miles over difficult climbs and did not drink enough water. (The day prior was my accidental 27-mile day). When I got to town, I drank two tall root beers and only a small cup of water. The next morning, I had many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

At first, I thought it couldn’t be that because I had been hiking for almost two weeks and was nowhere near the highest elevation I had been at. Apparently, while getting acclimated helps, altitude sickness can creep up on you at any time. This is especially true if you are not careful with your water and electrolytes intake.

Moral of the Story

Once again, thanks to being at the right place at the right time when bad things happen, I was able to take an unexpected zero day and spend another night in the hotel. A hotel worker graciously offered to drive me back to the trailhead when I was feeling better. However, getting back on trail the minute I felt better was not the best idea. While I rested when I was sick (and slept on and off for more than 12 hours), I did not give myself enough time to recover. This inevitably led to my water filter mishap.

Since I slowed down my mileage a bit from the first week and I thought I was in the clear in the way of altitude sickness, I slacked things like water intake. I also noticed that I tend to drink less water in towns where soda and other beverages are available. As I continue back on the trail after fully recovering, I will make sure to take care of my body while hiking through the mountains, and keep drinking water when I’m relaxing in town.

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