The good: I am feeling much better. I allowed myself a full week of doing nothing but eating, sleeping, reading, eating, and watching Netflix (including all of Orange is the New Black: Season 3).
The bad: I’m sad. It’s super hard seeing people completing the trail and watching friends continue on. Of course I’m happy for them and wish them well but…it’s hard.
The Longer Version
I’ve been home for 10 days now and am full of highs and lows. Logically, I know I made the correct decision (health-wise) in leaving the trail and coming home. When Adam picked me up at the airport, in spite of being fairly covered, he couldn’t contain his shock at my physical transformation from when he last saw me in South Lake Tahoe and I KNEW it wasn’t just in my head then. I was thin and sickly looking. For reference, I’m 5’10” and started the trail around 173 lbs (which was maybe a wee heavier than I should have been but I’m also a fairly solid girl – see Thigh Gap post). At my weigh in at the medical clinic in Ashland I was down to 136 lbs, which was a 12 lb loss from about 2 weeks earlier. I was very self-conscious of how I looked and wore my long sleeve not only to cover my protruding bones but also because I would get chilled so quickly. Although I had been battling this “something” for over a month, I was able to keep pushing my body to hike the 20+ miles per day. Sure, I was tired and sore but that’s how you’re supposed to feel, right?! I think I knew that something was wrong since I was feeling an exhaustion literally down into my bones and the stumbling I had been going through and slight dizziness wasn’t normal. It’s hard to accept that something may actually be wrong and even harder to determine if it really was something to worry about or just the accumulated stresses of hiking over 1700 miles. It was a weird and swift transformation from long-distance hiker to sick person. My definitive answer came to me after I was able to secure a prescription for giardia and had to walk the less-than-1 mile to the pharmacy to fill it: that walk was long and hard. I was out of breath, getting dizzy, and had to keep finding spots to sit down. With each step I took, my mind slowly formed and began to accept the idea of leaving the trail. It’s as if that, while I was hiking, my body had entered a “survival” mode and I was able to continue to push myself through but once my mind realized it no longer had to protect itself it allowed for my body to just feel everything. No more pretending, no more pushing, no more blocking out pain in order to keep walking. By the time I arrived back at Callahan’s Lodge, with the ground swaying and the walls moving around me, I knew I had to leave. I found myself back home last Friday with a very happy and excited welcome from Shasta! And a huge thanks to trail angel Suzie who graciously picked me up from the lodge, took me to the clinic, and brought me back.
I spent the first 3 days eating mostly crackers, soup, and smoothies and sleeping for 13-14 hours. I’m happy to report I’m eating properly now and feeling significantly better, even managing to put on about 8 lbs in that first week (I guess my body was happy!). I did visit my doctor and we’ve ordered a bunch of tests but I won’t receive any results until later this week (checking for other parasites as I still don’t know if I do/did have giardia, checking my blood count and various vitamin/mineral deficiencies). I’m slowly increasing my activity and even went for my first bike ride, although since both my cardio and muscle-mass are quite low, the effort was significantly more than it should have been! But I’m so happy to even have the desire and some stamina to get out!
Emotionally, it’s really, really, really freaking hard. As I mentioned in my last post, sure, hiking California is an incredible accomplishment but my goal had been to thru hike. Friends posted a short clip of them crossing the CA/OR border and it brought me to tears knowing I will never have the opportunity to thru hike the PCT (or, likely, any other long distance trail). Both Adam & I agreed that this was too long to be separated so when I made the decision to leave, I knew I was giving up on my dream of the thru hike. I’m trying to still reconcile myself with the knowledge the trail will always be there and I will finish it, hopefully over the next couple of years, but it’s not an easy transition to make. What did make the decision just a wee bit easier was the knowledge that I was coming home to an amazing network of family and friends, in my awesome little town, and to work on projects that I love. I have the joy of living in an area where people are constantly out playing in the mountains and the mountains are in my backyard – hiking the PCT was never going to be my “last” adventure!
I also try and console myself with the fact that given the fire situation in Washington (now in a declared state of emergency), I’m 98% sure I would have pulled out and likely never would have hiked across the border. I know there are hikers who are still out there and hiking through but – and here’s my official stance on it – I wouldn’t be. I don’t believe in putting myself, my friends & family, and potentially emergency personnel through that situation for such a selfish and unnecessary risk. Towns are being evacuated, properties gone, and – worst of all – lives have been lost in an effort to subdue the fires. I can not fathom that, if I was still hiking, I would even consider continuing on. So which is worse: taking myself off trail due to illness or being forced off trail due to fire? I have no idea but I made the best decision I could. I’m sure I’ll always wonder but, at the same time, I also never felt I had a need to “prove” myself to anyone. The fact is, I’m confident that I COULD have finished had I not got ill but…I did get ill. Whatcha gonna do, right? These things happen. I’m not beating myself up, at all, but it doesn’t mean I won’t have twinges of regret.
Although, and here’s the truth, I really, really, really enjoying not having to dig any more catholes…!
Would you like to hear more about my PCT thoughts? Gear I used? Food? Resupply plans? Let me know in the comments or contact me!
There are 7 comments
Congratulations Tara on your accomplishment! very impressive
Thanks! I’ll probably do a separate write up with more photos in a little bit, like a summary of the trip, and post it under the PCT tab.
Wow! What an amazing adventure you have had! I admire your strength and courage, both in the actual trip and your decision to end it! I would love to have you come to the Rotary club in the fall, and I think it would be amazing to have you come into my senior classes to tell them about your experiences. Bravo!
Interesting idea, Fiona! I’m definitely open to it so let’s chat!
Thank you for your heartfelt post. From my perspective, you made the only sensible choice there was. Perhaps next year, a hike from the California border to Canada (or SOBO) to complete it? If I were still young enough to be able, that would be my choice to do it in 2 sections, rather than screaming along at great speed. Enjoy and savor the special experience. Give yourself time to readjust, and yes, grieve.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Tara. So glad to hear you listened to your body and are on the mend ~
Sending love. Glad you’re feeling better. I broke my foot at mile 600 and was forced to get off trail. It’s been so painful (internally) being off trail bum so stoked for people when I see their Canada pics, but it’s really hard.
I too spent my first week over indulging on Orange is the new black. 😊
Glad you’re feeling better