Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Part 3: Escape from Planet Julian

Carmen McNerney and Brian Dunning on the morning I made my Escape from Julian.

Escape from Planet Julian


After the complimentary apple pie was consumed, it was back to the lovely Julian Lodge, where after just a bit, Mr. Brian Dunning came for me. Since he refused gas money, I needed to fuel the man up somehow – with some lunch! So before we blew town, we were off to Carmen's Place – my favorite for several reasons.

First is Carmen. The woman exudes good vibes, offers all PCT hikers a free Tecate, remembers your name, and, no matter how busy her place is, she sits down, looks you in the eye and asks how you're doing. Then there's her food. The portions are scaled up to address hiker hunger, and rock beyond words. I really shouldn't have kept eating hiker-sized Carmen food after I stopped hiking, but I couldn't help myself. 

(While I didn't try all of Julian's eateries, I was there long enough to have two negative experiences. One place's grub was oily, congealed, blaringly cheap and all but inedible. There I resolved to never again eat at any restaurant that has a gift shop that stocks pennants and stuffed animals. The other restaurant was one I tried on a Saturday night. It was to close at 9:30 p.m., but when I got there at 8:50 p.m., the place was deserted. I inquired about pizza, and the employee made it clear that at that point, he wasn't interested in doing anything but getting ready to close. So I left.)

Following brunch, Brian and I hit the road. On the way to Scott Chatfield's house, we came up on the 15-mile side road to Warner Springs, where I had a resupply box waiting. It had been sent before my feet overruled my dreams, and while I could simply have had the postmaster forward it elsewhere with a phone call, Brian insisted on swinging by to pick it up – a 30-mile side trip.
Brian waits patiently while I buy my duffel. 

En route and at the Warner Springs PO, I saw several PCT hikers headed in for their boxes. I felt terrible, because I should have been among them. But my morale lifted a bit when, along with my ill-fated hiker box, I also picked up a wonderfully supportive and unexpected letter from my friend Julia Green. It certainly buoyed my spirits in that moment. Between her and Brian and Scott, I definitely felt supported in my time of woe.

En route to Scott's, I made a dozen or so phone calls to thrift stores along the way for a cheap duffel bag in which I could enclose my backpack for the bus and train rides to Martinez. Surprisingly, none of them had any in stock. Finally, I reached a shop in Encinitas, not far from Scott's, that did! A bright blue one, and just $6.

Soon we hung a left, hung a right and I was at Scott's, nursing my aching feet, sorting out my camping crap and waiting for Scott, who wouldn't be in until later. So for a few hours, I sat poolside in Leucadia, organizing my stuff for the next day's train ride and beholding the sunset. Now does this view suggest, oh I don't know, any particular Eagles album cover?

Poolside at Chatfield Manor. Such a lovely place...
If there was any musical justice in the world, everyone would be humming Mike Keneally's colossal ode to Scott's place, "Chatfield Manor." Because apart from amenities like the pool, Bennett the wonderful dog and my cordial host himself, Scott's abode also houses Mike's recording studio.

My bunk in Mike's studio.
Eventually, Scott and Bennett came home. We then spent a pleasant evening visiting, solving life, the universe and everything. Scott had set up an air-mattress bunk for me in Mike's studio, which I had previously viewed during a live webcast of a recording session there. While a more capacious bedroom was available, Scott knew that I would want to crash in the studio, "because it has Keneally on it."
And it was true. I'll probably never get to inhabit Frank's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen or Abbey Road Studios, but cutting Z's in the room where Mike iterated out some of his genius musical insights is certainly good enough for me! It immediately captured the imagination of my musician friends, the kinds of folks among whom Mike is a superstar.

That night in the studio, little Bennett came in and checked me out. First a noncommittal sniff at the side of the air mattress, then a tentative foray onto the quilt, and soon the little fellow was curled up beside me. It's always affirming when people's pets accept you, and I was honored! Especially because it was the famous Bennett, a superpooch with a huge following. There's a picture on his Facebook page that shows him staring out heartbreakingly from behind bars at the shelter the day Scott and Claudia adopted him, when his future and very existence was arguably iffy. But Bennett has gone on to a sterling canine career.

Scott and Bennett sharing breakfast.

The next morning, Scott and Bennett delivered me to the Solana Beach Amtrak station, and from there I made my way to the Bay Area, foot recovery and the now-imminent relaunch of my suspended Pacific Crest Trail hike.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Plan B takes shape in Julian

Carmen McNerney and some derelict from the trail.

After my fateful hitch to the Julian Lodge just 10 days into the hike, I said to myself, "Self, bite the bullet, spend the money and take the time hit and stay here through the weekend. If it's going to heal in time to carry on, that should do it. If not, you have to figure something else out."

The nurse at the Julian Medical Clinic was off on Friday, and wasn't going to be in until Monday, so I was on my own until then. I'd already learned through a few brushes with infirmity in 2015 that self-diagnosis is foolish, but having nothing else to do besides pig out on Carmen's Place's insane(ly great) cuisine, I looked up ways to ameliorate plantar fasciitis. 

Foot taping experimentation ensued, with the hamburgered extremities mummified in medical tape to seal in flavor and freshness (and pain). While it sort of felt like helped in the hotel room, it was too elaborate and time-consuming to do on trail. It also introduced its own problems, such as the probability that the tape would peel up inside my sock and cause lumps while on trail. Further, no two YouTube foot-tapers seem to do it the same way, and it's difficult-to-impossible to tape one's own feet without twisting them into the wrong position.


No, taping wasn't going to be an enduring solution. No deus ex machina techno-tape was going to ride in on a glittering unicorn like a magic bullet, to totally mangle a metaphor.

By Sunday, my feet were still oozing and aching, I was still having trouble walking to and from the hotel room's bathroom (I actually crawled on my hands and knees several times), so any notion of putting the backpack back on and hitting the trail again was clearly not realistic. Still, no pain on Earth was going to stop me from hobbling over to Carmen's Place for her sumptuous burritos and supersized sympathy.
There's a burrito in there somewhere.
Also, every hiker gets a free Tecate at Carmen's. 

Pleasant as the village of Julian is, after a few days of my forced idyll, I was crawling out of my skin. And the town seemed to take on a sinister cast, like in a Stephen King novel or Twilight Zone where everything is superficially pleasant but there's something super-unseemly going on under the surface.

Sunday, I walked over to the Julian Library. It's really nice and modern, but smallish and they had no books on Plantar Fasciitis in stock. I wasn't going to be around long enough for an inter-district transfer, but that was OK since there are lots of online resources to read. Besides, I just wanted to get out of the room and see if I could take a moderate walk without pain and walking funny. I couldn't.

At one point in my hotel room that weekend, I realized I was halfway through the third consecutive episode of American Pickers, and enjoying it. Brain necrosis was well underway. Things had gone horribly, horribly awry. 

I did get one useful thing out of all that TV viewing though – the name of my backpack. There's a commercial wherein some nerd lies to his mom that he's had a date with an imaginary girl named "Blarverine." That word made me LOL, so it became my pack's name as it sat staring accusingly at me from the chair in the corner.

For each day I mouldered in the Julian Lodge, I had a distinct, possibly delusional sense of how the trail days, and the "bubble," or herd, of PCT hikers, were passing me by. And every passing day meant that the Mojave section would be that more of a furnace when I got there.

Some PCT hikers eschew the bubble. They hike for solitude, not community. Some camp way off trail, to avoid others. That's great for them, but I really enjoy meeting hikers, and chatting with them in camp. Even when I'm not hanging with them, I love hearing their happy conversation while inside my tent. There's also a safety factor in knowing that if I got into trouble, someone would be along on trail before too long.

But things weren't working out, and drastic action was needed if I was to continue the hike, honor the many charity and personal donors, and enjoy what is for me the main prize – Sierra and Northern California hiking.

So I sucked it up, called my brother Kelly in the Bay Area and asked if I could stay with him for a few weeks. This on the theory that there I could find a hiking-friendly podiatrist or sports medicine physician who could get me back on my feet by mid-June. At that point, I could re-insert myself into the trail in the southern Sierra around the time I would have been there had things gone according to plan. Plus I could see my 86-year-old mom while I'm there. Kel said sure, so I made a Facebook post announcing Plan B. One hole in that skeletal plan was the mystery of how to get out of Julian when the westbound bus only runs Thursday and Friday – four days from then.

There followed a wave of support and sympathy I hadn't expected. Everyone lauded my draft plan, in post comments and private messages. I heard this from people I thought I was in falling-out status with over some newspaper-related imbroglio, and others I've never met.
No one pointed out that I'm a whining titty baby who, after 52.6 miles of the PCT, is running home to mommy. They told me not to be so hard on myself, and to take it easy.


Rise of the super-pals

That Sunday, as I used virtual tweezers to pick the shards of my morale up off the floor, two different princes among men basically demanded to come and pick me up in Julian and drive me to wherever I needed to be. Both of the volunteer chauffeurs are overcommitted entrepreneurs who don't exactly have an abundance of free time, and each hails from one of my two basic cultural spheres of influence – my musical/Zappa world and my science/skepticism world.

Scott Chatfield, manager of supermusician Mike Keneally, called and offered to come get me on the spot. But I wanted to see the nurse at the Julian Medical Clinic the next morning to get some advice and, if I was lucky, properly dress my feet, because it would otherwise be at least two more days before I could get care. The next time that he could drive in from the coast would be Tuesday, so we went with that even though it meant a desultory Monday mouldering in Julian for yet another interminable day and night.

Then who should call but another left coastie, Brian Dunning, creator and host of the Skeptoid podcast. He too offered to come get me, could do so the next day and would even take me to Scott's house in Encinitas! That would let Scott and I close the loop, as we had planned to hang out at the beginning of my hike two weeks previous, but something had come up.

Nurse Lisa stabilizes my feet.
The next morning at 8 a.m., I wobbled over to the clinic with some trepidation. I'd been having such good luck with people – my friends old and new, and fellow hikers – that it seemed I was overdue for an unhelpful encounter. I know, I know – the odds don't have a memory and don't change with each successive trial. But still, I wouldn't have been surprised if some sort of regression to the mean expressed itself in a cold or bureaucratic nurse not giving me very good help.

But Nurse Lisa was great. She patched me up well enough to  proceed with confidence, and at no charge. She said my foot problems are common among hikers, as are hike-related knee, back and other issues. 

Afterward, to drown my sorrows, I hobbled over to Mom's for my free-to-PCT-hikers slice o' pie, something I'd been too depressed to partake of over the weekend. Turns out the nice ladies at Mom's, which is the best-smelling place in Julian – also give you a free dollop of ice cream (I chose cinnamon) and a cup of coffee with your pie. It was great.  


More to come...


Coffee, pie and 'scream at Mom's. No charge.







Thursday, June 2, 2016

A painful interruption

Plan B
or
The Shocking Story Kevin Hoover Doesn't Want You to Know!
or
Well, that actually doesn't make any sense, since he's telling you every little detail
or
Whatever. Here's how my PCT hike broke down after 52.6 miles, part 1

On my last day on trail, when I was still foolishly trying to tough it out.

As we all know, adaptation is key to survival. Key! 
And as readers know, I've grown deeply besmitten with Pacific Crest Trail life. I barely sampled its abundant joys when the feet went south as I was headed north.
Just two weeks into the hike, I knew what the nurse at the Julian Medical Clinic was going to tell me – the same thing my throbulent nerve endings were: you aren't hiking anywhere on these bloody things any time soon, boy. 
What she actually told me as she was stabilizing my battered, tattered feet was to get to a town with a podiatrist and have an evaluation done.
As you can imagine, the hike's interruption was painful mentally as well as physically. A year of planning, and with so much community backing and scrutiny, now all sundered by a probably-preventable medical issue.
This followed the initial rounds of something I've been dealing with since then – waves of self-damnation for the now-obvious holes in my planning and training, plus embarrassment, self-doubt, thoughts of impostor syndrome and being the embodiment of Dunning-Kruger over my vainglorious escapade.
But there'd be plenty of time later for wallowing in self-pity – it was time to put into action my hike salvage plan.
But first, some catch-up. 
At an overlook near Laguna Campground. 
After the previous zero day in Mt. Laguna, it was only with incessant Ibuprofen, denial and megadoses of Gorilla tape and gauze that I was able to trudge through the day. I made it just six miles to the Laguna Campground that day, motivated in part by the seriously stunning views of the Anza Borrego Desert. 
There, I was bedazzled by vastness and age if the formations, with shapes and colors along the trail that far exceed in beauty and subtlety anything I remember from my LSD and psilocybin days, because it's real.
These passersby pointed out to me the frighteningly beautiful Poodle Dog Bush, which I might otherwise have overlooked.

I also continued to encounter countless friendly folks of all ages, genders and nationalities. The reason I met so many is that they were all passing me by. My daily mileage was abysmal. I could only go four or five miles before the pounding pain from my feet broke through the invisible Vitamin I shield.
It slowly dawned on me that apart from the breathtaking beauty and lovely conversations with other hikers, most of my consciousness was consumed with managing pain. Every footfall was an explosion of agony, and it wasn't getting better. Everyone has initial aches and pains, but this seemed to be exceptional.
I had to pick each footstep carefully to minimize pain return, so I was basically taking baby steps. Rarely could I take any healthy strides; basically only when the trail was soft and dusty and straight. Sometimes my foot would slip, causing the meat inside my heel to crunch sideways, and it felt like my foot had been jammed into a garbage disposal.
I also came to realize that the Ibuprofen wasn't really helping me. By suppressing the pain, it was allowing me to continue hiking and further inuring my feet. 
Also, one of the side effects of Ibu is elevated risk of heart attack. Lovely. The way my heart was pounding as I climbed those steep ridges, I probably didn't need any risk factors heightened.
Clearly, this is no way to hike the PCT. Or live. It certainly isn't what I had planned for.
Where I awoke on my last day on the trail. A perfectly lovely spot to be depressed.

On Day 10, I woke up in Laguna campground to feet that were throbbing and bleeding. They weren't healing, and even taking down the tent and packing up for the day was difficult to do on the swollen stumps I was using for feet. I was really bummed.
All the other hikers were gone, so it was just me painfully laboring to assemble my gear for what would likely be an increasingly joyless trudge. For foot conservation purposes, I asked the caretaker who was tending the restroom if he could give me a ride to the front gate, and was hoping he'd give me a lift down the road to the trailhead. But he was rules-oriented rather than laissez-faire, and said no for probably very good reasons. So I had to trudge on concrete and asphalt for a mile before I even got on the trail.
You might be able to see the foursome of hikers on the ridge. They paused to behold the stunning view, then passed me after a while. I next saw them as the Pioneer Mall Picnic Area, where I left the trail.

By the time I got to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area at mile 52.6, I could hardly walk. My labored gait must have been rather comical, but the nice kids I saw there, who of course had passed me earlier, were sympathetic.
I walked up to the road at about 1:05 p.m., plunked down by the sign at the picnic area entrance, pulled out my 2016 PCT Hiker bandana, unfurled the "HIKER TO TOWN" message and started waiting for cars. About five minutes later, a nice mini-SUV rounded the bend. The teenage girls inside heeded their parents' warning about not picking up strangers, and sailed right by. 
The sign where I met my Waterloo, and Astro the Trail Angel. USFS photo

For the next half-hour, no more cars came. Rain was predicted, and dark clouds were rolling in on the stiff wind. It was another one of those, "I wonder what the hell will happen next?" moments. I was thinking that I might have to stealth camp somewhere near the picnic area, where camping is prohibited.
Then two more SUVS went by. Finally, a few minutes later, a small sedan slowed and signaled that it was turning into the picnic area parking lot. But at the last minute, it didn't turn – it continued forward to pull up to where I was standing with my purple scarf. 

The passenger-side window lowered, and a young guy asked what up. "Hey I'm having foot problems, so I'm trying to get to Julian," I told him. Note that this is 30-plus miles from town.
"Hop in," he said.

Whoa.
Turns out the driver, Astro (real-world name Zach) is a PCT thru-hiker on his way back to Texas from a golf tournament in San Diego. He was pulling into the picnic area just to hang out with hikers, because he misses the trail. He'd left the trail on a previous thru-hike attempt due to a medical issue, and could totally relate to my plight.
Astro-Zach delivered me right to the front entrance of the Julian Lodge. I planned to stay one night, then resume the hike. But reality intervened, and it was not to be.
To be continued...




Friday, May 13, 2016

The dream is alive, if not exactly kicking anything for the time being


Dr. Shah looks inside my inflamed feet.

Other than the PCT hike turning into a huge flaming trainwreck, I've had fantastic luck over these past few weeks. Especially with people.

Now, being a big high and mighty skeptic and all, I know full well that with, say, coin flips, your odds of getting heads or tails are always exactly the same with each trial, regardless of any results up till then. Coins have no memory and "streaks" are illusory. They're just part of the human compulsion to find patterns and assign supernatural agency to random occurrences. 


But c'mon, how many superkind people are there in the world?  And yet... this morning's medical adventure continued the streak. One of the reasons I decided to stay in the Bay Area was to have access to world-class sports medicine facilities. Apparently that was a good call, because all indications are that excellent care was exactly what I just experienced.

I went to a big old (newish, that is) office building in Walnut Creek which houses the Center for Sports Medicine. The center has all the trappings of high-powered medicine – wide, carpeted halls, corporate art, high-tech machines and so on. As a proud American I am fully impressed by such externalities, but of course what really matters is the physician. 

Here again – boom, she turned out to be nothing short of awesome. HOW. DOES. THIS. HAPPEN?

What do you want from a doctor? Oh, maybe to have the person take their time, listen to you, answer your questions, speak from experience and yet consider your situation on its own merits, 
explain all the possibilities and then make recommendations. Laughing at your dumb jokes is kinda nice, too. 


Meet Dr. Selina Shah. She did all that. First she let me describe my maniacal PCT aspirations, the tedious tale of what brought me hobbling to her doorstep, and what I'd like to do (resume hiking). Then she did an ultrasound on my messed-up feet, showing me the inflamed areas and confirming my tentative self-diagnosis of Plantar Fasciitis. 



Those horizontal black bands along the bottom and middle are the inflamed areas.

I have two issues – the PF and the external injuries from the initially ill-fitting shoes and insoles. The good news is that the hitherto hideous surface areas are on the mend. The sore spots are healing, and the nurse both dressed my feet and gave me a ton of hi-tech bandages to apply in days to come.

But the PF is the main problem. The severity has seemed to alternate between the feet, but at this point, the left one seems most afflicted. The ultrasound showed dark bands of inflammation remaining, and I can only imagine what they would have looked like a week ago – probably like a Spinal Tap album cover

The good news is that there isn't any torn tissue. It's just inflamed. And Dr. Shah confirmed my speculation that gobbling so much pain-suppressing Ibuprofen as I did might well have allowed me to continue hiking past the point where I should have stopped. But she said that I was wise to halt the hike when I did, as I was indeed headed for more debilitating injuries.


#unclearontheconceptbutthat'sOK
She prescribed turmeric infusions, coffee bean extract supplements, Himalayan salt poultices, and homeopathic tinctures with complimentary crystal energy healing sessions. It turns out my chakras just need encouragement. That all seems kind of odd, but... yeah, just kidding! This isn't Arcata.  

What's next is home therapy with frozen water bottles and stretches, a night brace, twice-weekly physical therapy, a follow-up visit June 1 to track recovery progress, and – yes! – some moderate practice hikes. 

There was one funny quirk, of course. There always is. After they bandaged up my feet again, I was given a pile of supplies and the big foot braces for nighttime. I asked if they had a discreet bag of some sort so that I wouldn't be advertising my infirmities to innocent passersby all over Walnut Creek. Well, they brought me a bag, all right, and wow, is it stealthy!

Bottom line, if I do everything right and the feet cooperate, I could very well be back on trail this time next month. I sure hope that happens, because I need to honor all those who placed their faith in me and donated to my hike and the charities, and earn more per-mile pledges for the worthy causes. 


Plus, I had just acquired a taste for the sheer beauty, the physical exertion, the intensity of feelings and sharpened perceptions, the joy of problem solving and of course, those sweet, sweet hiker boys and girls (of all ages) who I met during my Campo-to-Julian foray. I just want to be able to hike without foot agony eclipsing all else. And if the timing works, I'll be able to re-meet many of the great folks I encountered during that all-too-brief interval

So, thanks to your encouragement and advice, plus the crucial and timely assistance of several people whom I need to thank personally in the next post, plus of course my new medical mentor Dr. Shah and her excellent staff at the Center for Sports Medicine, the dream is alive.


According to experts, there's life in these pups yet.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Magic and frustration on the Pacific Crest Trail

All systems have been go – attitude, gear, stamina, knees, back... but not my feet.

I write this from Julian, Calif. where I’m stuck for a few days with what appears to be Plantar Fasciitis. It’s rather agonizing to be off trail, luxuriating in a nice, touristy hotel room when my every instinct screams to be back on the rocky, rocking footpath to Ashland. These problems aren’t uncommon among hikers, especially during the first few weeks. So I’m sentenced to live in trail town luxury for a few days as I work through the foot issues.
So Called Thoughts
The first week-and-a-half of my Pacific Crest Trail hike has mixed pain, pleasure, tedium, fascination and overall I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-doing-thisness. The trail is never the same from day to day, and it’s all fun.

If you are going to commit to being out in the wild for months, the PCT is a great choice. Just in Section A, from the Mexican border to here, you’ll experience a stunning variety of climes and hiking conditions. I’ve crossed streams, clambered over logs and boulders, walked through canyons and valleys, across rocky desert, dense forest, arduous mountains and gusty passes, all filled with stunning sights to behold. Yet you’re never too far from a friendly, resource-rich trail town to rest (and shower) your bones. For the first time in my life, I’ve hitchhiked to get to and from the trail. For me, that’s pretty edgy.

Since I lack any desert background, until now I’ve not fully appreciated what I might know intellectually about this complex, bountiful ecosystem.

Lizards bask on rocks, scampering away as you pass. Squirrels and jackrabbits give you the eye and scurry off. Shiny black beetles lumber about on their business. Unseen birds sing exotic songs we never hear in Arcata. Cacti and chaparral make wicked, wonderful sculptural statements. Toxic, weed-like Poodle Dog Bush invites the unwary to have their skin erupt and boil off. Rock formations assume shapes no human could ever imagine, embellished with rich and detailed colors no painter could ever paint. It’s waaaay beyond anything Disney might contrive, but all real and free for the immersing.
Colors unretouched. Sights like this are commonplace along the trail. 

Thrusting rock is lined with sedimentary strata laid down over eons, but the stripes are vertical because subsequent eons have upended that ancient lake bed and made it into a mountaintop. The rock seems so solid and changeless, yet you know it is always in motion and, over time, just more fleeting ephemera like yourself. Still, wading through these building-sized wonders, you really “get” the scale of geologic time compared to our flickering lifespans.

One can’t resist taking pictures of the many jaw-dropping sights and delights along the way, but if you break out the camera to capture every worthy image, you’ll never get anywhere, so you just have to let a lot of it go.

The PCT culture offers another set of surprises. My first day on the trail, I met Randy and Deb. They turned out to be friends with none other than Rees Hughes, co-author of the Pacific Trailside Reader and volunteer trail steward. Later, when I got to my first campsite that night, I was greeted with a friendly, “Hi, Kevin!” It was Randy and Deb, already set up for the night. 
The first night's campsite, with Miriam and David.

Later, a young couple named David and Miriam showed up and shared the campsite. Miriam was having foot problems, and soon, so would I. They said they’d followed me up the mountainside, saying “There’s Umbrella Guy” again and again.

My first trail magic came the next morning in the form of two big jugs of water left at Hauser Creek, right before the hot, hard climb up to Morena Butte. That really helped my water margin. Funny, you’d never drink anything found sitting on a sidewalk in Arcata. But two anonymous Sprite bottles full of plain old water in the middle of nowhere, and you’re a-guzzlin’.

There was more magic down the road at Boulder Oaks campground. As previously noted, every other hiker is an instant friend and ally out in the middle of nowhere. Everyone shares, and there’s a lot to share.

Just as I was getting ready to rehydrate some mashed potatoes that night, this nice guy named Steve showed up with four pizzas, cookies, sodas and chilled apples for the PCT hikers there. I, Phillip and Isabel from Montreal and Alex from Napa dined royally.
Later, just as I was dropping my $14 park fee off at the kiosk, a woman a ways behind me said, “Sir? Sir?”

It was Ettie, here with Ethan by way of Arizona. And she had yet more pizza offered by yet a different trail angel – “some lady” –  right when I was getting the hungries again! Yes, I actually had a free pizza delivery while walking past my tent in the woods.
TRAIL PIZZA! Ettie delivers. KLH | Union
TRAIL PIZZA! Ettie delivers. KLH | Union
The next morning, a guy named Legend showed up in his fanciful cook truck to makes us all M&M pancakes and hot coffee. The trail love was truly felt.

Other than campgrounds, I’ve tented at several remote trailside removes. Available tent spots tend to fill up late in the afternoon and evening as hikers, some gasping and wheezing with exhaustion, straggle into camp. Some just throw up their tent and zonk out; others chat and socialize into the evening.

In Mt. Laguna, I ran into David and Miriam. They said they missed me, aww. She’d found some better-fitting shoes in a hiker box and was sending her old ones home (which I should have done). While visiting outside the store, I left a small box of groceries unattended for a few minutes, and when I got back David had stashed two PBRs in it. Some people ...

A few hiking days later, when the feet again got too painful (and probably unwise) to ignore, I found a road and held up my “HIKER TO TOWN” scarf. After a half hour, along came Zach (trail name Astro). A PCT thru-hiker himself, he’d actually intended to stop at a picnic area and chat with some of this year’s “trail trash.” Instead, he saw me and pulled over. “I’m trying to get to Julian,” I said. “Let’s go!” he said, and drove me right to the hotel here. Then I think he gave another hiker a ride out to the trailhead.

So for now, I’m unplugged from the trail life I’ve just been learning to savor –  laid up in Julian, nursing tootsies with what appears to be Plantar Fasciitis. If that sounds like some freaky form of foot fascism, well it is. It’s immobilizing, and you just have to wait it out. Stewing and moping seem fairly mandatory, and I’m great at that. But at least there’s beer. I wish the nurse at the local clinic had been on duty today to verify my diagnosis and offer advice.

While I literally cool my heels for a few days, I’ll get new shoes in nearby Ramona; something I should have done in Mt. Laguna. (Later note: none of that happened.) My plan is to hitch back out to the Sunrise Trailhead or Scissors Crossing after my doctor visit on Monday and unless I’m advised otherwise, hit the trail again, hopefully with fortified feet and lessons learned. (Note: None of that happened either, except the lessons learned.)  Meanwhile, I’m learning the intricacies of foot taping. It really helps.

It’s frustrating to be waylaid like this, but from what I’m told, it’s all within the range of mini-adventures people commonly experience on this living ribbon of rock and soil, sand and sunshine we know as the Pacific Crest Trail.

Week one reveals the PCT's pleasures and pains

North of Lake Morena. Photo by some guy. 

Day 8, May 3, 2016

Week 1 has been everything a PCT hike is supposed to be. All boxes are checked - ups, downs, exhilaration, tedium, trail magic, incredible views of scenery and wildlife, instant friendships, challenges, problem solving, potential showstopper issues in whose whose dour face I laugh in defiance... in short, adventure. I expected the unexpected, and my expectations have been fulfilled.

Some assumptions have borne out. It's true what they say about trail camaraderie. Everyone is so friendly, and there is a lot of mutual support in terms of sharing of information food and water sharing. I think the reason is that all of us out here have the same basic needs: water, cool campsites and other resources. There's no pretense, just the joy of discovery. Who are you? Where are you from? What's your goal? What are your issues?

It's also true that the trail clarifies one's priorities, and I already have learned a lot. Among the lessons: I wasn't careful enough packing. Why do I have six pens, a tape measure, a book I'm too tired to focus on at the end of the day and other weighty nonsense? All that and more redundant oddments totaling five pounds of dead weight are being sent home from Mt. Laguna.  Apparently this is quite common, and the hiker boxes here in town are loaded with prime but superfluous gear people have sluffed off.

My gear works great. The pack handles like a champ. And even my hokey front pack (which I think of as my toy box) turned out to be a good idea. My umbrella is one of my favorite bits of gear, and miraculously, it mounts fuss-free in my pack strap and definitely helps lower the temperature 10 to 15 degrees.

My trekking poles are also invaluable. I have weak ankles, and am very concerned about rolling one on irregularly surfaced trail. The poles help take weight off the feet; they help me climb steep stretches and lower myself big steps in the trail; and they help arrest slides when one is walking over gravelly or otherwise slippery spots.

The Enlightened Equipment quilt, Thermarest pad and Big Agnes tent all make for very snug, comfortable nights. My no-cook approach also worked out well. There's no way I'd want to fuss with cooking and cleaning after a day on the trail, at least during this shakedown phase. My lukewarm mashed potato and soup concoctions taste just fab, but then so do the nice sandwiches in towns.

I'm figuring out how to quickly set up camp and transition to evening activity, and how to pack up and head out in the morning. So far I'm staying in established campsites or campgrounds. Others I've met prefer to find wilder spots off trail.

I've also learned that fatigue isn't going to be a problem, nor fortunately, will my knees, back or shoulders. Others have had trouble in those areas.

I can handle heat pretty well, and long stretches of elevation gain are just a matter of pacing and persistence. The PCT is really a series of day hikes, and each day might be thought of as a succession of micro-hikes. That hot climb out of Hauser Creek was where I learned to go a few hundred feet, rest, drink water and resume, and then get to the top in good shape.

The sole (pun intended) limiting factor on my mileage, stamina and enjoyment has been my feet. It turns out that for all my planning, I neglected to put decent insoles in my Merrill Moabs for this initial stretch. The ones that come with the shoes, it turns out, are paper-thin and have been transmitting the full shock of each step right into the soles of my feet. I was wondering why I felt every sharp rock right through the soles.

It got pretty bad yesterday as I approached Mt. Laguna. Each footfall was a painful jolt, and I had this fleeting vision of my feet as masses of shredded roast beef at the end of shards of bone. I was glad to get a room at the Mt. Laguna Lodge, then head down to Laguna Mountain Sports for foot care items.

What a trippy store. Imagine talking all of Pacific Outfitters' inventory and cramming it into a shop about the size of the Union's office. You literally have to bushwhack through floor-to-ceiling forests of hiking clothes, tents, sleeping bags and other gear. Somehow Mountain Dave packs every conceivable piece of gear and gizmos into that tiny place. There were lots of things I've never seen before, even at REI. It reminds me of some of the crazy-overstuffed knick-knack shops in Malaysia. Matt there was wonderfully helpful, very kind.

Back at the room, I tended to my hammered, hamburgered feet. I won't show you the pictures, because they're gross. Blisters, dead skin, purple toes, oozing... Almost as bad as Cheryl's feet were in that movie. And yes, like her I had contrived some primitive field dressing using Gorilla (duct) tape and gauze just to get me to town.

But now I have the real stuff. Some supposedly high-tech, shock-absorbing insoles, plus leukotape and more moleskins. So I can properly armor up for the next leg of the journey.

Still, as of last night, I was in no condition to continue the hike. My feet were swollen, bleeding and throbbing. I could barely walk at all, and could only hobble around the room by walking on the sides of my feet. Not good when you have almost 1,700 miles to go. By the end of the night, I couldn't even lower my swollen right foot to the floor without it feeling like it might explode. I had to keep it elevated, wrapped in a wet towel.

Overnight, it was hard to find a sleeping position since my feet were so sensitive. In a funny way though, I could feel them healing. My sore heels were tingling, almost buzzing, and I took that to mean the restorative processes were underway.

When I woke up this morning, I could once again walk - gingerly - on the edges of my feet. After several steps, I could plant my foot firmly on the floor. Now, in the afternoon, I can walk almost normally and mostly without pain. In fact, I probably could have left today, and all my impulses were to do so even though I knew it would be premature. I was waffling because I really want to get to Julian, the next town stop.

Then I read this incredibly timely post by Carmen McNerny on the PCT Class of 2016 page. She runs Carmen's Place, a Mexican restaurant in Julian, a place much-beloved by hikers:

"Well, crap. Been a tough couple of days at mile 77. Some pretty rough injuries. Two that are bad enough to take them off trail. Breaks my heart. I'm sure not a fraction of what they are feeling. All those months (if not years) of planning and saving to attempt a monumental journey. To have it all end so close to the beginning due to an injury. Injuries that could have been avoided.
"I have seen quite a few that have left because the mental toughness is not there. Cool. It's not for everyone. But to have to leave because your body says no must be so devastating.
"I am by no means a long distance hiker, but I've talked to many over the years. May I hand out advice?
"The 1st week or two are brutal. Your body is adjusting. The weight you are carrying, the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, back and your sad little feet. By the time you see me you've already figured out that your tent, shoes and pack suck.
"Please be kind to yourself. IT IS NOT A DAMN RACE!!!! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!!! Take it at your own pace, love. Don't feel like you need to prove you can keep up with the pack. Persistent pain should NOT be ignored. Take a day or two now or 8 days later in a hotel you can't afford.
"Or of course the worse... leaving the trail all together because you felt like you had to "push on." There is so much pressure... especially at the beginning. Relax, enjoy the ride. That's what you're here for, right? Don't push it, kittens..."

That was all I needed to make the responsible decision to spend the $60 and stay another day in Mt. Laguna, letting my feet heal. I must admit that after a week on trail, I'm enjoying watching cable TV news about the fine lunatics vying for the presidency. That's only gotten worse it seems.

The trail has really worked with me over this past week. There was an initial elevation test for a taste of things to come, then a series of well-defined campsites, water resources and resupply townlets.

I read somewhere that when pack trains used to resupply at Brizard's before heading out for the gold mines in the Sierras, they would stop at Alliance and Spear to rejigger everything - shift loads around among the animals and make other adjustments needed   after that first couple miles. That's how I'm thinking of this pause in Mt. Laguna - a place to drop 5 lbs., smarten my setup and relaunch.

The plan is to be all packed up and set off around dawn tomorrow. With water resources ahead somewhat sparse and funky, I plans to carry five liters. If my feet start to hurt, I can pull off after just five miles at Mt. Laguna Campground, which has full facilities. Or I could keep going and camp somewhere else along the trail, maybe Oriflamme Canyon 12 miles up the road if I have truly regained my trail legs (feet). Fortunately it looks like a relatively gentle amble to Julian.

My medium-term goal is to continue trail acclimation and start achieving better mileage each day. But at the same time, there is so much to savor in terms of sights and smells, people and places that I'm perfectly happy going slow for now. Eventually I'll hit a working stride and whatever that turns out to be will be fine. Feets, don't fail me now!

That went ridiculously well, and April 26 is rushing up quickly

These final days before the hike are a merry maelstrom of proportion, panic and – at least it didn't happen a week from now – getting over a horrible headcold.

Week before last I had, as Dave Letterman used to say, more fun than humans should be allowed to have. Honestly, everything has been swinging my way to such a ridiculous extent lately that I feel kind of guilty, even nervous about it. I also feel kind of funny taking up so much space talking about my stupid life, but people tell me they like reading these updates, those who may not don’t have to read them, and I leave town for four months on April 20 anyway, so all this shameless self-promotion will cease then.


It’s as though everything I love the most about Arcata is intensifying. The Ridge Trail is getting better and better; we’re finally – finally! – seeing sanity insofar as cannabis policy, with new above-board facilities being established after all this time; Arcata Main Street has gotten serious, and seems poised to fulfill its downtown mission; and so much more. I'm going to miss out on the Humboldt Crabs season, all the fairs and countless canap├ęs at all the mixers. I won't get to camp on the roof of Jacoby/s Storehouse for the North Country Fair, and I'll miss the Mad River Festival at Delll'Arte. After all these years, my metabolism is basically synchronized with these yearly events.



Dysfunctional, frustrating Arcata has never been more vibrant and engaging. Joni said we don’t know what we got till it’s gone, and I do wonder which of our awesome town’s amenities I’ll miss the most. Probably Brent yelling at me about “fraudulent mediaaaa... bleargh yammer yammer.” Or not.

I was so pleased that we got to put out an Arcata Eye for April Fool. Making an Eye again was an absolute blast. I had kind of forgotten that paper’s design logic, having been laying out Union pages for the last two-and-a-half years. But once I got back into it, it was like riding a bike.


Interestingly, and while lots of folks said they were glad to see the Eye again, there was one common reaction to its re-emergence that I hadn’t anticipated – routine acceptance. Several folks enjoyed the funny stories without initially noticing that it was all packaged as an Arcata Eye. Even a few weeks before the faux edition came out, City Engineer Doby Class referred to the Union as the Eye at a City Council meeting. That paper did serve Arcata every week for 17 years, so I guess it’s inculcated into our mindset to some extent.

Homework passes on his backpacking lore.

Plus, as usual with April Fool and to my mischevous delight, some people believed – briefly – some of the stories; for example the Tunic Town takeover and the Cabin on the Plaza pieces. And of course, it wouldn't be an Arcata Eye without a stupid typo in one of the stories. So that that was fun.

The next major fun last week was attending my new friend and fellow Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hiker Trevor Homework McKee’s Wednesday night rig rundown at Humboldt State. Homework embodies all the best values of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) culture in terms of friendliness, plus sharing of information and experience. He and his friend Heather Briggs revealed their backpack contents and differing approaches. I learned a lot of things, and made some key revisions to my hiking setup.

Maureen McGarry explains RSVP/VCOR.

Then Thursday, my sendoff event at Hotel Arcata went well. I showed off my hiking gear, talked and answered questions; dentist Dr. Robert Berg spoke about the Children’s Dental Angel Fund; Maureen McGarry discussed RSVP/VCOR; Mark Andre talked about Arcata’s trails; Rees Hughes gave a fantastic overview of the PCT and Volunteer Trail Stewards; Homework talked about the PCT and his trail outreach (he’s hiking the Continental Divide Trail in a few weeks!); and then Glenn Branch of the Center for Science Education gave us a great talk about climate change denial. What a night.

Friday evening was the Companion Animal Foundation’s Fixer Mixer (see page A2), and there I learned how delicious lettuce wraps are.
Ian Harris and Joey Fabian meet part of their local fan base, a
pizza-engorged subset of the Humboldt Skeptics.

Just when I was nearly maxed out on good times, I met with my fellow statistical outliers, the Humboldt Skeptics at the Jam. There we noshed on excellent GMO-free pizza before proceeding over to the Arcata Playhouse.
There, in a well-attended show, I beheld the brilliant musical stylings of Joey Fabian, skeptical musician and fellow Frank Zappa fan. He did a fantastic version of “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” and closed with “It Ain’t Necesssarily So.”


Ian Harris.
 Local comic Kim Hodges followed with her unsparing appraisals of the colorful personnel one encounters in Arcata, saying the things you can only say in a comedy routine. Then comedian Ian Harris had everyone rolling in the aisles with his insights into popular culture and misapprehensions about science. You have to see his bit on that useless Airborne immune-boosting garbage; it’s absolutely hilarious.
Joey Fabian performs Frank Zappa's
"The Meek  Shall Inherit Nothing."
Says Joey: That's an Eb major chord,
so the sound coming out of my mouth
was either "what it's worth, when
it," or "really wrong, if you,"
 "hair  is all gone, the" or "friendly but,
that" or "leave a little tip, and help the..."


What else seems to be intensifying is Arcata’s mad social whirl. I’ve been literally gorging on all the amenities this town has to offer, since it is all to end for me very soon. On April 26, I start out on my 1,726-mile walk. No more mixers, no more catered spreads, no more of the privileges Arcata has bestowed on me. For four months I’ll be in the land of rattlesnakes, mountain lions and kind folks like Homework.


My food resupply boxes are just about ready, and other final details are nearly wrapped up. What I have to do now is close out several work projects and then hit the road, then the trail. 


Meanwhile, consider supporting the great charities for which I’m hiking. You can tax-deductibly donate directly to the PCT at razoo.com/story/kev-s-pct-hike, or to the Arcata Ridge Trail and Children’s Dental Angel Fund at hafoundation.org. 
Charity donations are tax deductible, or send any donation via me. Make checks payable to Pacific Crest Trail Ass’n, Arcata Forest Fund or the Children’s Dental Angel Fund. If you have questions, contact me at (707) 826-7000 or news@madriverunion.com.

One last thing. Various people have told me how admirable this is or I am. Thank you, but I assure you, I’m not worthy. Two things: 


1. I haven’t done anything yet but prepare for this hike. 


2. I would direct any admiration to others in our community who are far more worthy. If you want to acknowledge my effort, here’s how: be extra kind to the woman who puts in eight hours per day at CVS, or who cleans rooms in the Valley West motels, supporting her family. Or send some appreciation to the smart folks at City Hall who keep our sewage system working and drinking water flowing. Or the firefighters and police officers who put themselves on the line at all hours to head directly into difficult and dangerous situations. Or the social workers who daily deal with tragic, emotionally wrenching situations involving families and children ... and many, many more. Those are the folks who deserve adulation. Me, I’m just walking around, or will be.


Thanks again for all your support, everyone. After April 26, you’ll next see me on YouTube and other e-media, from a place far, far away.