Thursday, June 2, 2016

A painful interruption

Plan B
The Shocking Story Kevin Hoover Doesn't Want You to Know!
Well, that actually doesn't make any sense, since he's telling you every little detail
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.

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...


Jada said...

The hiking bits sounds enviable! We are all rooting for you!

Jada said...

The hiking bits sounds enviable! We are all rooting hard, Kevin!

Sayward said...

I've been doing long distance high mountain hiking for a number of years, with big breaks in between. I've managed to avoid PF though I did have it once long ago when I took up running after having been away from it for a very long time. I am happy to share some info on healing your PF and then what type of boots/shoes to wear next time you attempt the PCT, if you wish. My email is I'll not send info out unless you want it - don't want to push it on anyone. Quick and Easy healing to you! Sayward