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.

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