Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 4)

Dan took you through the brunt of his own illness and the toll it took on him as we continued making our way through Washington. Now I'm going to pick up the baton and finish out the saga. Oh how I wished it had ended with some annoying mice that kept us up in the night.

As I awoke on this, the 137th day on trail, I felt my stomach lurch. I ran off into the woods expecting the worst, and that's exactly what I got. Making my way back to my tent, I couldn't bring myself to start eating breakfast or packing up. I tried to go back to sleep. As I turned onto my back I felt immediate discomfort. Dan had described that exact discomfort not two days prior. After a few more trips back into the thicket I knew I had fallen prey to the same condition from which Dan had been ailing. Now I had Giardia too. Horror of horrors. This was not going to be easy.

And it wasn't. Luckily, Dan was incredibly patient and empathetic. After all, he was only now recovering from mostly the same symptoms. Like I had done for Dan, he showed great patience as our situations reversed. We stopped when I needed to stop and kept going as soon as I was able. The nausea came in waves, and I had to make the most of the times of stability before again having to urgently rush off trail. 

Oh yeah, and it was raining all day. Did I mention the rain? For the next 36 hours we would experience almost constant rain and cloud cover. This was supposed to be one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. Not only could we not see anything through the thick fog and cloud cover, but instead of sharing vistas we both had nausea and diarrhea. In case you've never experienced it before, diarrhea in the cold rain sucks. A lot. 

It was at this point that I realized this was only the second time on trail that Dan and I had been hiking completely by ourselves. No crew, no loose group of friends with whom we would leapfrog. Just two friends out in the woods shitting our brains out in the cold rain. What else can you really ask for? Honestly, it's an amazing bonding experience.

After two days of trudging along and trying to keep our spirits up, we made it to Steven's Pass, a skiing/mountain biking resort. We found ourselves a ride to the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven, a trail angel house in Skykomish, WA, where we were reunited with Butters and Frizzle. I may have felt like crap, but the comfort of friends meant the world to me. It was also at this point that Dan noticed a voicemail he had received from the clinic in North Bend. HE DIDN'T HAVE GIARDIA! Huzzah. Which also means that I didn't have Giardia. Again, HUZZAH. We simply had a common stomach bug. Food poisoning, or something like that.  Unfortunately this news did nothing to alleviate the nausea I continued to feel. There wasn't much we could do at this point except ride it out.

Butters too had been experiencing the pangs of sickness, only his manifested in an inability to keep food down. Consistent vomiting does not make for easy hiking. Less because it's had to walk while vomiting and more because it's hard to take in adequate sustenance required to do 25+ miles/day.

One day out of Skykomish and Butters was officially worried. There was no indication that his vomiting would cease. He was going to hike back to Skykomish, get a ride to Seattle and see a doctor. We didn't want to see our friend go, but only he could know what was best for him. We woefully gave him goodbye hugs before seeing him head off the same way we had come. This would be the last time we saw Butters. We missed him dearly in the week it took us to finish out the trail. Thankfully, it did not mean his hike was over. More on that later.

As Butters left us we gained a new crew member in Mongo, a fellow St. Louisan, jokester and all around good guy. So our crew would stay until the very end: Dan, Frizzle, Mongo and I.

Unfortunately, Mongo was not the only thing to see us to the trail's end. The nausea, diarrhea and general feelings of discomfort persisted off and on throughout the rest of the trail too. I guess you could say I learned to manage it well enough, but it put a damper on my mood to be sure. For 95% of the trail I felt up-beat and excited for what was to come. During dark moments in that stretch I could only hope that the trail would simply come to an end. We had walked 2500 miles since the Mexican border. I wasn't about to give up on the last 163 miles without a fight. 

I never actively wanted to quit before the finish, but I did occasionally wonder how much grit I had left in me. On one hand, we had already accomplished a great feat. We walked really far, we learned things about ourselves and we had a great time. Technically, we could have stopped there and still gotten a great deal out of the adventure. I wasn't willing to stop until we reached the end, though. I wanted to follow through on the commitment we made to this journey. I wanted the closure of making it to the monument at the Canadian border. Willpower and camaraderie were what kept me going. 

Dan was mostly better in that last week, though he too had bouts of diarrhea from time to time. Even Ms. Frizzle was unable to fully avoid our misfortune. It was less severe than what Dan and I went through but far from optimal. Huge props to that girl for being a driving positive force. It was with this unwillingness to let our ailments and Washington's elements bring us down that we finished the trail.

On September 8, our 146th day hiking this Pacific Crest Trail, we made it. We arrived at the Canadian border with adrenaline surging through our bodies. Nothing could have brought us down in that moment of triumph, although it didn't hurt that we all felt some respite from illness. The weather, too, had cooperated with us. We hadn't seen rain in at least three days. 

Now we could rest. Glorious rest. After getting back to our respective homes and a week or so of recuperation I'm happy to report that all are once again well. Even Butters managed to make it back to trail and finished it out. 

You tested us, PCT. You threw us some curveballs, and still we stuck it out to the end. What a wild ride.