Day: Sunday, June 5th 2016 – Monday, June 20th 2016
The benefit of hindsight. Such a horrible cliche but it seems that irrespective of the amount of thoughtful deliberation one puts into a personal decision, we are only too ready to critically analyze and beat ourselves down once that decisions relative level of success becomes clear. You’d be forgiven for thinking at this point, that I’ll enter a vicious diatribe about why I returned off the trail for a work consideration, and should not have, but you’ll be very surprised to know you’re wrong. I had a very pleasant and fulfilling trip back to the real-world and thoroughly enjoyed it’s fringe-benefits as well as closing out one of the biggest projects our large extended team of lovable (workaholic) rough and tumble geeks have thrown themselves at in a long long time. No, the benefit of hindsight was regarding listening to myself during the break. I’m not sure if it was the bright lights of society or the continuous impetuous to see everyone and try to do everything on my plate, but I didn’t take the time to realize my body was in need of rest, TLC and, as I now realize, meds (as I sit in the modest surroundings of the Motel6 in Mojave, CA where I’ve been resting up for 2 days on anti-biotics). I won’t idle too much in terms of details of my two weeks off-trail but I will provide a quick synopsis in one post on getting off trail and back, along with some observations on reintegration and the things I saw along the way. Tomorrow it’s back to business on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The first day off-trail was virtually entirely filled with the logistics of traveling back to Boston. Firstly taking a bus from Tehachapi to Lancaster, then enjoying some delicious Shwarma whilst waiting for my Metrolink train to Burbank, followed by a pleasant train ride south, backtracking on my recent days progress along the sandy ridges around Acton. Arriving to Burbank Airport, I already knew (thanks to the wonders of technology) that my flight to JFK was 5hrs late due to bad weather, a blunt reminder that my schedule was no longer entirely in my own hands.
Ordinarily I might have been angry or irritated at the delay, but oddly I really didn’t feel stressed about it and settled in. JetBlue apologized, they moved me to a nicer seat when some people elected to move to tomorrow’s flight, rebooked me on another flight to Boston from JFK and from there on I just gorged on free snacks and wrote some blog posts. At one point I spoke for some time with Esther at the generic Hudson News outlet in the terminal. A kind woman in her 60’s, Esther moved from Dublin to Los Angeles 5 years ago after deciding she had finally had enough of Irish weather and longed for the sunshine of Southern California – something she had enjoyed when raising a family there in the late 70s/early 80s. Now she worked evenings at the airport and spent her spare time volunteering at a church. By 2am, and not a moment too soon, I boarded, and finally departed California after 3 eventful weeks!
My time in Boston was brief but jam-packed. I was going to stay with a good friend south of the city, and help watch his French Bullfog puppy named Gizmo. There was also work to attend to, reuniting with my wardrobe at my apartment (my trail clothes were in tatters), there was gear to swap out, a resupply box to tweak, people to see and celebrations to be had (my housemate and her boyfriend got engaged in my absence!).
The week was frenetic and varied and in hindsight I was in a fog, almost in disbelief of where I was and what I was doing. I was also dealing with some adjustments on a metabolism-level: the constant movement and snacking on the PCT and large regular water intake was disturbed and the change was wreaking havoc with my stomach and general gastro-routine. This was manageable for the most part with some discomfort and I didn’t think much of it. At the weekend I met up with two of my best friends in Boston, had a few beers and a burger one night and a nice brunch the next morning. Living like normal Boston people! Then I enjoyed the Dragonboat Festival in Cambridge to round out a whacky week.
The second week was equally varied. I took an early morning flight to Raleigh, NC to link up with work colleagues for an effective 3 day all-hands-on-deck software release. I always enjoy visiting NC as it provides some variety but also because the office environment and team are fun and inspiring to spend time with. It was going to be a very busy 3 days troubleshooting problems, working long hours with difficult issues, and generally keeping spirits high by bouncing off each others personalities – certainly the array of supremely dedicated and fun personalities involved made it an atmosphere to be appreciative of and great to be part of. I was certainly happy that I came back to contribute a little to getting the release over the line. We had a small celebration after it completed, and with just a few days to go I was feeling eager to return to the trail. Still, persistent problems with my food routine were troubling and after a few days of high-coffee low-rest days I was feeling down and out – not helped with feeling the chills by Thursday when I finished up in NC.
I jumped on yet another flight on Thursday evening, this time to Washington DC to meet up with my brother and travel to Pittsburgh, PA. We drove the 4hr trip via the scenic town of Harper’s Ferry that evening, it felt weird to see some Appalachian Trail hikers around the town that evening, most hunkering down during a huge thunderstorm. I felt like I should give them trail magic or reach out in some way – but realized that I was just like anyone else to them: smelling of fresh laundry and deodorant and looking clean!
In Pittsburgh I had a relaxing few days at my American home-from-home with my cousins, brother, sister and uncle. It was relaxing and I was able to finish up my final work, resupply and gear setup, whilst the main group went to the US Golf Open during the daytime. Still persistent stomach problems at this point prompted me to start taking my Cipro dose – I had decided that what I was experiencing likely was not normal and that may have a bug. Meanwhile my chesty cold had advanced to the “gunky” phase, as if my body had decided it was taking a break whether my brain was allowing it or not. My uncle described me as looking “a little peeky” when he first saw me, and I’m not sure I have a better description for it! I finished out the nice few days in Pittsburgh (despite my predisposition) in the best way possible, with a large glass of baileys and a huge roaring firepit with cousins and good friends.
Sunday, June 19th came quickly, a little too quickly with how I was feeling. My sister dropped me to the airport and reminded me to take care of myself and listen to my body. As I dropped my bag to the checkin I was already wondering how I would strategize today. My original plan has me back on trail directly from the airport. I would take the two hour connection in Burbank between plane and train to grab an isobutane cooking canister and fill my water at the airport drinking fountains. It was already closely coupled and all rested on a 10min bus connection in Lancaster. Virtually immediately upon getting to the train station with 45mins to spare, I got a sinking feeling: all trains running 15-45mins late due to heat. I figured I could stay in Lancaster, or get the later bus. Another wildcard was to try and Uber the 25miles to Mojave where bus connections to two trailheads and a motel with hiker-rate were available. I noodled on the idea for the duration of the train ride and decided to go with the option once confirmed my bus connection would not wait for a delayed train. So it was that I met Saby, my cheery Indian Uber driver who took me the final part of the journey to Mojave – where I decided to rest for the night at the Motel6. The anti-biotics were helping but I figured that some rest would help.
The Motel option was a good one, firstly due to the intense heatwave enveloping the Mojave this week, but after a nights rest I was feeling a lot better and had a chance to restrategize the next week: my bear canister will be in Kennedy Meadows, 6 days walk, in 8 days, so I time on my side. I decided to stay Monday night in addition and start hiking Tuesday evening. That will allow me to avoid the heatwave and get into higher elevations with the maximum chance of success.
So the plan is made: I’ll be back on trail on Tuesday, June 21st starting from mile 566.4. For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie Wild, this is the PCT trailhead where Cheryl Strayed started her thru-hike in the early 90s.