Seven of us in the shelter makes for a loud evening, everyone tossing and turning on their crackling neoair sleeping pads. I don’t think it’s just the noise that makes me restless – my brain is chewing on all the everything I pondered yesterday, concerned but unable to make real progress. People start to move much too early, walk out into their day, let the door slam behind them. Repeatedly. By 6, I can’t take it anymore – alright, alright, I’m awake – and by 6:30, I’m poking Spesh so we can start our day.
He goes outside, because apparently the freezing cold is “bracing”; I stubbornly stay inside to finish yesterday’s Beef Stew Mountain House that I put too damn much Tapatio in1. I linger as long as I can before heading out to get used to the cold, taking off my puffy right before we head out so I won’t have to stop later. Gotta make those miles today – 25, to stay on target.
We’re not even a mile into the day when there is a sudden sharp, stabbing pain in my lower right spinal region. It pulls me to a stop, makes me cry out, almost takes me to my knees; the stabby bits leave pretty quickly, but I’m in a lot of pain. It makes walking hard, and I have to stop and stretch constantly – my guess is that not wearing my coat in the cold froze up my muscles, and I took a wrong step that tweaked something, and here we are. I don’t know that for sure – I don’t have much of any medical know-how, aside from the very superficial training one gets from CPR/First Aid courses and the general knowledge of such things one gathers being a hypochondriac – but that’s what I’m hoping it is. It does slack off when I put pressure on it, when I rub the muscle. Plus, I can’t really consider anything else. Just gotta walk it off.
Not too much further up the trail, I’m struggling to keep my shit together while the pain is forcing tears out of my eyes, and I become more and more concerned about what the hell’s going on. It crescendos going uphill, and I’m sobbing, fighting panic – I have to stop, lie down, take off my pack, figure out what’s going on. Spesh directs me onto my stomach, pokes and prods in the region, until we find a pressure point that makes the muscles unknit a little. It hurts like the dickens to be pressed, but once it’s released, I feel slightly better. We sit until I think I can manage, and then we set out again, slowly. Too slowly.
I get to a teeny tiny uphill and my hip-back is made of searing hot coals; every step is agony, and while I push through to the top, I’m sobbing again. So we sit. Again. I look at the map and I look at the time – we’ve made three miles in three hours thanks to this bullshit injury that I’m now officially concerned is going to take me off trail. That’s what I get for being concerned that I was going to want to get off trail, I guess – a terrifying amount of pain that might make up my mind for me. Spesh presses and prods again, makes it such that having to dig a hole isn’t as painful as it could be. I still can’t squat, and have to dig on the other side of a fallen log, aim really, really well.
I notice on the way back that we’ve hit the Bobby Lake junction, which is near the Eugene to PCT trail. I think, distantly, that MAGA could walk home from here. I’m starting to consider bailout points – I know that Eugene is tens of miles away, where the next gravel road on the PCT is less than 10 miles away. Well then. Nothing to be done but make those miles. Even if they are mostly uphill, and even if uphill is what aggravates my hip-back the most.
I’m up and moving, trying to think of anything but the pain. Focus. You know what this feels like now. You have to keep moving. There’s no way out but forward. Slowly but surely. Just focus on unknitting the muscle, telling it that it can relax, forcing the tension out as much as possible. Unknit unknit unknit. There are four miles of uphill to go.
That word becomes a mantra, all I’m focused on. I’m not looking at the scenery, I’m not concerned that Spesh is behind me, the word is all that matters. Unknit unknit unknit.
Those four miles are the hardest of my trek, but we make much better time, and by the time we hit the top, I am beat all to hell. The pain is more dull than acute now, but it’s still there, rumbling, growling, threatening. We take a break for as long as I’m willing to risk it; don’t want the muscle freezing up on me. Then it’s down, down, five or so miles to Charlton Lake.
The downhill stretches the muscle out, makes it feel marginally better, convinces me that it is just a muscle – or, more likely, the aftereffects of a pinched nerve. The muscle is probably guarding, “helping,” although that couldn’t be further from the truth given the circumstances. By the time we hit the Charlton Lake junction, I actually feel pretty okay, though tired, so tired from the pain. Another break, then.
The side trail is indented with many much mountain bike tracks, though from the dearth of such impressions back on the PCT, it seems like they’re staying where they’re supposed to2. There are a ton of folks out and about on and about the lake – carousing, biking, kayaking. It occurs to me that it’s the end of August, that people are drinking deep from the last draughts of summer. That winter – as far off as it seems now – is coming. I smile softly, through the dregs of pain, waddle into the cold cold water. The rocks are sharp underfoot, but they’re a distraction from my exhaustion and the rest of my aches and cares.
I’m out of the water to rest my eyes for a bit:
Then it’s back down the side trail, back to the PCT.
The gravel road is just ahead, and while I think I could probably get a ride out with some of the people at the lake – we stand to evaluate the situation at the makeshift parking lot just off-trail – I want to keep going. Maybe it will get better. We take a look at the map: there are two more bumps to Stormy Lake, and we figure we’ll reevaluate there. I should be able to make it– I’m going to make it at least that far. Nothing left but the walking.
We cross a road and find ourselves in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
This is the part of the journey that makes Spesh nervous. He’s hiked the Sisters Wilderness three times: once on his 2006 thruhike-turned-LASH3, once on his 2010 thru, and once with a friend who’s working on a section hike. Every time he’s been through, the weather has been terrible, clouds everywhere, usually a mix of rain and snow and misery. Add to that a dash of personal tragedy – one of his friends died here a few years back – and he’s not really looking forward to it, even if he’s in it to support me. Lucky for him, there’re only wisps of cloud in the sky today.
There are, however, clouds of mosquitoes a little closer to the ground.
There’s no time to stop, no time to think; all the pain of earlier today is forgotten. Trying not to inhale bloodsucking vampiresses is apparently better than any mantra I could’ve come up with. Spesh, from under his headnet, is freaking the fuck out, cursing up a storm, more agitated than I’ve ever seen him. Dr?No, his hiking partner from 2010 and my SoCal trail angel, warned me that he lost his shit around mosquitoes, and apparently was not kidding around. Spesh is in the lead and we’re hauling, four miles an hour; I’m keeping up only by the grace of my squick; I feel like I’m about to lose my mind.
One more bump, just one more to Stormy Lake, but I can’t, I just can’t make it through – it’s not the pain, I NEED bug spray. NEED it. We cover ourselves in the not-DEET, and it marginally works, but only, it seems, if we keep moving.
Go go go walk walk walk aah aah aah– and then, the trees part, the mosquitoes lessen, and we find ourselves at Stormy Lake.
Two gents are already set up in a nice lakeside spot, and they go on the hush-hush when we arrive – ooookay, maybe they want their privacy. There’s another nice set of spots on the north side, where we sit, evaluate like we said we would. I think I could go a little further than the 21 miles we’ve been – I think – but honestly, I’m exhausted, and kind of over today. So we set up and eat veg Korma – though I eye the mac and cheese covetously. I mean to write, but I’m just done. I’ve never been more thankful for the reset button that is sleep, and it, obliging, takes me swiftly.
Date: August 26 • Start: 1911.9 • End: 1932.8 • Day: 20.9
Notable Accomplishments: Pinched a nerve and made 20 miles • Survived another mosquitocalypse • Stayed practical in the face of terror
 I had to put an entire package of four-cheese mashed potatoes in there to cut the heat and I’m still convinced I singed the inside of my bowel.
 Long-Ass Section Hike