My attempt to hike a 200-mile long section of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and JMT (John Muir Trail) would prove to be the most difficult yet. It’s not that the terrain itself that was particularly challenging, but it was those ‘other’ factors that played a part in me deciding to call it off shortly after it began.
I debated about what and how much to write regarding my experience, however I promised that I would submit a blog entry. I’m writing this with the definite outcome of pissing some people off, but to omit information for the sake of protecting feelings would do a disservice to the truth and mask the real reasons why I abandoned this endeavor.
I had learned a few things about my co-hiker after the Virginia trip and knew that before heading off into the wilderness of the PCT and JMT that I was ready to deal with these ‘concerns’, which pertain to said partner’s preparedness and carelessness. Since I accepted these things, I don’t feel the need to divulge the details as they have no direct bearing on the ultimate reason of why I left abruptly, however in the long run they could have proven a danger to everyone.
I also learned that being a strong/fast hiker is not synonymous with being a skilled wilderness backpacker. We use the terms interchangeably, however they are in fact, different. Hiking may involve carrying a backpack, however when backpacking, you are carrying all you need to survive on your back, ready to handle whatever life throws at you over a series of days, weeks, or months. Backpacking involves thorough planning for living safely in the backcountry and to go out there without doing so can be dangerous to the individual as well as the group. I myself, have a survivalist mentality, which is not shared by all members of our group. I’ve done extensive research prior to heading out to the PCT/JMT and knew that the remoteness of this particular section should be taken seriously and that hiking it should not be attempted willy-nilly.
In addition, I was cognizant going in of the fact that my feet could start acting up again and become a serious issue. I knew that hiking at a slower pace and controlling the impact on my feet would keep the pain manageable and allow me to continue hiking longer. Prior to heading out to the trail, it was agreed between the group that we would take our time. For one, we were in no particular rush to go anywhere; we had an entire month and we would hike as far as our feet would take us in that amount of time. Secondly, we had the altitude to contend with and if we didn’t progress slowly and allow our bodies to adjust accordingly, we would be putting ourselves at a higher risk for getting high-altitude sickness. I expressed my concerns about being the ‘trail snail’ and it was emphasized that we would adhere to a ‘no man left behind’ philosophy. Although this was all agreed upon, I had an exit strategy and made sure that I had enough food to carry me through any setbacks.
When hiking with a group, there is a code of conduct that should be followed to ensure the safety and enjoyment for everyone involved. Failure to abide by these simple, common-sense rules will inevitably lead to an unpleasant experience at least and more seriously, injury. Just because you’ve left civilization doesn’t mean you should leave your manners behind. Etiquette is as much about survival as it is about not being considered a primitive forest dweller.
- Hiking in a group gives you an increased feeling of security and allows for effective safety measures. For example, in the case of an accident, one person will be able to stay with the injured with another goes for help.
- When hiking in a group, set the right pace. Pick a pace that’s comfortable for everyone, and be sure the leader can always see the whole group. If the pace is too fast for anyone, have the slowest members lead. As a group, it’s critical to make sure nobody gets left behind. Not only is hiking faster than one’s natural pace annoying and difficult to maintain, if a hiker falls behind and loses contact with the group, that hiker experiences increased fatigue and can more easily become lost or injured.
- Take breaks whenever they’re needed, especially on long hikes and hot days. Listen to your body and be sure to stay nourished and hydrated; neglecting to do so can lead to sickness and/or injury.
- Every group member should know the planned route. Many trails have multiple paths leading to the same place and someone trailing behind can be left hiking alone on the wrong trail. It’s best practice to ensure that all group members are accounted for when encountering a junction.
There’s a purpose to my ramblings to what seems to be nonsensical spewing of facts that read like a Google search relating to hiking/backpacking. At this point, you should already have an idea for the basis for my leaving the trail and discontinuing my hike…let’s just use the term: irreconcilable differences.
Now for the story…
There were three of us in our hiking party: Free Bird, Flip Flop, and myself (I’ve changed the names for purpose of this narration in an effort to minimize the ensuing pissing off). We started our hike at Kennedy Meadows, at some random hill where the PCT intersects a paved road, on which our driver drove upon, and then meanders through the meadow and leads to the Kennedy Meadow Campground about 2.5 miles away. Although, I’ve always thought of a meadow as a low-lying piece of grassland near a river, these meadows lie between a set of mountains (Ball Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Kennedy Peak) at an elevation 6,427 feet above sea level. These are definitely remnants of an age gone by when glaciers roamed the land.
It was oppressively hot. I’m not exactly sure how hot it was at Kennedy Meadows, but when we left the town of Ridgecrest, CA it was 108-degrees. Ridgecrest is a town to the East over Sawtooth Peak accessible only by 9-Mile Canyon Road. It lies at the edge of the Mojave Desert and about 120 miles from Death Valley National Park. I doubt it was 108-degrees at Kennedy Meadows, however the sun was still blistering hot.
It was a 2.5 mile hike before we reached the border of the South Sierra Wilderness. Although the hike was flat, I could already feel the affects of being thousands of feet above the altitude that my body is accustomed to. I wasn’t the only one; the other members of the party were finding themselves breathing more heavily than usual. About 4 miles in, we encountered a desolate area ravaged by fire. The terrain wasn’t particularly difficult, but my pack felt like it weighed about 100 pounds (although it only weighed about 40 pounds fully-loaded with 3 liters of water and 10 days of food) and my breathing became increasingly labored. The concern generally revolved around me and my susceptibility to getting high-altitude sickness, because of my asthma. Although, I knew that anyone is at risk, even the most conditioned athletes (who do not train at high altitudes), I was concerned for myself and monitored my bodily functions closely.
It was at this point that Free Bird was starting to get sick…really sick. She complained of stomach pains, nausea, and dizziness. Since I’ve done my research, I knew that these were symptoms of the onset of altitude sickness (or AMS, acute mountain sickness). She insisted that it was due to the heat that she was feeling ill; she claimed she does not tolerate heat very well. That’s understandable. I don’t tolerate heat very well either, however I was feeling pretty good at this point. Free Bird complained that she couldn’t go on. I was highly concerned as AMS is a warning sign that she was at risk for the more serious and life-threatening forms of altitude sickness: HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). We stopped multiple times, to allow for Free Bird to rest and recuperate. We also slowed our pace considerably so she would not have to exert herself excessively. Flip Flop took all the food that Free Bird was carrying, in addition to some other items, to help lighten the load as well. Although Free Bird’s pack was now significantly lighter, she still struggled and now proceeded to vomit fiercely.
We discussed setting up camp where we stood, however the terrain was not going to allow that to be an easy task. For one thing, the landscape was uneven and the other larger issue was the lack of water. Although we had some water left, I didn’t feel comfortable that we had enough to stay well hydrated, especially under the blazing sun from which we had no refuge due to the stark fire-ravaged trees. We were going to do whatever was necessary to ensure the well-being of our co-hiker…no man left behind.
After a few rounds of intense vomiting, Free Bird said she was feeling a little better and insisted we push on to the campsite, which should have been within a mile. We continued to hike on and luckily, the campsite wasn’t too far off and better yet, there was water! After Flip Flop did most of the setting up of camp, Free Bird laid down inside the tent, without dinner, and rested for the remainder of the night. My foot condition was good, although I ended up switching from my very expensive pair of custom orthotics to my cheap over-the-counter backup inserts that I brought with me. The wallet erasers had already outlived their usefulness; obvious by their smashed ball-of-foot padding area. Those were helpful (sarcastic side-smile squinty face).
The next morning, Free Bird said she was feeling much better. I, on the other hand, did not sleep a wink. I was restless and was suffering from an elevated heart-rate. Even while lying completely still, my heart-rate did not go below 100 beats per minute. I now became increasingly concerned with myself and continued to closely monitor my own situation. While Free Bird seemed to have a renewed vitality, I could barely make it up and over the next mountain. This is always the case when hiking with a group of people; one will have a good day, while another has a bad day.
I could not keep up with my two co-hikers, especially since Free Bird is still hiking with an unburdened pack and Flip Flop is only 16-years old and as fit as an ox. As is the usual custom with Free Bird, she continues to hike on and eventually, after she stops somewhere, I catch up. I don’t particularly like this practice since by the time I catch up, she’s well rested and then is like, “OK! Let’s go!” before I even have a chance to really get a good rest. However, we are all have our own hiking styles and I don’t want to be the party-pooper and slow anyone down, especially if the reason is just because I want to take my time. As long as things are going well, we are all on the same page and well informed, I allow for this to happen and try not to complain too much. I enjoy taking in the scenery, taking pictures and living in the moment. My co-hikers don’t seem to share this same conviction. HYOH (hike your own hike).
As the day progressed on, the group as a whole was beginning to wear down. I was no longer the only one who sluggishly plodded on. The good news is that once I stopped to rest, my breathing returned to normal (although still feeling a bit heavy on the chest) and my heart-rate returned to about 100. This is not to be unexpected when dealing with a high altitude, so I felt relieved that I wasn’t necessarily experiencing any increasing AMS.
We received a blessing in disguise in the form of a thunderstorm accompanied by hail. Why is this a blessing, you ask? It cooled the air down to a very comfortable temperature, although my co-hikers now complained of it being cold. I like the cold, so I was happy. After stopping to take cover under the only option available, a tree (I know! I know! A no-no during a thunderstorm, but there was luckily no lightning), we continued on after the storm passed and reached our campsite after navigating through a minefield of cow pies. At this point, my feet were tired and a little sore, however I was not having any unbearable pain that is usually associated with my Morton’s Neuroma.
The night was cold, very cold. I knew that the temperatures could drop at the high altitude (we were now at 8,343 feet), so I brought my winter sleeping bag. There were also reports of snow and ice on the upcoming peaks, so I was sure to be prepared. Although I was nice and toasty, my counterparts did not enjoy a good night’s slumber as they didn’t bring adequately rated bags. They also encountered severe condensation on their tent and became wet, which increased the chilling effect.
Since I was one person packing up a full inventory of gear by myself, I was slower than my counterparts who had between them, already packed up everything (they shared a tent). In an effort to warm up, they proceeded with beginning the day’s hike and headed up the mountain without me. I took my time as rushing can lead to carelessly leaving items behind.
By the time I lumbered up the steepest terrain yet and caught up, Free Bird was suffering already. She complained of the same symptoms she experienced the other day, however this time, she could not blame the heat. I again, mentioned AMS, however this time she seemed somewhat receptive into accepting that this was the issue (she’s a stubborn one and was set on the idea that I’d be the one to get AMS). We trudged on slowly, stopping quite frequently again so that Free Bird could compose herself. We knew that on this day, we would climb to 10,500 feet and would be in for a shortage of water.
It might be of significance to mention that before our trek had even started, I assumed the role of navigator and would be the one responsible for locating water resources as Free Bird had discarded her PCT guide book in the hotel room, because she ‘…didn’t feel like carrying it. It was too heavy.’ (Really, who does that?) Flip Flop did not have any guide book with her and was relying on us to find our way. In addition to my PCT guide book, I also had JMT guide book as well as my Guthook’s PCT Hiker Guide app on my iPhone, which proved to be the most useful tool yet as it had full GPS capability. I had my primary, secondary, and backups in this area. Not of so much significance to mention is that I had my solar charger with me to keep my iPhone fully charged, which worked like a charm.
Anyway, I apologize for the sideline…As I was saying, we stopped quite frequently so that Free Bird could compose herself. I was actually feeling pretty good, my breathing seeming to be improving as we climbed up higher. It seemed that my body was adjusting nicely and having a good night’s rest I’m sure had a lot to do with this (my heart-rate still didn’t go below 100 at resting though). There came the time when Free Bird again said she couldn’t go on and proceeded to vomit heavily. Since she hadn’t really eaten anything and she was throwing up any water she consumed.
It probably would be important to also mention that preventative measures for AMS include:
- Avoid physical exertion for the first 24 hours
- Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcoholic beverages
- Consume a high-carbohydrate diet
Free Bird did none of these. We went right into hiking the day after arriving in CA and although she carried about 3 liters of water, Free Bird only refilled once so far; and she was not eating nearly close to the 3,000+ calories that we were probably burning in a day. I must say, it is hard to consume the amount of calories needed a day, however I was making sure to eat at least 2,000 a day. Based on what I observed her eating, she was lucky to have consumed 1,000 calories a day. High altitude and strenuous hiking does decrease your appetite, so you must force yourself to eat.
We continued on farther, finally reaching 9,215 feet by midday, however we had only hiked 1.5 miles from where we left camp. It was slow-going with Free Bird barely able to keep any steady pace. This was the point where we stopped and seriously re-evaluated our situation. Free Bird was only getting worse and we only had higher to climb. We were also at the point of no return, meaning that if we proceeded further, there would be no easy way out if the situation became dire. Finally, she succumbed to the fact that she indeed had AMS; she was feeling so lousy that she probably would have agreed to anything at this point just to make the misery cease. I personally, was looking forward to hitting the 10,000 foot mark, but there’s no glory in achieving a goal at the expense of someone else, especially their well-being. As disappointing as it was for all of us, we all agreed that we would have to turn around and go back. AMS will not get better and surely will not go away unless you descend; and the quicker you descend, the better off the victim will be. In more severe cases, it can take weeks to recover. Of course, we were hoping that this would not be the case.
As we descended, we discussed our options. What do we do now? We didn’t want to completely abandon our adventure and were talking about alternative plans since we didn’t have a return flight until August 8th. Maybe we would rent a car and sightsee? Maybe we would go to Disneyland? Maybe we would day hike the JMT via trailhead access using a rented car? I saw the last option as counterproductive since Free Bird had AMS and the JMT would only mean higher peaks to climb (just simply being at those altitudes contributes to AMS, regardless of the activity).
The return hike was effortless for Free Bird and Flip Flop, however downhill hiking is my nemesis. My co-hikers were practically flying down the hills while I tried with great purpose to lessen the blows to my feet by caused by hiking quickly downhill with a 40-pound pack (yes, as much as I tried to eat in a couple days, I didn’t make much of a dent in the weight of my food). I mentioned a number of times that my feet were starting to succumb, however it seemed to have no effect on the pace that they were keeping. I tried to keep up, after all we had quite a scare with Free Bird’s AMS episodes. We stopped a couple of times, but nowhere near as much as we did before.
We finally reached a campsite, the closest one we could all reach before depleting all the energy we had left, still at a lofty 8,430 feet. By this time, even Flip Flop was feeling the effects of altitude, malnourishment and dehydration. She clearly wasn’t eating or drinking enough either and her almost instantaneous retirement to bed personified that. Free Bird also retired soon after arrival, while I made dinner, immersed myself in the setting sun rays, and took pictures of the breathtaking landscape. The beauty of this area is indescribable. My feet hurt by this point, but I was so consumed by the bewilderment of the moment, that I hardly took notice.
I woke at my customary 5:00AM. I’m not a heavy sleeper on the trail and I had intended to try to get some epic photographs of a sunrise in the Sierras. After a couple of hours, the other two awoke; hardly any of us speaking to one another. I’m not sure if the awkward silence was a result of germinating attitude problems, or merely the product of sickness and fatigue. I, uncharachterisically, had my gear packed up and ready first. We set off for our longest segment yet, a 10.5-mile hike back to Kennedy Meadows. With Free Bird still not feeling well, we all wanted to get to lower elevation as quickly as possible. This fact seemed to fuel a hiking fury in Free Bird and Flip Flop, leading me to wonder if their feet even touched the dirt as they practically flew down the hills.
Again, I tried to keep up, but it was in vain. My feet now started in with their quibbling and each step felt like a red-hot dagger was being plunged into the ball of my foot. In addition to the dagger, my toes were writhing in agony and ultimately refused to feel like they were still attached to my feet. Pit stops by Free Bird and Flip Flop were far and few between and although I had expressed my severe discomfort and asked for a respite, the hiking pace didn’t slow; it actually seemed to hasten. Needless to say, my patience was wearing thin. The distances between myself and my co-hikers continued to lengthen and somewhere near the 8-mile mark I just gave up on trying to keep up. Distances this great between hiking group members and you might as well be hiking by yourself. There’s no way to contact your group members other than using the emergency whistle that I had at my disposal; however I wasn’t going to use it unless it was an emergency. I stopped when I needed to stop and took whatever pictures I wanted to along the way; after all, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back this way again.
I finally reached Kennedy Meadows Campground to find Free Bird and Flip Flop sitting at a picnic table. I don’t know how long they had been there and I didn’t care. I was clearly frustrated at this point and unless you’re a complete ignoramus, it would be hard to see otherwise.
We all now needed to make a decision: do we camp here at the campground or do we hike on another 3 miles or so to the general store where we can try to get a ride into town? It was about 4:00 PM and according to my handy-dandy guide book, the store closed at 5:00 PM. I clearly stated that I was in no shape to make it to the store before it closed, but I was willing to continue as long as we took it slow. Chances were, that even if we made it to the store before it closed, we would not be able to get a ride into town until morning. We all decided that we would hike to the store and camp out there until morning, when the store is open and we could try to find transportation.
Soon after beginning our concluding jaunt, I found myself in the same predicament that I found myself the majority of the time I’ve been on the trail with these two; I was alone. Well, I don’t know what happened between ‘we’ll hike to the store, camp out until morning and find a ride in the morning’ and only a half mile into the trek, but a group of northbound hikers informed me that my hiking party was hurrying on to make it to the store before it closed. What the F-?! This is one of the problems that I found with Free Bird…we would agree to something and then she would suddenly and unbeknownst to me, change her mind. This is something that you absolutely DO NOT do in a situation like this. You don’t all agree to something, leave a member behind, and then make a change in plans midway; it’s dangerous and breaks all survival rules.
My march was slow…extremely slow. Not only was I experiencing the unforgiving misery that I was earlier, but now I was acquiring a lovely blister the size of California itself on my left heel; most likely the result of favoring my worse-off right foot. At this point, I could no longer see my hiking ‘buddies’ across the vast open meadow. They went from appearing as a moving dot on the landscape to nonexistent entities altogether. There were a few dirt roads that crossed the trail and in the great distance I could see a building. Was this the general store? Was this where they went? I had no idea and actually resorted to trying to track them by footprints in the sand. I knew that we were probably the only ones hiking SOBO (Southbound) at this point, which made trying to distinguish their Keen hiking boots from the others that were imprinted on the meadow floor.
I was livid to say the least. A flood of emotions overcame me and so many thoughts raced through my mind. Although, I was no longer in the middle of the ‘great wilderness’, the last 2 miles seemed like an immeasurable expanse of sagebrush that seemed to never end. Oh good, if I can’t go any further, I can concoct myself some pain-relieving gel from the camphor that constitutes sagebrush! Other thoughts and inner monologue included:
- Oh my God! I can’t go on. I’m pitching my tent RIGHT HERE and I don’t care!
- Sh!t. That water is so far away, it will take me a day to get there and back alone and I don’t have enough. My mouth is so dry.
- Leave no man behind.’ Sure, right! A$$holes! I hate you right now. It’s alright for the world to stop when you’re sick, but when someone else is injured, well ‘you’re on your own, buddy!’
- ‘Oh, she’ll catch up. No biggie’ (…insert multiple expletives here)
- They’re going to find me dead tomorrow, shriveled up and bones picked by buzzards
- I hope they get f’-ing lost
“They’re going to find me dead tomorrow, shriveled up and bones picked by buzzards.”
I know…dramatic. My life was not in danger, by any means, but this is what you think of when you’re desperate. Then came a road…OH MY GOD! I’m lost! I can’t remember if this is the road where the store is. Is that building over there the store? No, it can’t be. It looks like a private residence.
I walk up the road…and I walk…and I walk…I turn on my GPS again and it says that the general store is somewhere up here…I walk…and walk…I turn on the GPS again and it says I passed the store about a half a mile back! What the hell?!
- I’m lost. I’m definitely lost. What do I do now?
- Panic. Don’t panic. It will be OK
- I hope I’m lost and they have to explain to my family how they lost me
- I hope they’re lost and they learn their lesson
- I’m never speaking to them again
Just as I’m about to turn around and go back to the trail, a truck barrels up the road. I flag it down at the risk of being ran over like the jackrabbit we saw on our way out here. I ask the woman driver where the general store is and to my relief, she states, “It’s just up here around the bend. You’re almost there.” She didn’t offer me a ride though. Thanks, lady.
As I’m turning the bend, I see Flip Flop standing at the store sign. She sees me and starts walking toward me. She looks sympathetic and asks, “How are you?”
I respond with a shake of my head and the only words that I could muster, “I’m pissed.”
She turns around and walks back to the deck attached to the store; practically a hiker paradise. I dump my pack in front of the store and clamber up the stairs onto the deck. I approach Flip Flop, who is now seated at a small table and Free Bird who is savoring an ice-cold beverage; both of them seated in front of empty food plates.
“Oh how nice! They’ve reached the store, enjoyed a meal and cold drink, while I contemplated being lost in the meadow forever.”
Free Bird states, “The store is still open…and we saved you a plate of food.”
‘Thank you for stating the obvious‘, said my mind quietly. Then all of the sudden, my mouth decided to participate in this conversation, “I could have been f-ing dead out there for all you know! I can’t believe you left me out there. You are the most inconsiderate person I know!” I totally lost it on Free Bird.
Free Bird then retaliated with a nastiness that made me want to slap her head off her shoulders, “This was YOUR idea to hike here. I didn’t want to hike all the way out here!”
Flip Flop just sunk into her chair, while I inadequately defended myself regarding the incorrect statement of it being my idea, “You know…When you were sick we all waited for you to make sure you would be okay. You think you could have slowed up to make sure I was okay? YOU ARE SO INCONSIDERATE! The reason I hike with people is for the sense of security and the fact that we have each other to watch our backs. If I wanted to be left out there alone, I would have came out here by myself! Again, you’re INCONSIDERATE!”
Free Bird continued her finger-pointing and said, “We knew you were alright…we ran into those people and told them to tell you that we were trying to get to the store before it closed.”
I rolled my eyes thinking, ‘How is that possibly even valid? Those people never came back to you and said, ‘yeah, she’s ok.”
By this point, my blood was boiling and I saw no point in continuing to argue with someone who obviously could find no fault in herself.
I lastly declared, “That was 2 miles back first of all and secondly…I’m done. You’re inconsiderate and I have nothing more to say!”….”Thank you for the food, but I can’t eat, I feel sick to my stomach.”
She stated how ‘she’s done’ too while I stormed off to pitch my tent.
We didn’t talk the rest of the night and I pondered how I could have managed that confrontation differently. I was mad at myself for not clearly vocalizing my points, but at this point, it didn’t matter anymore. I lost any trust I had in Free Bird. I didn’t blame Flip Flop. She’s 16-years old and I had only just met her. I thought I knew Free Bird after all the hiking we’ve done together in the past year, but I guess I had this one last lesson to learn.
I decided that I could not continue on with Free Bird, regardless of what was decided would be done with the remaining time in California. Decisions don’t come easy for Free Bird, she changes her mind like people change their underwear; she cannot make a decision and stick to it.
If there was any more hiking that would be done, my feet wouldn’t allow for the pace that they insisted on maintaining. Even if they were only day hikes, which I think would be manageable for me, I can’t count on Free Bird as a safety net. If I’m hiking with someone, I want to know that I can count on them.
If they were going to go sightseeing, at this point with the way I felt, my trip was already ruined. I wasn’t going to enjoy myself being the third wheel, who likely sounded like a whining child that didn’t get their way. I didn’t care what they thought of me at this point, this is how I felt.
As usual, I woke up early the next day. I sat on an isolated corner of the store deck and began to cry uncontrollably. I watched the sun rise while tears streamed down my face and sobs forced uncontrollable (but silent) body retches. I don’t know what came over me, but in the midst of my breakdown, another hiker made his way to my private little corner.
He asked if I was okay and proceeded to ask me, “Do you want to talk about it?”
At first, I shook my head, but then it all came flowing out like a geyser. He concurred that he would probably feel the way I did too, but also offered the very diplomatic view that, “Sometimes, each person is suffering in their own way and wants to get where they’re going…you know, self preservation.”
“Sometimes, each person is suffering in their own way and wants to get where they’re going…you know, self preservation.”
At that point, I stopped crying and immediate felt relief. I agreed with him and thanked him for helping me to feel much better.
As soon as the store opened, we found a ride back into Ridgecrest. Luckily, the owner of the store knew someone who shuttled hikers back and forth. How serendipitous! The remainder of the morning we spent having breakfast, which consisted of glorious hot coffee and fresh muffins. I think the owner took pity on me over the previous evening’s incident, because he gave me both cups of coffee and my muffin for free, while he proceeded to charge my co-hikers. How very considerate of him! (winky smiley face)
Immediately upon arrival in Ridgecrest, we rented two cars. I had mine to go my way and Free Bird had hers to go wherever their travels may take them. I didn’t know where they were going and I didn’t care. My mission was to get home as soon as possible and contemplate my future in long-distance hiking.
If anyone asks for the short story, I came home because my co-hiker got altitude sickness and my feet are no good.
This narrative, however, my friends, is the long story as to why I chose to end another hike.
postscript: I have not heard from Free Bird and Flip Flop. There were two very brief Facebook posts a week ago from Free Bird with two pictures of what was supposedly the John Muir Trail. I have no idea where they are and what they are doing now. I hope they are alright.