Backpacking · PCT

Days 37-39: Hikertown to Tehachapi Hospital

Where: Pacific Crest Trail – Mile 517.6 to Mile 549.0
When: June 8 – June 10, 2017
Who: Colin and me
Distance:  31.4 Miles

Day 37: Hikertown to Mile 534.9 (17.3 Miles)

The plan for today was to relax throughout the day in Hikertown and return to the trail in the evening to complete the very flat and exposed section of trail that follows the L.A. Aqueduct. For breakfast we decided to check out Wee Vil Market, a lesser-known option among hikers. It was very similar to Neenach Market (where we had eaten last night), and I had a satisfying pancake breakfast.

After breakfast, we returned to our room to nap until noon, the posted check-out time. After that, we packed up our stuff and relocated a few feet away to the patio in front of our room, where there was shade and a nice breeze. We spent our time reading, calling our parents, and playing with the kittens. At some point we decided to take the hourly shuttle to Neenach Market for lunch, and a few hours after that we returned for dinner.

 

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Some of the very cute kittens in Hikertown

After dinner, we made our final preparations to begin hiking again. It was hard to leave our lazy place of comfort, but we had to move on. The next 14 miles of trail was very flat, following dirt roads in seemingly endless straight lines. At first, it was fun because the terrain was so different than the constant up-and-down that we were used to. It was especially neat to encounter the aqueduct, first as an open, flowing channel and later as a large pipe in the ground. We were also making great time thanks to the cool evening temperatures and flat trail. Additionally, we found that we did not need nearly as much water as we did when hiking during the day. However, the section became terribly monotonous as the novelty wore off.

We were fortunate to have a full moon, allowing us to hike all through the night without headlamps. As the night wore on, the wind began to pick up and we became exhausted. Even though we had relaxed all day, we had been used to going to be around 8:00pm. When we finally reached the water faucet at the Manzana Wind Farm, it was 2:00am, and we were in desperate need of sleep. Despite the howling wind, we decided to set up camp for the night.

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Walking along the open section of the L.A. Aqueduct
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Hiking on top of the L.A. Aqueduct

Day 38: Mile 534.9 to Mile 549.0 (14.1 Miles)

We could’ve slept much longer, but we had to force ourselves to wake up at 6:00am so we could get some miles in and find some shade before the day got too hot.

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A morning stroll through the Manzana Wind Farm
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Can you spot the ghost horse?

After 6 miles and about 1,800 feet of elevation gain, we reached Tylerhorse Canyon and found a lovely spot to take a nap under a shady near a flowing creek. We slept through the afternoon until we were awoken by the warm sun to find our shade had moved. We packed up, refilled our water, and hiked another 7.5 miles and 1,400 feet.

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Looking down on the wind farm

At mile 549 we were surprised to see a silver van driving about 10 feet from the trail, and even more surprised to find some trail magic! The trail magic was well-stocked with water, fruit, and cookies, and chairs had been set up for optimal relaxation. I think the van we saw had just finished re-stocking everything. We also saw some good campsites nearby, so we decided to camp here for the night.

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Trail magic at mile 549!

Day 39: The End (WARNING: Gross details ahead!)

I awoke around midnight feeling nauseated. Within a few minutes I was frantically looking for a suitable place to poop without disturbing the other groups of hikers that were camped nearby (I’m not sure if I succeeded). There was no time for a cat hole. I was a little concerned, since I had not experienced any diarrhea on the PCT up until this point. Then I vomited. A lot. I was a little more concerned now.  I woke Colin up and told him we might need to call an ambulance.

After a few more rounds of pooping and puking, we decided to call 911. We were very fortunate to have service where we were, although our call did get dropped a couple times. We were not sure if I really needed an evacuation, especially since there was plenty of water nearby, but we decided it would be best to at least let someone know exactly where we were in case the situation got worse.

A few hours after our first call, my condition had not improved. Since the dispatcher had told me not to eat or drink anything, saying it might make things worse, my stomach was now empty, and I was painfully dry-heaving. I couldn’t imagine hiking another 10 miles and then hitchhiking into Tehachapi in this condition, so we decided to request an evacuation.

The dispatcher said it would take about an hour for a emergency responders to reach us via the dirt road that we had seen the silver van on earlier. Additionally, we were supposed to look out for a helicopter, which would be flying over with a spotlight to see where we were. The helicopter never came, but 45 minutes later we saw flashing lights and quickly made ourselves visible. Apparently, the weather was a bit stormy in Tehachapi, and the helicopter couldn’t make it through the thick clouds (it was perfectly clear on top of the mountain where we were).

The ride from the mountain to the hospital was a little complicated. The truck that came to get me could only fit one of us, so first it took me to another truck waiting about 10 minutes down the road and then returned for Colin and all our gear. Meanwhile, the second truck took me another 20 minutes down the mountain to a paved road where an ambulance was waiting. While I was in the second truck, things started to get freaky. My muscles started cramping up and I lost control of my fingers. I also felt extremely fatigued and close to fainting. By the time we reached the ambulance, my arms and legs were becoming hard to move. The firemen had to undo my seat belt for me and lift me out of the truck onto a stretcher. The first truck with Colin and our gear arrived shortly after, and Colin was able to ride in the ambulance with me to the hospital while the firemen kindly shuttled our gear.

In the ambulance, I remember the medic asking me a lot of questions and taking my vitals. I did not enjoy having my blood pressure taken because it made my hand feel like it was being stabbed by a thousand needles (kind of like when your arm falls asleep and gets a prickly feeling when it starts to wake up, but intensified). Eventually, they set up an IV and things started to get better. I was happy to be able to move my fingers again by the time we reached the hospital.

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Happy to be alive in the Tehachapi Hospital

After waiting a little while, I was moved into a room at the hospital and they started me on another round of fluids. We discovered that our neighbors were some hikers that we had met at the McDonald’s on Cajon Pass. Apparently, one of them had similar symptoms to me after a night in Tehachapi. They were released shortly after we arrived.

When we spoke with a doctor, he informed us that I was most likely suffering from dehydration. It is true that I had not been drinking very much water over the last couple of days (I hadn’t felt very thirsty), and that coupled with a lot of elevation gain and a surprisingly chilly night may have triggered my illness. After a lot of fluids and napping, I was allowed to eat some ice, which was very refreshing since I had not been allowed to ingest anything since our first 911 call.

At this point, we were still hoping to get a hotel in Tehachapi and have a fun day in town. However, I soon began to feel nauseated again and was told I had a 100-degree temperature. We are fortunate that our parents only live 2 hours from Tehachapi, and we decided it would be best to just go home and rest after I was released.

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Exhausted

Since our traumatic experience, we have decided to quit the PCT for the foreseeable future. There is no need to be too sad for us, because we had been contemplating quitting for a while. In fact, we were in the middle of deciding whether to quit in Tehachapi or Kennedy Meadows, so this event actually made that decision easier. We could say that we wanted to quit because the Sierra  seemed impassible due to heavy snow pack, but if I’m being honest, I just didn’t enjoy myself on the trail very much. It was fun to tell people that I was hiking from Mexico to Canada, but mostly I found the trail to be painful and tedious. Would I have liked the trail better in the Sierra or in Washington or Oregon? I certainly think the scenery would be better, but overall I think I’d feel the same about the trail. For me, it’s good enough to know that, physically, I could have finished the trail if I really wanted to, and I’m happy to make a conscious decision about what I want to do with my time.

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