Waking up this morning I was pretty groggy. Bear Box and Scotty were already packed up and smoking a cigarette watching the sunrise. I was hesitant to get up and move around, fearing that my knees were going to immediately start hurting. At first when I started to move around and pack things up, nothing hurt. But a couple awkward squaring positions and the IT band pain crept in. The dudes took off and let me know that they were going to do at least 35 miles today. I'll be lucky if I do 20.
The weather was nice and relatively cool. Some overcast persisted into the morning but then the sun and the breeze came out. It is definitely nicer weather than we have had this week. I started north down the ridge line. The map shows that I cross Highway 3 in 10 miles. With the persistently worse knee pain, this is going to be the point on the trail where I make a big decision: quit and go home, or keep going and see what happens. I intentionally went slower down the trail, making sure not to eat up too many miles too early in the day - that would only require me to hike an overall longer day.
I stopped several times along the way to take a rest break. I became deeply pensive today, getting into my head. Feeling all kinds of feelings. Homesick. Frustrated. Bored. Not in that particular order. As I continued to hike alone the reality of my injury started to settle in. I know this pain progression, its not going to get better. The boys are way ahead of me and Im not going to catch up to them, so what is the point in trying to? I keep stopping and stretching. I eventually stop and tape up my whole knee and pop an 800mg ibuprofen, hoping that that will end this sorrow.
A half mile form the highway/PCT intersection I see Scotty on the side of the trial. I thought for sure he would be further ahead. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that his ankle was hurting him pretty bad, forcing him to stop and rest. I told him I would hike to the road, eat lunch, contemplate my fate, and wait for him. We both meet up at the highway and have lunch. I see a few cars passing through, and a couple day hikers. Today is Sunday, which means if I leave from here, it has to be today. Day hikers don't come around here on a Monday morning. And the next opportunity for me to get off the trail is going to be 40 miles north at Etna. I feel guilty even considering quitting. After all I have done to be here, after all I have been through since my injury. The memories I've made...the things I've learned. What was it all for?
Scotty turns to me and says, "You're feeling down right now. But I think if you quit you are making a big mistake, and you will regret it. Never quit on a rainy day. Hike with me 15 more miles and we can be in Etna in 2 days. That is a better place to decide how you feel." Scotty was so right. The problem wasn't so much how I felt as it was my IT band being strained. Watching day hikers walk to their cars made me want to jump up and ask for a ride to town. I almost did it. But Scotty's words shook me, and I decided to stop thinking about this quitting nonsense and get going.
We have 2 big hills to climb from the highway so we start doing it. My knee, funny enough, actually isn't bugging me now. All the up hill had me worried but when we actually started to climb, my biggest problem was just thirst. We hiked 5 miles north of the highway, over the first major hill climb and stop for water with another dude from Sweden. He asked me for some tobacco. The clouds are rolling in and it cools off. The wind starts to blow a bit and thunder begins to crack above us. From our view of the trial, you can see the Trinity Alps being flushed with water from black clouds in the distance. It was about 4pm and we were gearing up to knock out 10 more miles to the camp.
Not more than 15 steps from our water break I get two sharp electric charges of hot pain in my right knee. I grunt loudly and Scotty asks if Im ok. "I'm good." I lie to him and myself. I keep walking another 100 feet. Boom. The pain hits my knee again. Why does this pain have to happen RIGHT NOW? Why couldn't it have waited? I just went through the mental milling of deciding to continue, only to be reminded of the seriousness of my injury 5 miles later? I tell Scotty to keep going, that I cannot. "Are you sure?", he asks. "Yah dude. I can't hike 10 more miles. I can't hike risk walking further into the woods, only to get myself in bigger trouble. I can't hike like this."
I knew that here was probably the best location to turn around. It's still Sunday, although it's Sunday late afternoon, I still have a chance to find a hitch if I can get back to that road before dark. Scotty looked at me with a concerned disappointed expression on his face. "Okay man, you take care of yourself. Ill be in Etna tomorrow, wait for me before you decide to go home." But who was I kidding? I wasn't going to wait another day. I knew this knee needed much more than one day to heal enough with certainty. I learned this tough lesson from my experience in the desert. I gave him a hug and turned around, southbound on the PCT for the first time ever.
As I started walking south towards the highway, the shots of sharp pain got more frequent and worse. But somehow I was going to have to limp my ass 5 miles back to the road, and do it quick before it got dark. I used my trekking poles as crutches, and strained my left knee in order to maintain a 3mph speed - which would put me back at the highway in 2 hours. I limped faster than ever before, swallowing the aches and pains as they came and went. Grunting in frustration. I started to cry a little - not because of the knee. But because i thought of that sign my family and taken a photo with the night before. I cried because I was quitting and I didn't know what I was potentially missing. That last 5 miles of the trail forced me to relive the entire past 4 months of my life through deep thought. I had to think through why I was actually leaving. I had to confront the fact that my heart wasn't here anymore, it just wasn't. I contemplated how odd it is that I made it through 400 miles of the Sierra Nevada in a high snow year, but I was getting off just shy of the Oregon border. I had literally overcame the hardest part of the trail. But here I was, speed limping back to salvation, to try and get a ride to town.
The rain came down hard. I mean, these rain drops were massive. Thunder and lightening shook the forest I was walking through. The bad weather persisted. By the time I got to the road, I was completely soaked and it was getting dark. No day hiker cars were parked. I stuck my thumb out on the road and tried to flag down two drivers heading past me. Neither of them even flinched. An hour later, a driver and his son sped by my location, and then suddenly stopped. I think they saw how wet and shitty I looked and realized I needed a lift. "You can ride in the back," he said, pointing to the bed of his truck. I carefully got in and we zoomed down the mountain road as the rain continued to drench.
He dumped me off at hardware store parking lot in Etna, and I thanked him. I limped over to two motels before finding a vacancy. I stayed at the Collier Motel, and ran into Murphy's Law. I told him about my ordeal. He told me to be proud of what I accomplished and don't ever take shit from anyone else about it. "You did good. Go home and heal."