I was asked by my friend who picked me up at the airport what I would do differently if I were to do this hike again (and right now, I am really hoping that I do get to undertake this journey again!!). I thought I would share a few things that come to mind (and will add to this as I think of more things).
The biggest mistake that I made was not filtering the cache water! I am almost 100% sure that I got giardia from one of the desert caches. These days, trail angels stock bottled water for PCT hikers in certain places that have no water sources for long (25-35 mile) stretches. Whenever I saw these plastic water containers, I thought that I didn’t need to filter the water since it was spring or town water (as did every other hiker I was around at the time). What I didn’t realize is that the trail angels are refilling the same bottles over and over again, and that means that many, many dirty hiker hands are opening and closing the caps to these containers… In our guidebooks and on our maps, we were warned that in the last section of the desert, many hikers get sick. Now I understand why…
The next time I do this hike, I will make sure that I filter all water that I drink outside- no matter the source.
I would also do my best to acquire some antibiotics for giardia before the hike (hopefully Tinidazole and not flagyl, which caused a host of other problems for me, which I am still not over). I went through the first section of the Sierras, including Mt. Whitney with a lot of stomach pain and no antibiotics. At Kennedy Meadows, I was in severe pain, and several hikers tried to tell me that it was either psychosomatic (??!! really?!), that the food I was eating was too acidic and that I should drink water with a lot of baking soda in it, or told me to listen to my body- that it was telling me something. I told them I think it’s telling me I have giardia! (I got giardia after the AT, so I know what it feels like in my body!). I messaged a couple of people from home and asked them if they could call Dr. Sole, who I knew was arriving the next day, and ask him if he could bring me a watermelon with seeds. When I was at Little Jimmy Spring, a weekend hiker was telling a group of PCT hikers that the seeds in watermelon are a natural cure for giardia. However, he said, these days, it is extremely hard to find watermelon with seeds in them because the drug companies want you dependent on them! (I thought it was significant that I was in that place at that time to hear this advice…) Sure enough, Dr. Sole wasn’t able to find a watermelon with seeds in it, so he went to Home Depot and bought two packets of watermelon seeds for planting! I ate all of them! (Other hikers said, “You ate watermelon seeds that are meant for planting?!). However, they didn’t help my problem. 😦
About 10 days later, a nurse thru-hiker (who was at Kennedy Meadows with me and knew of my symptoms and pain then) camped near me. In the morning, he told me he was carrying 2 prescriptions of flagyl and asked me if I wanted one. Yes! He told me it was only one dose! Perfect! However, it had no effect, either. The next night, he asked me if I wanted another dose. I took it. The following evening, I ran into another hiker who also got giardia, took antibiotics, and was now feeling much better. I asked him how long it took him to feel better. He told me that you need to take the antibiotics twice a day for five days!! What?!
(Later, the hiker who gave me the flagyl told me it was an extra strong dose! A dose high enough to kill all of the good bacteria in my stomach and intestines, make me lactose intolerant, and give me a second, even more awful, infection!!!) So mistake number two was not having antibiotics with me.
I also left my fleece jacket back in my apartment (instead of leaving it with my resupply people) and regretted this decision, as I was not warm enough in all of my layers when a storm hit in the desert. I knew I would freeze in the Sierras, so I had to contact a friend and ask him if he could buy me a fleece jacket and send it to Kennedy Meadows. What he bought was not what I was hoping for! I really wish I had my hooded, zip-up jacket with thumb holes!
I regret not giving people more hugs- especially towards the end when the chances were high that I would not see them again!
Next time, I would ask more people to take photos of me along the way (I have very few pictures of myself), and I would take more photos of the other hikers. Some of the best memories of the trail are often of fellow hikers.
I would also take videos along the way. I didn’t take any video on this hike because I was worried it would take up too much memory on my memory card. (It turns out I had plenty left over!).
I would not have a strict deadline, which caused a lot of stress! I wasn’t able to stop and enjoy things like swimming in the heat, and taking rest days because I needed to finish by a certain date and simply had no time to do those things. I would have loved to take zero days in Etna, CA and Stehekin, WA especially. I also had to press through all storm systems that came my way, which didn’t allow me to see such beautiful landscapes as Goat Rocks.
If I were not sick, I would have enjoyed hiking with others a bit more. I love to laugh and it gives your brain a break from the same monotonous thoughts that you think over and over while alone when hiking and talking with someone else, and you realize how similar their experiences have been to yours!
I would have forced myself to at least have written down how many miles I hiked each day, where I camped, and a few notes about each day. On the days I did write something, I find it so interesting to read how I was feeling and what was noteworthy to me. A lot of this can never be recollected…