Monday, November 22, 2010

Chapter 12: Shin Splints Happens

It was raining. Heavily. I had gotten little to no sleep the night before, and did not intend to even get out of my sleeping bag that day, let alone hike on to some undefined destination. Jason, on the other hand, badly wanted to leave.

"Hiking in the rain is miserable," said BJ, sitting in her sleeping bag next to me. "I hiked in the rain once, years ago. I've regretted it ever since."

I considered her thoughtfully for a moment. She did look miserable, and had the thousand-yard stare of someone haunted by some deep-rooted trauma. I believed her.

"See?" I said to Jason, as if BJ's appearance confirmed my point. "Are we out here to make miles--"

"Yes!" he said, nodding emphatically, exasperated.

"--or are we out here to have fun?" I continued, cutting him off. "Because hiking in the rain is no fun. Isn't that right?"

"That's right," said BJ. "Look at me. I hiked in the rain. And now I'm no fun. Just a burnt-out husk of a woman. I honestly don't even know why I'm alive."

"And that's because she hiked in the rain, Jason," I scolded.

Jason begrudgingly acquiesced to my demands for a unified laziness. We would be going nowhere that day. Except for that Ziggy then walked into the shelter, and lit up a cigarette.

It seemed that all the people who annoyed me, irritated me, and made me hate being on the trail had the same idea I did that day. Nobody was going anywhere. They were all going to stay and continue torturing me. Why? If ever there was definitive proof that there is no divine influence on life, this was it.

Bandito arrived. He had spent the previous night at the much cushier Plumorchard Gap Shelter. I was happy to see him. Jason was even happier, because now he had a potential hiking companion who wasn't a lazy malcontent. Bandito wanted to hike on, and Jason was eager to go with him. Never one to cave to peer pressure, I came up with a plan.

"Jason, Bandito," I confided. "I've decided. I think we should hike on."

Ziggy hardly waited for me to pack my sleeping bag before claiming my spot in the shelter. I shrugged this off, and walked out into the rain. I hadn't bought that dragon skin rain gear for nothing.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that, although my torso and legs might have been warm and dry underneath my water-, wind-, fire- and magic-resistant clothing, my feet were anything but. My $140 Vasque boots, supposedly waterproof, had lasted all of five days on the trail before losing their one absolutely critical property. Well, they were still waterproof in a way. Like a Roach Motel, once the water got in, it did not get out. I might have been better off walking barefoot, and soon developed such painful blisters as would put even the hardiest of tough guys out of commission.

We stopped at the Standing Indian Shelter to rest. I immediately ripped off my boots and socks, hoping to dry my feet. Jason took one look at my horrific blisters and passed out cold. Bandito turned green, but managed not to throw up. Truly, they were hideous. Fortunately, Jim and Elaine from Maine just happened to be at the shelter at the time. Both alumni through hikers, Jim was also a backcountry guide, and a certified nurse.

Elaine heard about my blisters and offered to have Jim treat them. "Don't you worry, Jim and I will patch you up."

Jim and Elaine were soon hovering about me, preparing their remedies. Jim sliced open my blisters with my Swiss Army Knife, let the puss ooze out onto a strip of gauze, and then fitted me with a fancy high-tech bandaid. Everything about it was disgusting. I put on a dry pair of socks, slipped my boots back on, and thanked Jim and Elaine for their help. The blisters were actually more painful popped than they were before, but I didn't tell them that. Jason, Bandito and myself hiked on, leaving Jim and Elaine behind.

I must have started walking differently, to compensate for the blisters, because I was soon experiencing an excruciating pain along the complete length of my left shin. Every time I put weight on my foot, a sharp, stabbing sensation would shoot up my leg. I had never experienced anything like that before, and had no idea what was wrong or what to do about it. I decided the best course of action was to complain about it vociferously and cry a lot.

Bandito didn't know what was wrong with me, and simply found amusement in my unrelenting anguish. We stumbled over Standing Indian Mountain, at 5430' the highest peak we'd yet crossed on the trail, and arrived at Beech Gap, where there is tenting, despite what one's guidebook might say.

I loved my tent. It was the one piece of equipment I had that I could crawl into and sleep in that wasn't my sleeping bag that hadn't failed me yet on my trip. Bandito insensitively took pictures of me hugging my tent as I pulled it from its stuff sack. He always thought I was being ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous, ignoring the fact that very real and totally legitimate emotions underlaid everything I did.

We made camp just before it started hailing. I could hear Bandito whooping in surprise and delight, and peeked out enough to see him taking a video of the marble-sized globs of ice that began pelting our tents. I cooked supper underneath my rain fly. It was an extremely dumb and dangerous thing to do; I could have set myself or my tent on fire, but I didn't care. I was too miserable and in too much pain to give notice to such things as safety warnings or common sense.

I lay awake in my sleeping bag that night, hoping beyond hope that my tent would hold up, that the pain would ease, that I would be able to walk in the morning.

I heard a voice nearby. Someone was moving around outside, asking the others if they had seen part of a trekking pole that day. Apparently this guy had lost or broken his trekking pole.

"Sorry, Freeman," came another voice. "Haven't seen anything."

What a loser! I thought, reassured that, no matter how bad things got for me, at least there were people worse off in the world.

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