July 9, 2015
Squaw Valley chairlift (1142.7) to Hwy 40 – Grass Valley (1155.6)
12.9 PCT miles today
1200.0 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 2,104 ft, – 3,459 ft
Today was d-day. I spent the last few days, and 50-something miles, trying to decide what I was going to do about my feet, but today it was time to make some actual moves. We had originally planned on hiking 5 days to Sierra City for our next re-ration, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try different shoes and/or see a doctor while we were still close to Truckee. Also, another 2 days on trail without making any changes sounded like torture. So Mama Bear agreed to drive up to Donner Pass to meet us midday and from there the plan was to come up with a plan. I tried desperately to tune into my body and read it as best I could throughout the morning, but in the end it was really a series of group decisions and an attempt at pros and cons that led us to this evening in this bed in this house in Grass Valley, California, 45 minutes away from the trail.
The morning started out with a dark and cloudy sunrise over Lake Tahoe. We packed up our gear and marveled in the oddity that we were hiking down the very ski runs that we had explored this last winter. Eventually we hiked our way out of Squaw and toward Tinker Knob, a popular destination and recognizable feature among Truckee/Tahoe locals. The hiking was fun and filled with landmarks, but I couldn’t take my mind off my feet, and the clouds overhead actually made it uncomfortably chilly for a hike at the beginning of July. After skirting around Anderson Peak, Pickles and I were excited to find ourselves within Sugar Bowl’s boundaries, another Tahoe ski resort, this one with views of the smaller, but still magnificent Donner Lake. Mama Bear had decided to hike in a bit from Donner Pass, so we met up with her a couple miles out, enjoyed some tasty bottled frappucinos, and walked/hobbled our way to the car.
Yesterday I had emailed a podiatrist in Truckee, Dr. Condon, to see if there was any chance he was available and to find out what he would charge to see me (I don’t have health insurance right now so I’m especially weary of medical help), and surprisingly, he got right back to me. He had said he could meet me after his regular hours this afternoon, so once Pickles and I climbed into the car, we considered our options. Either I go see the doctor, we hike to Sierra City and I try changing my shoes and insoles, or we just leave the trail for a week or two of rest and see if that helps. We all agreed that seeing a doctor would give us all some much-needed answers and would ensure long-term success, so we called Dr. Condon and he agreed to meet us an hour later. From the start, we were impressed with the practice’s efficiency and flexibility and we were hopeful about what the appointment might tell us.
To summarize, Dr. Condon gave me a thorough and incredibly informative appointment, which ended in a number of practical treatments. I do have plantar fasciitis in both feet, though it is much worse in the right, so I was given a shot of cortisone in my right heel to help relieve some of the pain and get me back on trail. As far as the pain in my toes goes, it is likely caused by two separate problems. Primarily, I have developed “Pre-dislocation Syndrome” or “Capsulitis of the Second Toe”, which is the long way of saying I have inflammation of the capsule, or group of ligaments surrounding the joint attaching my second toe to my foot. The problem, if left untreated can lead to dislocation of the toe, so this alone made the visit to the doctor worthwhile. In addition to anti-inflammatory drugs, which I got a prescription for, Dr. Condon made me some custom insoles that featured a heightened big toe, dropped second toe, sturdy arch, and added metatarsal arch. It is possible that I have a secondary problem causing my toes to feel numbness and an occasional burning sensation called Morton’s Neuroma. This is the build-up of scar tissue around a nerve near my toes. In addition to the custom insole, the doctor also recommended I wear a shoe with much more motion control, which would prevent inefficient movement of my feet (pronation), which was putting two much pressure on the front edge of the front pad of my feet.
We left the doctor’s office feeling educated, hopeful, and more than ready to hike the rest of the way to Canada. However, within minutes of us leaving the trail earlier in the day, a serious thunderstorm had rolled in, and we also needed to find me some new shoes. We made the bold decision to drive down to Grass Valley with Mama Bear for the night, and to get back on trail tomorrow morning.
We found just the shoes we were looking for, Brooks Ariels (which Dr. Condon called the “gold standard”) at a great little running store in Grass Valley called TrKac (pronounced Track). They weren’t cheap, but we figured if they helped get me to Canada than they, like the rest of this unique day, would be completely worth it.
We finished up our off-trail evening with pizza, ice cream, and television. Along with icing and elevation of the feet of course. I know the road ahead could still feel long, but at least now I have the expert advice of a professional leading the way, and I won’t have to guess any longer at my problems or their solutions. Hopefully tomorrow will begin a long couple months of pain-free hiking and new discoveries around every corner.
Backpacking Gear of the Week:
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket
I would never consider doing this hike without a high quality, ultralight, packable down jacket. I’ve had my Ghost Whisperer for years now and it goes everywhere with me. I throw it on any time I’m at all cold and it heats me up immediately. Sometimes I’ll even sleep or hike in it! It hugs my body well, works at any level of a layering system, and easily stuffs into its own pocket, making it incredibly easy to pack. Pickles has a Marmot version of the same jacket and he loves his just as much. Temps have gotten quite low this last week in the Sierras and we have been reminded a few times of how vital our puffy jackets are for comfort and even safety. They’re expensive, but they are worth every single penny.
Backpacking Food of the Week:
Granola with Nido powdered milk
For the second half of the PCT, we tried to change up a few of our meals to add a bit more variety and nutrition. One change we made was to add a 3rd breakfast to our oatmeal and pop tarts. We now carry bags of granola (bought from the bins at Winco) mixed with some Nido whole milk powder, which we add water to for 1/3 of our breakfasts. We weren’t positive how it would turn out, but fortunately we absolutely love it. So tasty, so many calories, easy to eat, and quite light weight. If nothing else, it simply adds a new texture to our camp food selection. Our only complaint is that we didn’t pack more of it.