PCT Day 92 – Friday July 14
Fowler Peak Trailhead Mile 1238.9 to West Branch Beartrap Creek Mile 1224.1
PCT Miles Hiked Today: 14.8
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 1082.5
Feet Ascended Today: 2938
Feet Descended Today: 2637
Current Elevation: 5959
*Reader’s Note: in today’s blog post I’m going to describe some aspects of physical issues I’m experiencing that are impacting my hike. If you are not interested in reading about ulcerative colitis, bowel movements, and/or menstruation, than I invite you to skip this post.*
Today was a crappy day. Literally.
I have mentioned in a previous blog post that I’m currently suffering from a flare-up of ulcerative colitis, but I didn’t really go into detail regarding what that means. It’s not something that one typically discusses in polite company. But I want to give an honest and complete portrayal of what it’s like to hike the PCT. And for me that means I need to talk about pooping. So, here goes.
Ulcerative colitis is a condition which basically means that your colon and/or rectum is inflamed. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis following a fateful vacation to Mexico where I came home with traveller’s diarrhea. The diarrhea never got better. It got worse, in fact, and soon I began noticing that I had blood mixed into my stools. I was running to the bathroom constantly and sometimes I couldn’t make it to the bathroom on time. Not fun.
So I went to a doctor who referred me to a gastroenterologist. I had the pleasure of undergoing a colonoscopy (this is where they stick a camera up your butt) and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which was triggered by the traveller’s diarrhea. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition, which means that once you develop it you generally have it for life. Lame.
The doctor prescribed me some really expensive medication which cleared up my symptoms. The symptoms came back, unfortunately, because I hadn’t taken the full course of my medication. This particular medication was not meant to be taken orally. That’s right, ladies and gentleman, I had to squeeze an enema bottle of medicine into my butt every night before bedtime – and keep it in there all night long. Can you blame me for stopping the minute my symptoms cleared up?
I went back to the doctor and begged for some other treatment. Apparently the medicine comes in pill form! He prescribed the enema because it’s more effective, especially at stopping acute symptoms, but I countered with the argument that medicine is only effective if you actually take it. So this time I only took the enemas for a couple of weeks, until my symptoms stopped, and then I switched to the pills for a couple of months to ensure everything was cleared up. That seemed to do the trick.
I checked in with my doctor before embarking on the PCT. We discussed putting me back on the pills as a preventative measure, but my symptoms had been in remission for 3 years and the medicine is crazy expensive. So I just decided to go for it without any medicine.
Fast forward to two weeks ago – that’s when I started noticing blood in my stools again. “Oh no,” I thought. “I know what this means. This is bad news.” I monitored the situation for a couple of days to make sure that this wasn’t a fluke. At that point I was only pooping once or twice a day and didn’t have any other serious symptoms. It wasn’t a fluke – I was pooping out blood with every bowel movement. Sigh.
I emailed my doctor when I arrived in Belden. He advised me to stop taking Ibuprofen as that can trigger symptoms. Oh dear. I had been taking 400 milligrams of Ibuprofen a day for the past 2 months. I wish I would have known that or I wouldn’t have taken it! So I stopped taking Ibuprofen immediately. But it was too late – once a flare-up starts, it is here to stay even if you remove the underlying trigger.
I still had a bottle of medication leftover from my last flare-up at home, and I asked my doctor if I could start by taking those. He said that would be fine, but that if it didn’t work to contact him right away. I had the pills shipped to my next resupply location, and would get them in 5-6 days. So I kept hiking.
I brought twice as much toilet paper as I usually do for this leg of the trip but it wasn’t enough. The day after I left Belden my symptoms went from slightly annoying to totally unmanageable. I was pooping 4-5 times a day. I had cramps and bloating and I got nervous any time I had to pass gas about what was going to come out the other side. Sometimes there was no tree cover and I didn’t have time to dig a proper cathole, and I ended up squatting just off the trail and hoping no one came around the next corner. I tried to keep my hands clean but it was hard when I was carefully trying to ration my toilet paper. I washed my hands with Dr Bronner’s soap as best I could and used hand sanitizer, but it wasn’t very hygienic and I worried that I was going to get sick.
This morning I woke up feeling particularly bloated. I complained to Monarch that having ulcerative colitis feels like a lot like menstrual cramps as I was getting ready to hike. An hour later, I realized that I actually DID have menstrual cramps. I was starting my period! Usually it’s not that big of a deal, but today it felt like the last straw. Now I was bleeding out of TWO ORIFICES! Gaaah! Seriously! The combination of the two made my entire midsection uncomfortable and buckling the hipbelt of my backpack was not pleasant. It was THE WORST!
The one good thing that happened today is that Tetris, Spider Mama and Hitch caught up with Monarch and me this morning. We hadn’t seen them since they hiked into Quincy. It was great to see the girls and we took a long break, catching up with eachother. The best part, however, is that they brought me a (mostly) full roll of toilet paper! Hooray! I had texted them when they were in Quincy and I was running low back on the trail and they had come through for me. So that’s good news.
It was a low energy, low mileage, low enthusiasm day for me today.
Here are some pictures that I took today for your edification: