Location- Dean Lake
Elevation- 7,382 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 15.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 166.3 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 70s 80s
Injuries- scratches, scrapes, 2 toe blisters
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- multiple Deer
Days without shower- 5
Days without Laundry- 6
Hunger/craving- anything but rice
Another long and frustrating day. The trail was once again hot, overgrown, full of blowdowns, mud, and river fords. These would have all been awesome challenges had Katana been enjoying herself and meeting them with a smile.
We crossed so many streams, rivers, and mud fields today; my feet haven’t been this soggy and sore for a long while. The skin got so loose, that I developed two blisters on the ring tire of each foot. I haven’t had a toe blister since my first weeks on the AT! I don’t know whether to feel nostalgic or ashamed. Either way, they are minor annoyances I push to the back of my mind. I have bigger fish to fry than a couple sore toes.
The day was monotonous, much like the previous days. There really haven’t been many views to speak of. We’ve just been down and dirty in the trees and mud. The buzzing of insects is all I hear all day, every day. Their presence is of biblical proportions; it feels almost like one of the plagues is upon us. I’m astounded at the tolerance I’m building towards them, but equally astounded at how many continue to show up.
At one point, while making our way through forest as thick as peanut butter, the trail dead ended into a swift stream and disappeared. Nothing on the other side, and nothing around us anywhere…just gone. Our GPS’s showed us being on the trail a few times, but there was literally nothing but wild forest all around. It was too thick for Katana to walk in, so I threw her on my shoulders while we both split up and searched for the trail, always keeping within ear shot. Stepping over logs and pushing through vegetation we searched. I finally waded into the stream and began wandering up and down several branches, thinking that maybe with all the extra snow melt, perhaps the added water had commandeered the trail as the “path of least resistance” through this part of the forest. After nearly 30 mins of searching in vain with frustrations rising; we found some pink ribbons tied off to trees. On a hunch we followed them, and after several hundred yards of bushwacking, we emerged onto a mysteriously appeared trail. The GPS marked it the “correct” trail, and we were moving forward once again.
We didn’t make it very far today, but my body felt the work big time. My feet feel like mush, and my socks and shoes are soaked tonight. I’m feeling the grind, but I still couldn’t be happier to be out here. My only wish is that my dog shared the same enthusiasm. Her paws are fine, her limbs are fine, she has no injuries, and she hasn’t pushed herself in any way that would warrant her to seem as “deflated” as she’s coming across. She’s getting 10 to sometimes 12 hours of sleep at night with our later starts, but she begins each day the same way she finishes them…dragging.
I finally have a solid theory on her behavior. Katana is almost 7 years old (in September). I didn’t have her fixed until March of this year. This is the first long hike she has done with me since getting “fixed.” It was recommended by her vet that we have it done before she gets much older, so as to ensure her longer-term health. That’s the most important thing overall…her long term health. Several people warned me that it could possibly have a negative impact on her hiking, or possibly a fantastic impact (making her more focused, as well as a better listener). Regardless of what it did to her hiking, I wanted her to be healthy, and I’d just hope for the best with the rest of it. It quite literally never crossed my mind that her being fixed recently could have anything to do with her attitude/performance out here…until today. The revelation hit me like a ton of bricks, and now I’m almost totally convinced that this is the issue. I can’t think of anything else; it’s the only thing that’s changed since our destruction of the PCT through Washington State last Fall. Now I’m kicking myself in the face for having it done before we finished our triple crown. It’s a bit of a double edged sword; it’s great that I had the procedure done sooner rather than later (for her own good); but I’m devastated that it’s had such a negative impact on her hiking personality/ prowess. I feel guilty and selfish for being upset about it. Katana never gave a Damn about the triple crown, miles hiked, or long distance hiking at all; she doesn’t even know what they are. All she cares about is that she’s with me. Everything else is my own ambitions that I drag her along for. It just so happened that she was good at/enjoyed the greater parts of my own ambitions while simultaneously getting to spend time with me. Now however…my ambitions seem to have no place in her interests and seem to only be getting in the way of her perceived quality time with her human. The balance of interests has become unstable.
I’m not sure what to do. Keep dragging it out and see if she comes around; or don’t chance it and end her hike at the next opportunity. She has glaucoma in her remaining eye, and it could flare up at potentially any moment; rendering her totally blind. The more stressed she gets, the higher the likelihood her last eye flares up. I can’t let that happen. I thought it a reasonable risk before we started, but now faced with the very real reality so soon…I don’t even want to flirt with the chance. If nothing improves between here and the next opportunity I have to get her off trail…I’m getting her off this trail.
The hardest part is possibly admitting defeat. We’ve been through so much together and we’ve never given up before. This is different however. This is gambling with the final shred of real quality life she has left. The doctors say she will lose that eye eventually, but there is no sense in rushing that day. God I hope she does a 180 in the next few days.