Kay’s Doomed Vacation

The Backstory

I’ve been stressed at work. I’ve needed to take a vacation for a while, but life has conspired against that. My last plan was abandoned due to us finding and buying a particularly nice house, and you kind-of need to be around to fill out all the paperwork.

Dachary’s going to a conference at the beginning of November. Contractors are here through the beginning of October. The northern hemisphere is starting to cool rapidly due to the impending winter. That left a two week window at the end of October. I decided to go for a long walk. I would do the Ozark Highlands Trail.  It’s only ~165 miles, and the elevation changes aren’t terrible.

I didn’t have much time to prep for it though. I started exercising every morning, and researching and buying kit. Normally, buying kit is one of the most enjoyable parts of an adventure. There’s this whole series of mental imaginings and comparing, and “if I had this instead I could…” and it’s a fun process.

This, was not. This was rushed research combined with throwing money at a problem and hoping it would work. Overall, I think I did well on the gear front. The process was stress, stress, stress, though. Every free moment I was annotating maps, or researching gear, or something. Any time Dachary asked me to do anything she felt like she was pulling me away from it and making it worse. Technically she was, but life’s needs don’t stop just because you have a pet project.

The Test Run

Day 1

Dachary assumed I was going to do a test run. Honestly, I wasn’t. It goes against everything we believe and teach, but I simply didn’t have time. I was still preparing. Her sane interjection convinced me I really ought to do one though. So, a few weekends ago I put on my pack, and she drove me a few sections down the Appalacian Trail.

It was to be a “worst-case-scenario test”: roughly 40 miles, over three days, with rain, and many mountain peaks.

The first day I did pretty well. I summited 3 mountains of roughly 2000 feet. Then a 1400 foot one, and got a good start on the next big mountain before bedding down for the night.

A little before then I’d sat down to cook dinner. It’s better to eat before you get to camp that way bears aren’t as interested in your camp. What I didn’t realize, was that dehydrated meals take 20 minutes to hydrate. I’d started too late, considering I needed to find and set up camp. When the meal finished hydrating it was tasty, but absolutely not what my body wanted. It wanted bland, plain food, and this was spicy Mexican, or something. I decided to eat as I walked hoping I could get some in me over time.

Soon, I set up camp. It took forever. I was tired from a long day of hiking, and unfamiliar with setting up my rain fly. I hadn’t had time to test it before. This was simply a lack of time. I knew I’d be learning it on the trail, and that that would suck, but there wasn’t another option.

I set my bear bag about 100 feet away from the camp in one direction, and my leftover food about 60 in the other. Both, way too close, and it put me in a direct line between them. I was exhausted and not making the best decisions. I distinctly remember the phrase “fuck it” being muttered.

Then followed the worst night of my life.

For seven hours I could hear bears raking their claws on the bear bag at one end. At the other end something was batting around the zip-lock bag of mushy Mexican. I didn’t think the bears were going to come to me, they seemed to be leaving me alone. I still felt damn vulnerable in the hammock. I would growl out “Hey Bear!” every 10 minutes or so in a rough, loud voice.

I couldn’t understand what was playing with the bag. Why didn’t it get bored? At one point I heard a gush of water and thought they’d finally opened it. “Thank God,” I thought, “now they’ll eat it and stop freaking me out.”

I was wrong.

I was wrong, and I had to pee. I had to pee bad. 

Hammocks have one nifty feature that tents don’t. You can pee out of them. Well, boys can. You roll to the edge, open the zipper (if you have one) and push it out. This is a very awkward position and you have to push very hard to get anything to come out.

Your stream won’t have any force, which means it’ll fall pretty much straight down. Straight down from me was my gear hammock. A tiny hammock that held my backpack off the ground.

I’m pretty sure I peed on that.

The next attempt I put my arm out to try and push it back. I peed on my hand.

This position just wasn’t working. I’d gotten a little pee out but not enough. “Fuck it” again, I’d swing my legs out stand beside the hammock, under the rain fly, and pee.

I did.

It worked.

It was glorious.

The sound of something batting around a water filled bag didn’t abate during this. I heard it a bit differently standing under the rainfly. It sounded higher. Maybe it wasn’t my dinner. Maybe it was the trees? That didn’t make any sense. Maybe I should look? “Fuck no! If I look (with my headlamp) and there is something batting it around it’ll see me!” Back into the hammock!

I may have slept 3 hours that night. I went to bed about half an hour after sunset. We have about 12 hours of darkness right now.

In the middle of the night my bladder of drinking water ran dry.

Day 2

It started to sprinkle as I packed up camp. There would be no oatmeal for breakfast. I had no water. I tried eating the cold Mexican whatever as I walked because it had water in it, but my body still wasn’t into it.

Before setting out I checked my map. Backwards over smaller mountains, then call Dachary to come pick me up? Or, forwards over slightly bigger mountains, then call Dachary to come pick me up?

I was exhausted.

I was dehydrated.

I don’t like going backwards.

I misread the height of the mountains ahead of me.

It started to rain.

The mountain I slept near the base of got very steep.

Streams are not typically found near the top of mountains.

I licked leaves.

I paused… a lot. Few steps. Pause. Ten steps. Pause. “Oooh, a flat stretch”. I could handle flat stretches. More mountain. Pause. Ten steps. Pause.

Eventually, miraculously, there was a stream.

I carefully dropped my pack. I kneeled. I got out my dirty water bag, and filter. I stood. I walked over to the stream. I knelt. The stream was so shallow I only got it half full.  I stood.  I drank from the filter. Too thirsty to wait for me to fill my water bladder.  I knelt. I half filled it again. I stood. I walked to my bag. I squeezed the water through the filter into my bladder.

I was so tired. Every movement took a small eternity. I honestly believe it took me 30 minutes to do this small action. I didn’t have the energy to go back to the stream, kneel, refil, go back to the backpack, squeeze…  In total I’d probably drunk, and stored a half a liter. I knew I needed more water. I didn’t have enough energy to gather it.

“Just one more little climb” I told myself, “then a saddle, and one big peak.”

As I hiked, the mild burning sensation in my bladder and urethra increased.

What I didn’t realize until some time later in the day, that the “big peak” after the saddle, was Greylock Mountain. The tallest mountain in Massachusetts. It’s not huge by any means, but it’s huge with no sleep, no food, and not enough water.

I thought Greylock Mountain was the mountain on the far side of the town of Greylock. Not the one on the near side.

Not far from the summit, I encountered a couple of day hikers. I asked them how far to town. They were confused. They said they didn’t know. Eventually, they told me of a visitors center and a parking lot, and the name of the  trail they took. “Visitors centers have water! Parking lots can be driven to!” I sat down, fired up my phone  (decent reception on top of a mountain next to a town), and found their trail, and the parking lot on Google Maps. I texted Dachary to come get me. “It should take me about 30 minutes. Maybe a little more.” I said. This was based on Google Maps estimate, and just a guess from what I saw on the map.  A little bit up the Appalachian

It was the Jones Nose trail. I don’t know who “Jones” was but he must have had very little nose, because that trail is fucking steep at places. It even includes rock scrambles. I went down each step like an old man. I carefully placed each pole. Then one foot down. Lower onto the other foot. Try to ignore the pain in my knees.  Repeat.

It took me two hours.

Two thirds of the way down my bowels declared they had to go.  A few minutes later they informed me that no, they had to go now. A large boulder came into sight in the very spares underbrush. I tried to dig a hole behind it, but the dirt was infested with roots. I did the best I could.

I pooped in a hole. I tried to wipe with a leaf. That didn’t work. I didn’t want to have to pack out the toilet paper but… “fuck it”. I grabbed some, I wiped. I didn’t realize how close my ass was to the ground. I was so tired. “Why does the back of my hand feel warm?… oh crap.” I’d wiped poop from my ass and then wiped the back of my hand in poo on the ground.

I have now peed on my left hand and pooped on my right in less than 24 hours. Fortunately there was moist moss nearby. I wiped my hand on that… again, and again, and again.

I packed up the papers. I picked up my bag. I carried on.

Two energetic day hikers came down the trail as I was coming back onto it. I let them pass. They’d surely be faster with their youth, and energy, and lack of heavy packs.

A sign on the trail said “5 mi” to the parking lot. I could only assume it meant minutes not miles, because google said I was only 1.5 miles away from Dachary. The trail couldn’t be that winding could it?

It wasn’t, but it wasn’t 5 minutes either.  I don’t know how long it took. It was a small eternity, and then there was a field, with a Dachary, and 2 dogs in it. So close. So far away. I called out. Dachary sent the dogs. They didn’t recognize me but they believed her claims they could go find me.  I stumbled as Lita approached. “Bark! Weird stumbling person!”

Eventually there was a car too. On the way home I peed in the woods once. Then I had her redirect us to the nearest gas station because we’d left the woods, and I couldn’t make it 20 mins. home before my bowels exploded. A porta-potty by an electrical sub-station saved the day.

Conclusions

The Ozark Highlands Trail would probably be much easier than what I’d just done. Many of the problems were simply hiking without food, water and sleep. But, it also kicked my ass.

Eventually I decided it wouldn’t be wise to fly to AR and find that I really wasn’t up to it. One of the worst parts about hiking is that when you’re not near anyone you’re really not near anyone. There’s no, “fuck it, GPS take me to a hotel”

I’d like to do more hiking, but safety first.

Take 2

I still had ~$400 non-refundable plane tickets. I didn’t want to waste them. What could I do?

Some quick math told me that I could, fairly easily, ride a 50cc scooter from Arkansas to Vermont over the Trans American Trail. There’s a variant of it that stretches from Tennessee up to New York, and that’s almost all the way home.

Used scooters weren’t really a practical option. I’d need to buy it sight-unseen, and have the person overnight the title / bill of sale to me in VT, so that I could get plates before my flight. No, it’d have to be a new one. I’d love a Honda Ruckus, but they’re crazy expensive new.

I found a dealer near-ish to the airport with a Genuine Roughouse for sale. I told the slightly surprised sales woman that as it was the end of season, and they had four in stock from a few years ago, if she would make me a very good deal, I would give her my American Express card number over the phone for it right then. She did.

After a quick check with her boss, they asked me to email them a picture of the card, plus my license. I agreed, as long as I could encrypt the file. I get it. This is a little weird. The boss wanted a little piece of mind it wasn’t a scam.

I emailed them the stuff (password to be given over the phone) at the end of the day. We’d finish the thing tomorrow.

Next up. I called the guy who has the maps for the Trans America Trail, and arranged for him to overnight them to me. Not cheap to FedEx but [insert diety] damn it! I’m going to make this vacation work!

The next day the boss got cold feet. He said he’d hold it for me and I could just pay when I got there on Saturday. I explained that that wouldn’t help, because I couldn’t legally drive it home without it being registered. They didn’t seem to believe the idea that there were states that didn’t offer a temporary waiver after purchase.

The annoying thing about this is that if her boss had used his brain he’d see that this made no sense as a scam. There’d be a week pause between purchase an pickup. Plenty for someone to be warned by their credit card company about an expensive out of state purchase. I’d be spending hundreds of dollars to fly in (and could prove it) plus an outrageous cab fare to come pick it up. It would make so much more sense to scam a dealer in a neighboring state than effing Arkansas.

The only other dealer that was close enough to the airport to be worth considering wanted to charge me $500 more. This would also result in more sales tax too. I was already unhappy about spending $$$ on this.

Take 3

Take 3 … Take 3… um… I could hike the Puppy Dog Route. That’s a series of connected dirt roads from the Massachusetts border up through Vermont to the Canadian border. Yeah, I could do that. Hiking dirt roads shouldn’t be that bad. Should be easier than the Appalacian Trail or Long Trail around here by a metric boatload.

I… don’t actually want to.

My confidence in hiking distances, right now, is pretty much shot.

I just want to go on a journey, that I can accomplish not “maybe can” or even “probably can”. And the “journey” part is important. Traveling isn’t about the destinations for me. It’s about the motion.

Eventually, after much. “It’s silly” “I want it” “It doesn’t make any financial sense” type of back and forth with myself and Dachary I decided to try and buy a used ruckus. “I can sell it in the spring.” I say, because I could, and realistically it wouldn’t loose any value.

So, eventually, cragstilst + email = meeting… with a guy who had a bad-ass looking scooter on craigslist. Except, the picture in craigslist wasn’t a picture of the scooter he had. Oh and the battery probably needs charging.  Fuck it. FUCK IT. I’m so sick of trying so hard and having every plan fall through. Fuck It. I’ll take it.

I totally could have gotten the price down probably by two or three hundred but I honestly didn’t have it in me to deal. I need a fucking vacation. Getting my BMW F650 would have taken $$$ and  longer to get on the road than I had vacation time. And the PDR only takes 3 days on a motorcycle. Not enough. No, a scooter fit the bill perfectly.

Ruckus in a Subaru Outback
The new Ruckus in our Subaru Outback

We shoved it in the car, took it home, registered it, threw most of my hiking stuff into a motorcycle bag, strapped that across the back, filled it with gas, and waited for Amazon to get me a SAE to USB adapter to charge the GPS.

The GPS wouldn’t charge. This route is literally not doable without a GPS. No-one has made paper maps for it and that would take… a lot of time to do right. FUCK IT. The GPS should last most of a day. I’ll charge it up when I stop for lunch, and charge it off my power bank at night. Yeah. That’s it. Fuck this noize. We’re going!

I went.

Puppy Dog Route

Day 1

I was on the road. I was finally on the road. I WAS ON THE MOTHER FUCKING ROAD! I was on vacation. I WAS ON VACATION!

OMG

Then the gps told me to take a completely unnecessary right turn onto some dirt road… Well, I did tell it to prefer dirt roads. WOOO HOOO

The trip's first dirt road.
The trip’s first dirt road.

Ok. Totally random easy dirt road. Whatever. I’m on vacation! Finally!

Then came a dirt road that said “No outlet!” “Hmm,” I thought. “No outlet can’t mean the same thing as ‘Dead End’ or they would have just said ‘Dead End’. Right? Plus, the GPS seems to think I can get through here…. ADVENTURE!!!”

It started off as a poorly maintained dirt road. It then became a rutted and rocky dirt road. It then became the most technical riding of my life. The underinflated tires (remembered to check them as I left the driveway) gave me good grip, but the fist to small boulder sized rocks whacked against my rims and frame as I bounced from one to another.

On the uphill stretches with lots of whacking I’d loose power, but after releasing the throttle, and then twisting again, voilla power. I didn’t care. It moved. I WAS ON MY MOTHER FUCKING VACATION!

Rocks. Boulders. Mud puddles. Rocks. Boulders. Mud puddles. Hills. Wrong turns. Huffing and puffing as I pushed it up bits with massive loose rocks I couldn’t possibly ride over or around. Sweat.

It was awesome.

a rocky dirt road

rocky and hilly dirt road

Looking down at a boulder in the road.
Looking down the hill: There’s no way anything could drive over that boulder from the other side. Maybe a small Unimog.

Near the end of the bad stuff, one mud puddle grabbed my front wheel and yanked to the right. I almost went over but the Ruckus is so light that I was able to step through with my left leg and hold it from going over.

Adventure! Awesome little scoot!

About half a mile of rocky riding later I realized my GPS hadn’t talked to me in a while. I looked down and realized, my GPS hadn’t been with me in a while either…. “Shit. That’s going to be hard to find. Can I make it without that? No. I could pick up a cheap one on the way! Nope can’t transfer maps to it. Damn! Hope I can find it…”

I was pretty sure I’d kneed it off as I stepped through the scooter to keep it from falling. I hadn’t taken the time to remove the RAM mount from my BMW because it’s a major pain in the ass. Instead, I was using the suction cup car mount. I hadn’t realized until then but there’s no good reason it should have held on at all on this road. That’s a pretty awesome suction cup.

Eventually, I returned to the great mud puddle of yore, and found it face down, submerged in the water. It’s little suction cup mount sticking up into the air.

the mud puddle that ate my GPS
I was so excited to find the GPS in this puddle that I forgot to take a picture before I extracted it.

I was exstatic to see it, and curious to know if the waterproofing we paid so much for seven years ago actually worked, that I forgot to take a picture of it for you. But, Garmin lived up to their advertising. The pins on the back were wet, of course, and caused it to complain about how you could only connect one device at a time. Otherwise, it was fine. Remove the mount. Wipe off the back. All good.

I figured I shouldn’t tempt fate, and stuck it deep in an outside pocket of my motorcycle bag instead of reaffixing the suction cup.

It’s battery was waning. The “road” was mostly over. Evening was approaching. Hunger was growing. “I’ll find somewhere to eat, and charge it there before finding camp.”  I told myself.

A while later as I moved at 5mph up a hill…  Pretty sure it’s supposed to be better than that even at the max weight rating… I thought “Fuck that. I’m not setting up camp in the dark again, and I recognize this road. There’s not going to be anywhere to eat before the big town.”

I saw a gated road by a cemetery. “No ATVs” said a sign. “Scooters aren’t ATVs” said I, and scooted around it. At the top of a wee hill was a cell tower, and a beautiful open area with rock walls. Perfect for tents, but I had a hammock.

Another gate. “No wheeled vehicles.” said this sign. “Well, you’ve got me there,” said I, “but the trees are behind you.” There was another sign saying that it was part of the “Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts” trails. “Well that’s not really fair.” I thought. “Plus, there’s not any snow so I won’t be disrupting any snowmobile rides by camping back there. And, I’m honoring the spirit of the sign. I’m not riding back there. Just walking it, and camping.

It was a great camp spot.

My first camp spot with the ruckus
My first camp spot with the ruckus

A bit cold, but that’s because I didn’t want to get out of the hammock and put on my thermals until I had no choice. I left the GPS on my charging battery for a couple hours.

Day 2

The night was filled with the sounds of foxes and hounds, but I awoke at 7 AM to the sound of a dog snuffling under my tent. Two Komodors enjoying the trail with their human.

Tearing down camp took 50 minutes. I don’t know why. I din’t cook. I just took down camp. I hate how long this takes, but don’t seem to  be able to do it any faster. The hammock would make it faster except for all the additional steps I have to take for the cold weather.

The GPS had not charged. I don’t know why. No worries. I’ll charge it when I get breakfast.

A little riding and the universe presents me with a “Road Closed. Bridge out ahead” sign. History has taught me that “Bridge out” is a very subjective term. “I’ll see your ‘Bridge Out’” I said, and continued on. “STOP” the road said. “I have many Jersey Barriers!”

road closed barriers

“I see that,” I replied, “but you also have a nice little path around them to the left.”

I continued on. “Road Closed” signs usually just mean “the town doesn’t want to pay to maintain this stretch of road any more”

Such a beautiful road.

Closed Road Panorama
Closed Road Panorama

There was a bridge. It looked fine.

There was another bridge. It looked fine too.

Then there were more Jersey Barriers.

“I see.” I said. “That, could be a problem…. I wonder. I … I think I might be able to justfit if I take off the bag. ”

jersey barriers with very little space around them.
That could be a problem

ruckus maybe fitting through gap

ruckus maybe fitting through gap 3

ruckus maybe fitting through gap 4

Ruckus free from jersey barriers

Many excited giggles latter and I was free.

Onward!

Maybe fifteen minutes after that and I was at the start of the Puppy Dog Route. A gas station, and a McDonalds. Perfect! I filled up, found a table in the McDonalds with a plug, started things charging, and acquired food.

Maybe an hour later I’m texting with Dachary about the GPS and a pain starts quickly building in my side. I’m overheating. I need to poo.

“Suddenly feel very not good” I text.

I make it to the bathroom and poo. I feel slightly improved, but then it just gets worse, and worse. She finds me a hospital. It’s 1.5 miles away. I can make it.

I go out to the scooter and vomit in a bush. The pain is worse. I sit down. We debate if she should get me. The pain comes and goes in waves. I think it may have passed. Tell her to wait. Then it comes again. I can’t drive that far. Too weak. Hurts too much. Shaky. “Come get me”. Laying down in the rocks by the scooter feels good.

laying down in the rocks a scooter's length from my vomit
Laying down on my Aerostitch on the rocks a scooter’s length from my vomit

Nevermind. Hospital. Yes. Hospital good. I flag down 3 people. Limp over to them holding my side. I tell them I’m in a lot of pain and ask if they would mind taking me 1.5 miles to the hospital.

“Yes, I would mind.” Says one retiree.

“I’m not from around here” says the next “Google maps can get us there.” I retort. “I’m a tourist.” says he. “So am I.”

“Oh I dunno says the next. Have you called an ambulance?” “It’s only one and a half miles away” I say “I dunno…” she retorts.

I call an ambulance because obviously “human kindness” is dead in Greenfield Massachusetts. They come. They are great. They ask if I want to grab my bag or helmet off of my bike so they’ll be safe. They take care of me. They watch me writhe in pain and and hyperventalate so hard my hands start to tingle.

Then, one minute from the hospital, the pain disappears.

Emergency Room Bed

The hospital gets info, takes blood, gets me into a gown, takes a CAT scan, has me pee in a cup, and tells me I have a kidney stone.

Dachary arrives, we stick the scooter in the car, again, we go get food, and we drive home.

On the way back Dachary gets Carbon Monoxide poisining from the fumes of the gas leaking from the now full fuel tank. I take over driving, and breathe through my Buff. I should probably replace that gasket.

By the time we get home her symptoms are pretty severe. I have to demand she get out of the car, but her foot isn’t touching the ground and it’s confusing her. I cajole. I pull. I demand. Eventually… eventually, I help her out, but she won’t go inside.

She can barely stand up straight but she’s demanding we get the scooter out of the car. Won’t listen to me tell her I’ll take care of it. The fastest way to get her sitting still and breathing fresh air again is through this. I go with it, and hope she doesn’t fall over and hit her head.

Scooter out. I help her to the bedroom. She refuses to follow the internet doctor’s advice of sitting up (to get more air in her lungs) no matter how hard I try to convince her. At least she’s safe in bed and breathing fresh air.

Somehow she eventually agrees to sit up if I let her guide me through cooking something. She’ll sit up when it’s done and she’s ready to eat. So I cook something, and finally, when it’s done, she comes out to the living room, sits up, and eats.

I love my wife, but when she’s out of it it’s nigh-impossible to get her to follow the instructions to keep her safe and healthy. Refused to put a Buff over her nose in the car because the 1st one was “smelly” (probably musty from the basement). Refused to get out of the car filled with toxic fumes. Refused to go in to the house without dealing with the scooter herself. Refused to sit up even though she admitted she got more breath in when she did… Argh!

I wish there was some mental health “safe-word” that conveyed “I love you dearly, but you are not mentally fit to make decisions, right now and you need to do what I tell you.” and could magically make the person understand even when they can’t.

… It was a very long day, and we were exhausted.

The Recovery

The next day I still had a sore throat (presumably from the vomiting), a little nausea, and some minor kidney pain. Fortunately we have Tylenol with Codine (thank you Canada) and I took a couple of those as soon as it started to hurt.

The next day I had the sniffles, sinus pressure, a sore throat, coughing, and was either overheated or chilled. I slept for a very long time, and Dachary took care of me.

I had the Flu.

As I eventually started to get past it, she started to come down with it, and I took care of her, as she did me.

The Conclusion

I don’t know how much that Ambulance ride and CAT scan cost me. I’m sure I’ll have to pay for most, or all of it, because of my deductible. I was in so much pain I don’t care.

If I had waited until the pain passed, I wouldn’t have gone in, and I wouldn’t have known what the hell was wrong with me. I wouldn’t have known that the burning sensation in my urethra is a precursor to intense pain. A warning sign, that bad things may be around the corner.

If I hadn’t taken a test hike I would have been writhing in pain, and throwing up, on the side of some mountain in remote Arkansas.

If that sales manager hadn’t been a schmuck I would have been writhing in pain, and throwing up, in some parking lot in Tennessee.

If I hadn’t gotten the Flu… Who knows, but I’m betting it was worse than Kidney Stones.

I’ve got a few days of vacation left, and the weekend. Maybe I’ll get better and be able to salvage some more of it. For now, I’ll just keep taking care of myself and Dachary.

About Kay

An old-school geek, addicted to travel, with a love of programming, writing, Esperanto, and starting businesses. -- @masukomi on Twitter.

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