Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

The best laid plans of mice and men,
oft go awry
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy

On Sunday morning, I was joined by Mark and Mike.  We hiked approximately 5 miles in the morning, stopping for lunch at Smith Gap.  After a decent break, we continued on to Delps Trail.  Before beginning the hike that day, I had applied moleskin to my big toes as I had started to develop blisters.  What was intended for prophylactic treatment, though, would end up causing significant trouble later on... but more about that in a minute. Mark and I bid Mike farewell when we reached Delps Trail and we continued on into the state game lands.  We had an exceedingly difficult time finding a campsite in the game lands, but after a long search and some guidance from a couple of thru hikers, we were able to find a large, though less than ideal place to pitch our tents for the night. We prepared our dinners and ate, then called home and turned in for the night.  We slept somewhat fitfully and rose early on Monday morning.  
I took a closer look at my foot in the morning sunlight and discovered that a significant blister had formed under my second toenail from rubbing against the moleskin that I had placed on my big toe to prevent blisters from forming there.  The blister had affected the nail bed, which increased the risk of infection exponentially.  I found myself in a bit of a pickle.  If I didn't try to drain the blister, the pressure from the fluid could cause more damage and infection to the nail bed, but at the same time, if I did drain it, I would be creating an environment for infection by opening a wound.  With 10 miles of difficult trail ahead, I decided to go ahead and drain, then dress the blister.  
Mark and I left camp around 9. We descended into Little Gap crossing several boulder fields in the process.  The ascent on the opposite side was over smaller rocks, which are more troublesome for my feet.  We reached the ridge line and enjoyed 360 degree views of Palmerton and the surrounding area for several miles.  Continuing on, we traveled on a grassy road through the Superfund project site on Blue Mountain.  It was amazing to me how much the vegetation is still being impacted by the Zinc pollution.  Grasses are growing and small shrubs, but the trees are all dead.  As we turned the corner of the mountain, we observed a spectacular view of  the Lehigh River 1500 ft below.  We walked on and the trail became rocky once more.  We were now approaching the bald faced descent into the Lehigh Gap!  We crossed 3 or 4 boulder fields and came to the crest of the mountain.  We climbed up the boulders and found ourselves faced with an extremely steep descent.  It was difficult to see where we needed to go.  I stowed my poles and we looked to see where the blazes were leading us.  We dropped about 20 ft and then were faced with a problem.  We were on a cliff and could not see how to get to the next place that offered level terrain.  The drop was approximately 20-25 ft, but a misplaced hand or foot resulting in a fall would cause at the very least a broken leg or two, and at worst... well, let's not think too much on that...  Mark had the idea to lower our packs by rope and see if we could figure out a way down without being hampered by the extra 40lbs that we were both carrying.  I found a blaze to the side of where we were standing.  There was a rock that provided a decent enough hand hold, but it took a few moments before I found a good foothold.  I'm not really much of a rock climber, and am not all that keen on heights, but what choice did we have?  We took it slow, moving one hand and one foot at a time, making sure that we were stable before making the next move, and miraculously, we reached the next plateau.   From there, we had a few other instances that required some rock climbing skills, but nothing as extreme as that vertical rock face.  I had known the descent into the Lehigh Gap would be difficult, but I never Imagined that it would require scaling down 25ft of vertical rock!  I was so glad to have Mark with me! 

We finished our descent into the Lehigh Gap and found Scott and Anne waiting for us.  My feet were on fire from all of the rocks that we traversed!  Not to mention my legs and arms that were beginning to become stiff from the climbing escapade...  Anne and Scott treated us to dinner in town and then Scott and I returned to the west side of the Lehigh Gap.  We traveled uphill for about half a mile, found a campsite and began settling in for the night.  We made a small campfire and enjoyed a few snickers bars and good conversation before heading to bed around 10pm.  That night, I decided that I would need to come off for a day or so to tend to my feet, which now hurt with every step.  
We woke on Tuesday morning early and began to climb Blue Mountain again.  It was cloudy, and threatened to rain.  Our plan was to take the North Trail which goes right over the Lehigh Tunnel of the turnpike and offers some spectacular views.  When we reached our first overlook at Devil's Pulpit, we felt our first raindrops.  Within a few minutes it was raining steadily, and after a few moments more, we heard some thunder.  We knew that we would be traveling on an open ridge-line for several miles and had to decide whether to turn back or risk being stuck on a ridge in the middle of a thunderstorm.  We decided to turn back.  It was only two miles to the bottom of the mountain, and we were able to communicate our new location to Denise who would be picking us up.  We reached the bottom of the mountain in relatively short order, careful not to slip on the wet rocks, and awaited her arrival.  By the time we reached the bottom, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining.  It turned out to be a very pleasant morning and as much as it killed me to have given up so soon because of the weather, I think it was the right decision to make.  Thunderstorms often times hang on the mountains or along the rivers, and we had both to contend with...  

Denise dropped me at Kim and Ricky's home in Hellertown where I planned to take a day off before returning to the trail.  The blister on my second toe had now become pretty painful and I was really starting to worry about infection.  I decided to try and treat it topically on Tuesday night, resigning myself to seek more advanced medical attention if it did not improve with conservative treatment in the next 12 hours.  That night, the nail detached form the bed and in the morning, I lost it completely.  Once I lost the nail, it was clear that the infection was more significant than I had thought.  I drove to an urgent care center in Hellertown and filled a prescription for antibiotics.  
I started treating immediately as I knew Sports Unlimited would be coming on Friday and there was no way that I was going to miss that!  Thursday evening, Kim, Ricky and I left for the trail.  We camped in the state game lands, just beyond the boundary to the Hamburg Water Shed.  I did my best to allow the toe to air out, but I also came to find that in doing so, it was extremely difficult to keep it clean.  I had to scrub dirt out of the wound several times that evening.  
In the morning, I padded and protected the toe as best as I could.  I knew my pace would be a little slower than normal, but hoped that the folks from SU would understand.  They arrived full of energy and ready to roll at 8:30.  I allowed those who wished to walk more quickly to take the lead and I brought up the rear with Nancy and a few others.  We reached the Pinnacle an hour ahead of schedule and took a decently long lunch break before continuing on.  The second half of the hike was a little more challenging.  The path was more narrow and rocky and we had a couple of boulder fields to traverse.  We reached Pulpit rock around 1:45 and enjoyed a break during which time we discovered a copperhead sunning itself in a crevasse in the rocks.  It was a little smaller than I expected, but I was glad to have seen it and been able to identify it as a young adult snake.  We snapped a picture or two well out of harms way and then completed our descent down the mountain.  It was a great day, and I was glad to meet such an awesome group of people.  They departed around 3:30pm and I waited with Kim and Ricky for Jean and Drew to arrive with a food drop.  
As we sat, I realized how sore my toes had become during the day's hike.  When Drew and Jean arrived, I asked Drew if he could offer his opinion as he is a very experienced hiker.  He told me that I needed at least 3 days off the trail with the toe completely exposed to air.  I knew in my head that he was right... but it was really disheartening to hear.  This was not how I had planned things to go, and I certainly hadn't expected to have this trouble so early on.  Then, something really amazing happened, Drew asked me if he could take the next 30 miles and hike them for me.  He asked if I would pass the baton to him for a short time so that I could heal, but the hike could continue on.  Gratefully, I said yes!  As hard as it was for me to come off, even for a short time, I felt so much better doing so, knowing that someone else was carrying the torch for the time that I was recovering.  So as I'm writing tonight, I'm doing so from home, rather than the trail.  Drew finished all 30 miles in less than 24 hours, and now I'm able to allow my toe to have some healing time!   It was such a blessing that he was the one joining me on Friday night!! Now the hike truly has become a team effort!  I'm hopeful that by Tuesday, I will be ready to return, and hope that the foot issues will be behind me for the remainder of the hike.  
It's been an emotional couple of days, but I also see that God is at work, encouraging more and more people to be involved in the mission to find a cure for Nathan and Bennett.  Drew carried the torch for a little while, and others are stepping up to the plate and offering to carry it as well.  I've come to realize that I had become a little too attached to the plans that I had made around the hike and that my plans may not have aligned with God's plan.  He's prodding me to let go of my plans and instead to follow his plan, which I know ultimately is the better plan.  It's difficult to do, but in going forward, I will be listening much more carefully for His leading.  Sometimes an injury provides us with the piece of humble pie that we need to take a bite of in order to get out of God's way.  While 'the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry', God's plan is steadfast and perfect.  When we follow His plan, instead of our own, we find  all the peace, fulfillment and joy that we could hope for.