Idyllwild to Big Bear

By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 266.6
Completion percentage: 10.0%
Hiking days: 19
Zero days: 2
Total Ascent: 45575 ft.
Total descent: 41513 ft.
Blister count: 7
Notable injury count: 1

Warning, This post contains graphic images. If you do not wish to see them, do not continue.

After taking a great zero day in Idyllwild with the trail family, I decided to temporarily break off alone and try to catch my friend who was a few days ahead. At the same time, Anna announced that she was going off trail indefinitely due to pains in her foot. It was unfortunate to see her go, but one of the metatarsals in her foot was causing her quite a bit of pain for a while and she simply couldn’t continue. 

I had a very successful couple of days traversing the San Jacinto wilderness and Fuller Ridge. My legs felt strong and I had hit a groove. I decided not to Summit San Jacinto Mountain as all of the reports I got from other hikers said that conditions were terrible. There was a considerable amount of post-holing, and a number of hikers needed to be rescued off the mountain for various reasons.  Over the course of two days I was averaging 20 miles per day, and felt like I was firing on all cylinders. After Fuller Ridge, I camped under the 1-10 highway overpass and was ready to tackle Mission Creek. A few years back, a flood had knocked out about 4 miles of the trail and it required bushwhacking/route finding. A group of a few other hikers and I teamed up and decided to hit it in the morning. 

Mission creek

It’s amazing how quickly things can go from good to bad on the trail. After drinking some water in the morning that had been filtered from a sketchy looking stream, I immediately had an upset stomach. Of course the water was filtered, but the ceramic filters don’t capture any sufficiently dissolved particles like dirt or iron. Knowing that my upset stomach was caused by something that wasn’t bacteria and the fact that I did not want to push through Mission Creek alone, I decided to press on with the group. It never got to the point of being painful, but my stomach was churning all day and I failed to take care of myself in other ways that were necessary. Most days during lunch I take my shoes off and let my feet dry out. During lunch that day I sat up against a rock in a bit of a haze and didn’t dry me feet out. That, plus the multiple stream crossings, plus about 6,000 feet of elevation gain, all combined to severely exacerbate the blisters I had, and gave me multiple new ones. The worst blister formed on the toe pad of my right foot, under my second toe.

The next few days were difficult, but I didn’t really have a choice except to continue, as I was about halfway between towns. When I woke up the next morning my stomach felt normal again, but I now had the blisters to deal with. Hiking into Big Bear was only mildly painful, until the last day. On the morning of the last day I experienced excruciating pain when putting my shoes on in the morning. As I slipped my right shoe on, I noticed a searing pain in my second toe. I took my shoe and sock off to investigate and found that the base of my toe was swollen; turning my foot over I found that the blister that had formed had grown immensely and crept its way between my toes. I reasoned that all of the extra volume of the blister had caused my toe to crash into my shoes and had injured my toe somehow. I drained the liquid out of the blister, took a handful of Aleve and pressed on. 

The 18 miles into Big Bear were not as bad as I had envisioned, but were still pretty brutal. After about 30 minutes of walking, the pain had mostly subsided but was still present with every step. I stopped after about 5 miles to eat a snack and the pain immediately returned. I’m not sure why, but the moving prevented the pain. After eating, I decided to hike the remaining ~13 miles without stopping. I needed to get into town as soon as possible and ended up hiking the 18 miles in about 7 hours.

After getting food and checking into the hostel with ‘Beast mode’ and ‘Bubble wrap’ I reevaluated my blisters and didn’t see anything concerning. I cleaned my feet and grabbed dinner with some other hikers. I had cell service for the first time in days and was informed that Lt. Anne had broken her ankle and could no longer continue. The trail claimed another victim from the trail family. Her husband, Heisenberg, is going to continue. Additionally, I found out that my friend I am trying to meet left that morning. Given the condition of my foot and how long I need to let it heal, it’s unlikely that I am going to be able to catch them.

The next morning my foot heath was about the same and I figured that I could just wait for my blisters to heal. Maybe two days off trail. Feeling like my feet had swollen, I wanted to see if I still had the right shoes. Luckily, there were a few people from Germany, ‘Bear bait’ and ‘OJ’ who had rented a car and were driving over to Pasadena which has an REI. They offered me a ride and I quickly accepted. The drive took over an hour, so naturally we talked about politics. Godwin’s law was in full effect and Hitler entered the conversation at about the 30 minute mark. I explained the fatigue I (and many others) experienced from the news related to the Trump administration and how I had become desensitized to the news. Both Bear bait and OJ very emphatically told me that that was exactly how Hitler seized control of Germany preceding WWII. Fun stuff. 

Before REI, we stopped at In-N-Out. It was their first time eating the American classic and they absolutely loved it. At REI I got my feet measured and they had indeed swollen by almost a full size. After talking to the shoe expert he agreed that I had the right pair of shoes, but just needed a larger size. I also picked up some different socks and some toe liners. The trip to REI took almost 4 hours and we were hungry again, so we headed back to In-N-Out for seconds. On the way over, ‘Bear bait’ mentioned that she was a nurse and offered to take a look at my blisters. We sat in the parking lot and she inspected my foot. She was pretty adamant that it was infected and that I needed to go to the doctor. Unfortunately by the time we got back to Big Bear the clinic was closed, but I was able to make an appointment for the next day. I checked my feet again and the blister had started oozing puss; it was pretty clear that it was infected. 

My blister right after being inspected by Bear bait

The next morning I hit the clinic and the diagnosis was confirmed. I was prescribed Clindamycin and told to stay off my feet for at least 72 hours. I’m guessing I will need 96. It should take the antibiotic about 48 hours to kill the infection, and another day or two for the unattached skin to re-adhere to my foot. As of this posting I have been off trail of five days, and am looking to get back on the trail on the 18th. It’s a big hit in terms of schedule, but according to my current plan, I am actually about 5 days ahead, so it’s not a complete decimation of my schedule. In addition, the weather surrounding Big Bear is pretty miserable. I have already seen multiple groups of hikers leave the hostel, only to return later in the day due to cold temperatures and rain. The timing of this could not be better for me, so I’m treating it as a blessing in disguise. This is the first real adversity I am facing on the trail, but spirits are still high. 

Canada isn’t going anywhere and the snow report still shows that the Sierras are very far away from being traversable. I have time to let myself heal properly and am going to make sure I’m in good shape before I get back on the trail. This is a marathon (100 marathons actually), not a sprint. There is no reason for me to rush back into anything.

The blister as of 5/13. new skin is forming, which is a great sign.

2 thoughts on “Idyllwild to Big Bear

  1. I am so sorry however keep that positive attitude and you’ll be good to go soon enough. Sending prayers and good thoughts!! Frank and Midge

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  2. Oh my gosh! This is my biggest fear as a runner who gets a crazy number of blisters & toe nail fall-offs. I’m soooo happy you are healing & keeping a positive mindset. YOU are AWESOME!

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