After struggling over the hills with a stomach ache and headache, arriving at Amy’s house, taking a break, and eating a real breakfast was just what I needed. I knew something was off. Unknowingly, Amy and fellow hiker, Young Gun, put the pieces together for me.
Over breakfast, Young Gun discussed his recent “not feeling himself” conditions, and Amy voiced her concern about Lyme Disease.
“I’ve gotten Lyme before and I know I have it because I get these headaches that don’t go away.”
I immediately recalled all the pamphlets and signs I’d seen on the trail over the past four months. The blogs and accounts from other hikers about the evil, tiny creatures that you’re lucky to spot. I had been reading about Lyme for over a year preparing for this hike, and I knew that a few special hikers get it every year. As soon as she mentioned headaches, it all clicked. I have Lyme.
Amy continued, (to Young Gun) “If you think you might have Lyme, I’m happy to take you to the local clinic today to get tested.” She smiled, “Any offer I make, I make joyfully. That’s my policy.”
I picked at my waffle for a short minute and voiced my concerns to BigFoot. It was the obvious choice to accept this very gracious offer and spend the day in the clinic. I let our host know my symptoms and concerns, and she verbally rearranged her day to get me to the clinic. A few hours later, we were on our way.
We patiently sat in the waiting room and I filled out paperwork. Not too much time passed before I saw the doctor.
“So, what makes you think you have Lyme Disease?”
I then described my story – our hike that began four months ago, the amount of time I spend in the woods every day, the deer ticks we’ve picked off each other (though I didn’t find a biting tick on me), my knowledge of Lyme, recent fatigue, headache, neck pain, and abdomen pain. Though I thought I was reading Lyme Disease symptoms from a textbox, she seemed unconvinced.
I was surprised when she said, “The chance that you have Lyme is very slim. Many of your symptoms can be attributed to your pack and excessive daily exercise.”
“But what about the headache and neck pain?”
“That could be attributed to dehydration and your pack. I’ll order the blood test, and we’ll go from there.”
I was shown out the door back to the lobby. I was a little confused. I know it must be frustrating for doctors when patients WebMD themselves and self diagnose their conditions. I get that. But I just knew I had Lyme. The symptoms fit, and there was just no way that I felt so out of whack do to dehydration and my pack, especially after just returning from 3 days off. I’ve gotten really in tune with my body considering how much we exercise. I just knew it was Lyme.
I waited and was shortly called to get blood drawn. I asked the nurse drawing blood if I would be able to get a prescription, but she was just drawing blood and suggested I speak with the doctor again.
I returned to the waiting room and, after another twenty minutes passed, I was called back once more. I reiterated my concerns and asked if it would be possible to leave with a prescription in hand in order to get the antibiotics at the nearby pharmacy.
The doctor essentially put her foot down and would not prescribe without the test results claiming that my symptoms weren’t severe enough to suggest Lyme. I even mentioned my knowledge about the possibility of false positives and false negatives for the Lyme Disease tests that I’ve read about. We clearly disagreed, but her answer was final. I had no choice but to wait for the results.
I left feeling let down, just wanting the pain in my head to stop and my energy levels to rise back up. But I wouldn’t have the results for a week, and we didn’t have seven days to spare. We would hike out of this town the next day and be nearly 100 miles away by the time the results came back. And of course, the doctor predicted the test results to take a week – exactly the day my insurance expires.
From the clinic, we grabbed lunch at Boston Market, and Amy picked us back up. She welcomed us back into her home and told us to make ourselves comfortable downstairs with Netflix and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. A couple movies later, she called us upstairs for guacamole, veggies, and dip while she grilled burgers. Soon her husband, Bill, was home, and we happily ate dinner. By the time the sun set, it was time for us to sleep, and we were shown the half finished garage where they let hikers spend the night. We were instructed to cook ourselves breakfast in the morning, though neither would be home, and leave whenever we were ready.
We said goodnight and goodbye to our hosts, so grateful for the chance encounter. Morning came and light-headedness came with it. BigFoot cooked us breakfast, but I didn’t feel strong enough to leave until 11. Knowing there was a shelter 5.5 miles in, we headed out to the trail and started hiking. It was a slow go and the smallest hills took everything in me to climb over. It took us about 4 hours to complete the short hike, but we both agreed it was for the better not to push it further.
We took afternoon naps and then watched hikers come and go. It was still relatively early in the afternoon, and there were miles to walk. But we stayed put for the evening, did chores, and chatted with a family of section hikers. A few other thru-hikers stayed put for the evening, and we were all asleep by dark.
We awoke to rain, a wonderful motivator not to go anywhere. We waited it out until about 10 am, while I tried my best not to dwell on my permanent headache that radiated into my neck and occasionally my ear as a bonus. The rain stopped, and we decided to hike a bit. This time 8.5 miles would take us to a highway just outside of Pawling, NY where we could eat and camp in the town park.
The hike was a struggle, but I kept my eyes on the prize and, thankfully, the terrain was easy on me. Two lovely ladies were just ending their day hike when we crossed the road, and they got us into town.
We devoured some town food and found another ride out to the park where we pitched our tent for the evening. We sure were happy to be under an awning when a severe storm passed through, dumping buckets of rain all night.
Morning came, and the sun came with it. We packed up and were picked up by more friendly people. We started hiking around 9, and no surprise, my head continued to ache. It had only been three days since I did the blood test with no improvement in my symptoms except a slight rise in energy.
A short 2 miles in, we came to the Appalachian Trail stop for Metro North. Here, hikers have the opportunity to visit NYC directly from the trail landing them in Grand Central Station two hours later (weekend stop only, station in Pawling runs trains all week).
We joked about returning to Megan’s Brooklyn apartment, but continued on. Later that afternoon, we were happy to enter Connecticut and celebrating our arrival in New England!
We completed our twelve mile day just before a brief storm began and made ourselves comfortable for the evening. The next day started early and a thousand foot climb with it. Through the mid-Atlantic states, we had become more accustomed to smaller climbs and generally flatter terrain. It seemed I had lost some muscle strength without the daily training, and that climb really tried me. I found myself chanting “I have, I can, I will” over and over in my head. What really began to concern me was the feelings of self doubt. How did I do this before? Do I really have it in me to hike 800 more miles? Was I “just” a 1400-miler? I did my best to not think about the possibility of Lyme. Maybe it was just a funk. I focused on the terrain, my breathing, my careful steps. I held on to dreams of hiking the Whites and through Maine as my motivation. I kept walking.
And as always, when you walk enough, you get, well, somewhere. And that day it was 15.7 miles, our first “full” day since we left the trail for NYC. We followed that with a 15.3 mile day over many 300-500 ft humps.
The following day, now 6 days since the Lyme test, we began early knowing a road walk detour around an out bridge was ahead. We enjoyed passing the big colonial houses with brightly painted trim and nice Subarus and BMWs in the driveways. I found myself with a craving for hot food and a strong desire to keep my phone charged hoping to hear the word from the clinic. I was hoping for a bit of magic to get that medication before my insurance would expire.
I easily convinced BigFoot into walking into nearby Salisbury, CT for a hot breakfast. Our $15 dollar small breakfast plates tasted a little like disappointment, but the homemade donuts and oversized coffee cup made up for it.
After our overall unnecessary break, we made it up a thousand foot climb to a shelter right before a full on downpour. We rejoiced about our perfect timing and decided 14.8 was enough for the day.
Throughout the afternoon, other not so lucky hikers arrived making us that much more grateful to be dry. My only lament that evening was the mosquito army that plagued the shelter. I don’t know why I didn’t just pitch the tent, but I do know it was not worth sacrificing my precious sleep. Needless hours were spent swatting the bugs out of my face and listening to them buzz in my ears. I barely slept, conceding defeat to my predator.
In the morning, we began our day with a climb up another Bear Mountain and got a beautiful view, a reminder of the unparalleled views that lie in the remaining miles ahead. On we went, the trail following a pretty stream for our final half mile in CT.
Hello, Massachusetts. We immediately began a thousand foot climb up Mt Race, the final .6 miles on exposed ridge to enjoy this sunny day.
After yet another climb that day, we descended Mt. Everett putting us at Guilder Pond 9 miles away from Great Barrington, MA where a resupply box from my mom awaited our arrival.
We hoofed it the rest of the way to town, aware of our 5:00 deadline to get to the post office. I called around to several hotels, most of which were booked and all of which were very expensive. We were considering a hostel when we encountered signs on the trail advertising camping, shower, pool, and Wi-Fi use at a local community center similar to a YMCA for $8 each. Sounds good.
We made it to the highway and hitched a ride into town to snag the box and, of course, food! Next, we checked into the community center, and to our surprise, we weren’t charged a dime!!
After a glorious shower, I finally had the voicemail I had been waiting for. I impatiently made my way through the automated system and was eventually redirected to my test results.
“Your test results came back positive for Lyme. Where should we send the prescription?” a different doctor informed me. For once in my life I wanted to be wrong, but I wasn’t at all surprised. My suspicions came true, but at least this way I had a treatment. I had Lyme.
I had them forward a prescription to Great Barrington CVS on the final day I had insurance. I kept my fingers crossed that the meds I needed would be covered the day they were called in though I couldn’t pick them up until the following day.
The moment of truth came the next day when we arrived at CVS. I was hoping the medication would be ready to simply pick up, but unfortunately although the fax had been received, the order hadn’t been filled. The busy pharmacists quoted me at least a half hour so BigFoot, and I decided to grab some food. When we were full and all but ready to hike out, we returned to the pharmacy. The order was ready, and I answered a sad “no insurance” to the friendly pharmacist explaining it had expired at midnight. The look on his face told everything, but he explained that even though the fax was received in time yesterday, since it wasn’t filled it would all be processed today ie – out of pocket. Specifically $300 out of pocket for the 30 day treatment.
It was obvious this was a big blow to me, but the pharmacist had one suggestion. He informed me that doxycycline mono which was prescribed could be replaced by doxycycline hyclate at about a third of the price, but the switch had to be made by my physician. Talking to this doctor was about the last thing I wanted to do, but I made the run around through the automated system to discover that she was, of course, out for the weekend and I’d have to wait until Monday. The pharmacist suggested getting a partial prescription until I could contact her, get the new one, and get it filled in whatever town we’d be in next. So about $40 and a literal and figurative headache later, I got some of the meds I needed.
With many expletives running through my mind, I tried to put on a smile to get a hitch back to the trail. Though we were passed up many times, eventually we got our ride and headed out for a 6.5 mile hike to a shelter. Anger fueled my late afternoon walk and I did my very best not to take it out on those around me. I was just plain frustrated.
My brisk pace, rising endorphins, and just being surrounded by the woods I call home calmed me, and when I reached the shelter I was ready for bed. A large group of young teens were at the shelter on a weekend hike and offered us there leftover rice and lentils. Well, that’s one less chore. Though the camping was full, only one other hiker shared the large shelter with us, and we pitched our tent right inside of it.
We awoke around 7 and packed up. During breakfast, I popped my first antibiotic. It only took an hour for relief to set in. The headache I had been going to sleep with and waking up to that was in no way affected by ibuprofen had finally stopped. The day seemed brighter in every way. Despite my frustrations, we managed to walk 21.1 miles that day, a huge accomplishment compared to the week before.
At early evening we ended our day at Upper Goose Pond Cabin, a beautiful two story shelter with bunks and a caretaker adjacent to the pond where you can swim and free canoe rental. We ended up pitching our tent at the crowded shelter, happy to see some familiar hikers.
I was, honestly, completely exhausted from the day’s hike and happy to crawl into my sleeping bag early. I took my second pill and went right to sleep. The headache didn’t return.
The morning began with the caretaker preparing a blueberry pancake breakfast with coffee for many hungry hikers for donation only. It was the start to a wonderful day and perhaps a restart to the rest of this long journey.
I couldn’t have been happier to have regained my confidence, my strength, and my desire to finish this trail. The previous week had me questioning what the hell I was doing out here and whether I was even capable of hiking over 600 more miles. And, wow what a gift to have met Amy. It’s really hard to say how much longer I would have hiked before I put the pieces together. To my Trail Angel, thank you for your generosity and kindness. You were definitely an important piece of our journey.
But hike on we did, and hike on we will. Whatever the weather, through injury and disease – we’ll get to Katahdin no matter what!!!