The Forced Transition to "Hitcher"

Injury and Dissapointment in the great Basin desert.

Around 4pm, a storm rolled over the mountain pass just to the west of me. If I had to guess the winds were blowing 20-25mph and the snow was heavy with moisture. It was mid-afternoon, and the Pony Express Route I had been traveling on for over a week, had turned to mush. My leg throbbed, and I was leaning harder and harder on my trekking poles to pull myself forward against the wind. I had to stop every five minutes or so to massage my shin, but it did nothing. I had't seen nor heard of anyone in three days and although I had been on the move since nine that morning, I had only been able to limp along about seven miles that day. I had to call the day early.  

I hated wasting daylight, but I sat in my tent for two days resting. All the while thinking about how I should have trained harder, or started my hike earlier each day to walk when the path was still frozen. But I hadn't, and now it looked like there was a baseball, split in half, and shoved under my skin of my left shin. As long as I didn't move it at all I didn't feel the searing pain it caused. But not moving wasn't helping. I was in the middle of the high west desert of Utah, and started to feel more than concerned. 

"What if's...." started reeling through my brain, and the next day I limped along the roadside trying to get anywhere. That afternoon, when the old man in the Toyota Tacoma came charging up the road, I did not let him pass by. 

I had made it about 213 miles of the nearly 600 of the planned hike when I decided I needed to see a doctor. The man in the Tacoma was on his way to Ely, Nevada about a two days walk from where I stood. So I went with him. 

The next day I sat in a hospital for the first time in over a decade. After an X-ray, the doctor could not find one single fracture, but stated "by the look of it you probably have many tiny fractures, and tendinitis of all tendons on the top of your left foot. Also, we normally can't see fractures by X-ray until a few weeks after the injury." 

He suggested no walking for at least a week, and mentioned how he thought it would be more than a month before hiking wouldn't risk a more serious injury. 

I was more than disappointed, and still am. I took the medication offered, and limped over to the closest motel. I rested for a couple more days to see if continuing would be an option. There was little-to-no improvement. So as you might have guessed, I have decided to pull out of the expedition for now to allow my leg to heal.

But the adventure wasn't over yet. Ely, Nevada is position along "the loneliest highway," Highway 50. It sits in a small valley between beautiful snowcapped peaks. But the small valley, means small town. No public transportation in or out of Ely forced me to go out hitching after my few days rest. I made it to the outskirts of town and stuck out my thumb. A worker at a nearby McDonald's ran out and warned me that it was illegal in Nevada to hitch-hike, and he had been arrested for it not even a mile away from where we stood. So I was stuck. 

I asked what he suggested I do, and he said to go across the street to the gas station and ask people when they stop for gas. I did just that. I asked probably 50 people that day for a ride. At first, I was hoping to go east towards Salt Lake City, where I had parked my vehicle. But my mid-afternoon my patience had gone, and I was asking for ride in any direction; to anywhere with a bus station or train. 

Finally, Paul Holbrook, a well-to-do toy manufacturer stopped for gas. I approached him, told him the situation, and after a thorough questioning he agreed to take me to Twin Falls, Idaho, where I could then catch a Greyhound back to Salt Lake. 

Paul and I, when he dropped me at the Greyhound Station. 

Paul and I, when he dropped me at the Greyhound Station. 

Although I was tired and feeling hazed from the medication, Paul and I had a great time over the next 24 hours. We talked business, entrepreneurship, and adventure. He put me up in a hotel that night and bought me a steak dinner;  all the while calling me "Hitcher." He knew that if it were up to me I have never hitched on this expedition at all. But he told me embrace it as part of the adventure, and do my best to enjoy it. 

So here I sit, back in Salt Lake City, two weeks before I thought I would. The Great Basin Desert chewed me up, spit me out, left me bruised and disappointed.

I have learned a lot about what to expect for the next time...because I know there will be one. 

M.Waterford