My friend and I make a point to do a backpacking trip, or at least a car camping trip if time is short, together every summer. This year’s trip was scheduled for this weekend. We met at a gas station parking lot and the skies were smoky and visibility was low. Yuck. You couldn’t see any of the mountain ranges that are normally visible. Most of the smoke is blowing in from California, but there were a couple of fires in our general area. We decided to call the Forest Service Ranger District office just to see where things stood, in case we needed to alter our plans into the backcountry.
The good news was the trails we intended to hike were open and there was no imminent threat of fire in our vicinity. The bad news was there was plenty of smoke blowing in from those fires and it wasn’t going to clear up anytime soon. Given my friend has asthma, we decided to bag the backpacking and just do a car camping trip this year. Next year we’ll make a point to get out earlier, like sometime in July, in the hopes of beating the fires and smoke. There was a Forest Service campground in the next canyon over from where we’d originally planned to be, so that’s where we headed. On a Thursday, we figured we would have no problem securing a campsite.
We were correct. There were two other occupied sites in the campground, including the camp host. Sweet. We got the pick of sites and we chose a nice shaded one near the end of the loop with no close neighbors, privies close by, and the stream right across the road, close enough to still sing us to sleep at night but not so loud that you had to shout to carry on a conversation. Perfect. We set up camp and spent the afternoon lounging near the stream, coloring, and snacking on my homemade snacks. We were being lazy, but it felt good. If only I’d brought my hammock, life would have been total bliss. Next time I’ll be sure to stick it in the car, just in case…
The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then packed up for a little jaunt up to a mountain lake a few miles up the road. This lake has a winter yurt and is popular with backcountry skiers–Hubby has expressed interest in going here, so I thought this would be a perfect time to do a little reconnaissance for him. We had the 3.2 mile hike to the lake all to ourselves. The wildflowers were a little past their prime (two weeks earlier and we would have hit them at their peak) but still blooming. The lake was not what we were expecting. In the 1930s the CCC built an impoundment at the natural outlet to raise the lake levels by 8 feet or more. There is a water control structure that a rancher has rights to–he had recently opened the gates and dropped the water levels of the lake by 10 feet, so there were mudflats surrounding the lake. Also, there had been a huge mass wasting event a couple of weeks prior to our visit that dumped tons of sand at the edge of the lake. At the lake the sand deposit was at least 6 or 7 feet deep and there were a number of Doug fir trees that were beginning to yellow and die due to the excess sediment around their trunks. So it wasn’t really the pristine, scenic spot I thought it would be. My friend and I were a little disappointed and so we ate a few snacks, drank some water, and began our trek back to the car. The trail is quite rough because they do allow motorized traffic on the trail, so it is steep, rocky, loose, and the dry dirt is like flour, which makes walking treacherous at times. I forgot my hiking poles back at camp, so my friend loaned me one of hers to use for the hike down. I’m definitely glad I had that pole because some of the smaller rocks act like marbles under the boots and want to send the feet flying out from under you–I had a few skids, but no ass-busters. Schwew.
Back at camp we refueled with snacks and water. We sat at our picnic table and colored, listening to the stream gurgle and the wind rustle the leaves. I thought I had a little heartburn so I took an antacid, hoping that would settle things down. I ate dinner (spaghetti) even though I wasn’t really hungry, but it was a backpacking meal so we had to rehydrate the entire thing. After dinner we went for a walk to the end of the campground just to aid digestion and it felt good to stretch the legs–they had begun to stiffen up while we sat around camp coloring. When we made it back to camp it was dark, so we crawled in the tent. My heartburn was really beginning to kick into high gear at this point and when I laid down in my sleeping bag, I realized something: maybe this wasn’t heartburn at all because I could tell that I was going to have to vomit at some point. Dammit.
Puking is not fun, and it’s only something I ever do when I have food poisoning. I think in my entire adult life, I have puked a total of 3 times–wait, make that 4. I did get really, really, really drunk once. Sorta forgot about that one time in college…does that even count as being an ‘adult?’ Sometimes I think not…anyway, I digress.
Not knowing when I was going to need to barf, I decided I should probably just get out of the tent because if the situation became dire and I had to move in a hurry, being zipped inside a sleeping bag, having to put on shoes, unzip a tent AND a vestibule before hurling all over the place was probably not going to happen. I could sit in my car if I needed to, close to the privy, and dash for it when the time came to purge. I started out in the privy, thinking maybe I could just get this over with quickly. No such luck. Could I just maybe take a shit and work it out of my system that way without having to relive that evening’s spaghetti dinner? Well, I did…3 times, actually, but that was not helping calm the situation. It wasn’t even diarrhea, which was good, but also, if I’d just had a really terrible bout of diarrhea and could have been done with it—sign me up, please! Then I could have gone back to bed. It wasn’t going to be that easy.
After 45 minutes or so, I got tired of hanging my head over the pit toilet waiting for nothing. I felt like something was on the verge of happening, but let’s be real here, I didn’t really want to puke in the pit toilet. I racked my brain–did I have something I could use as a barf bag so that I could sit in my car and not have to stumble around in the dark with moths flying in my face (headlamp) while I tried to puke? Ahhhhh! I did! I had my dry bag! Since we weren’t backpacking, I didn’t have to use it for a bear hang! PERFECT.
I dumped my food out of the bag in the back of my car and hoped to god 5 liters was enough to contain whatever purgatory was brewing in my gut. I sat in the front passenger’s seat because 1) I didn’t want the steering wheel in my way and 2) it was closer to the privy in case I needed to make a run for it. After sitting for several minutes with nothing happening I decided I was going to have to help matters along. I have never forced myself to purge, so I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it–did I need to grab my spoon? Nope. I figured it out. Ughhh, spaghetti never tastes quite as good the second time around. But once I got started the subsequent purging became a little easier. I cracked the door to my car open so it wouldn’t smell like vomit in the morning, but I didn’t want it open too much because 1) it was cold outside and 2) I didn’t want or need any curious critter coming to check out what yummy things I had that it might want to eat.
My body was being stubborn. I had to force things to continue again. And again. And again. After each purge, I found myself muttering ‘Please…‘ like I was trying to will away the pain in my gut–it felt like a brick inside a balloon that was being blown up and the pressure was terrible–I’d never really felt anything quite like this before. ‘Please…‘ I begged my body to finish purging. It was not lost on me that I sounded a little like Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey, only this was the 50 Shades of Vomit version, the one that never made it off the cutting room floor.
I leaned back in my seat and drifted in and out of consciousness for…how long? I’m not sure. Maybe an hour? Longer? I tried to puke again but couldn’t. Okay. Maybe this is the end. I was so tired I just wanted to sleep, but I knew that sleeping sitting up in my car, with the door cracked, holding a bag of puke was somehow asking for trouble. I made myself get up, walk over to the privy, dump the vomit in the toilet, rinse the bag with a little bit of water, close up the dry bag so it wouldn’t stink, and I crawled back in the tent. “How are you doing?” my friend asked. “Better. I puked 7 or 8 times. I think I’m finished now.”
And I was. I felt a little better, but not great. The pain began to subside and I was able to get some sleep. The next morning I was thirsty. So thirsty. I drank some water but breakfast was not of interest. We broke camp and parted ways. It was nice to see my friend but this wasn’t exactly the best trip we’ve had together. There’s always next year to look forward to and we’ll make sure we get into the backcountry then. But I am eternally grateful that I wasn’t 4 miles from my car and a privy while I was sick. I’m not even sure where I would have puked in the backcountry—not in a stream or lake, though it would be tempting, but not proper to contaminate a water source others might be using. But digging a hole doesn’t seem feasible, especially if you are in a hurry. And how big to dig it? I puked A LOT and I’m sure a normal-sized cat hole would not have been big enough. And critters would come around if I just puked under a shrub or something, so…I’m not exactly sure. Maybe I’d just puke away from camp and try to carry water over to dilute it over the soil surface–a lot of work, especially at midnight, or whenever it was I found myself tossing my cookies. But I’m glad I didn’t have to figure that out.
What made me sick? I really have no idea. Probably something I ate, but I haven’t been able to attribute my illness to anything. My friend and I ate many of the same things and she didn’t get sick. I thought that would help me narrow down the culprit(s), but I finished eating my almonds and crackers that my friend didn’t eat and I didn’t get sick again. So I’m at a loss. Two days later I’m better, but my tummy is still a little queasy at times. I think I’m on the mend, though. Thank goodness.