Blister care in Big Bear Lake
(This post gets a tad graphic — consider yourself warned.)
It’s been a wild ride since my last post. After a great zero day in Idyllwild, I got a hitch back down to Highway 74, then walked the remaining 10 miles to the Mountain Fire closure at mile 162.5. The scenery was gorgeous — lots of granite and trees — and though a ferocious wind tried to push me off the ridge, I made it to Cedar Springs trail and down off the mountain before nightfall.
After a lovely night bivouacked under an oak (such duff! so comfort! wow!), I hiked down to Hwy 74 and followed telephone access roads and mountain bike trails back to Idyllwild. Near the end, I lost track of the route Halfmile suggested, and ended up roadwalking on Hwy 243 for 2 miles.
I walked to the South Ridge Trail the next morning and hiked it up and over Tahquitz Peak to finally rejoin the PCT at mile 178. The scenery as I walked around San Jacinto was gorgeous — tall pines, sweeping vistas of the valleys. The climb down Fuller Ridge (7000′ decline in 16 miles) was made easier by cloudy weather. A storm rolled in that night, and I was glad to be at a trail angel house (the sweet couple Ziggy & the Bear, where I was #293 to arrive) near Hwy 10 when the weather hit that night.
On Saturday I hiked up into the San Gorgonio Wilderness and along Mission Creek — more water than I’d seen in days. The following night saw me camped by animal cages holding a lion, a tiger, and several grizzlies. Not my wisest camp choice, as the poor lion roared all night and into the morning. The cages were one of the surrealist parts of the trail so far, not to mention the saddest. I believe the animals are used in movies.
The elevation was no joke in this section, and I was happy to reach mile 266 on Monday, where the trail intersects Hwy 18. I got a room at the lovely Big Bear Hostel in Big Bear Lake and decided to take a zero the next day.
My feet hadn’t been bothering me on the trail the last few days, but once I got to town it became clear something was not right. I had covered one old large blister that I’d removed the roof skin from, and one small abrasion blister from my ankle brace (which I don’t have to wear anymore, yay!), with leukotape at Ziggy & the Bear’s, after cleaning and drying them. When I took the tape off in Big Bear Lake, the heel abrasion had turned into a 1.5″ angry pus filled blister, and a new blister had formed next to the healing large one. Draining them produced bad smelling pus in one case, and opaque/yellow in the other.
I cleaned and bandaged the blisters and elevated my feet for as much of my zero day as I could. My feet throbbed at night, and looked swollen and red. I felt a bit fevery, though that went away by evening. When the blisters still had opaque fluid this morning, I knew it was time to see a doctor. Instead of getting a ride to the trailhead, I got a ride to the Big Bear Family Resource Clinic.
At the clinic, I was seen within 15 minutes by an NP who looked horrified by my blisters. She listed off some potential consequences of no treatment (bone infection, fistula, gangrene — OKAY, I’M CONVINCED) and prescribed a 14 day course of oral antibiotics, and Epsom salt baths. Because of the mottled red appearance of the skin and slow capillary action, she asked me to come back in two days to make sure the feet are improving before I hike out.
I was able to fill my prescription and get Epsom salts at a nearby CVS, then caught the bus back to the hostel. Overall, the care was fast and affordable. The clinic didn’t take my Kaiser insurance, but only charged $50 for the visit (on a $40-70 scale for NPs), and the antibiotics cost ~$17, without insurance. Not too shabby.
I’ve now taken my first pill and had my first foot soak. I’ll be hanging out here at the hostel until my follow up on Friday. The fluid coming out of the blisters now is clear, which seems like a good sign, so I’m feeling positive. The staff here and other hikers have been wonderful — I couldn’t have picked a better place to need extra zeros.
My best guess as to what happened is that I trapped bacteria under the leukotape at Ziggy and the Bear’s, and it grew during the 3 day hike here. I had cleaned the blisters, and thought I’d be protecting them by leaving the tape in place, but that wasn’t how it went. Why these blisters went bad when others (that I did the same thing to) didn’t, is beyond me.
My take-away is to next time put gauze over blisters, then tape, and change it daily so I can monitor for signs of infection. And of course keep working to prevent blisters.
I can’t say I’m thrilled to be off-trail for this injury. I feel a bit foolish for already needing medical care, and for something preventable. I’m learning as I go, though, and I’m hopeful I can be back hiking soon. I’m certainly glad I went in and got it looked at.
On the bright side, I’ve finished 10% of the trail already, and that feels great. My body feels strong, and my mind gets better at the weirdness of thru-hiking every day. I even have a trail name: Penguin. Bestowed on me by Borealis (from the Yukon), it’s part Mario Lemieux tribute and part because “I’m slow and cute and go pretty far”. I’ll take it.
Until Friday, I’ll be laying about with my feet up and eating All The Food. Cheers!
← Previous: Warner Springs (mile 110) to Idyllwild (mile 152): Resting and regrouping in Idyllwild
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