“I’ll go as far as I can go and this ain’t it…”
After a couple of whiles, I was having to stop every few hundred feet of downhill progress and get the pressure off my legs and toes. Shawn stuck with me initially, but we finally reached a point where he decided that I needed the motivation to keep going, so when I sat down on a rock, he just Kept going.
I called after him.
He stopped and turned around.
I asked him if he had a knife.
He said “yes”.
I asked him to “please cut off my toes”.
He said “no”.
I explained that I was referring to the tips of my boots, thinking that it might relieve the pressure.
He came back, took out his knife and said, “How about if I just slit the toe of one boot to separate it from the sole and we’ll see how that goes?”
That sounded good to me, so he hacked away. We then proceeded to the next switchback to see how it worked out. It was actually much better, so we stopped and did the other boot.
This really helped a lot, for a couple of whiles. My legs were still a bit stiff, but the toes were better so I just ignored the legs.
Going downhill is actually tougher than going uphill, so in addition to my downhill boots, I always bring a pair of downhill knees in the form of braces. I don’t usually put them on until I am fairly well into the downward trek because the knees don’t bother me initially. This day was no exception.
But we finally got to the point where the knees started giving me problems, and I went ahead and installed the braces. They helped for awhile (which is, actually, just a bit less than “a while”).
By the time we had gone another while, the legs, toes and knees were giving me issues again and I was utilizing two hiking sticks for support and balance. (I cannot tell you how many times my hiking stick has saved my life over the decades. Literally.)
At this point, I had run out of remedies and the only things that were keeping me going were my mantra, “I will go as far as I can and this ain’t it” and Shawn coaxing me on.
My legs hurt. My knees hurt, My toes hurt. My back hurt. My upper torso looked like the spillway of the Hoover Dam because I was sweating as much as ever, and replacing the perspiration with more and more water.
And then Shawn reminded me that I needed electrolytes.
Fortunately, he brought several packets of electrolytes to add to the water. Unfortunately, I didn’t add them to the water, I simply threw them directly into my mouth as he tried to warn me not to do that.
Are you familiar with “Pop Rocks”? Well, that’s what these were like. If you just throw them into your mouth, they start exploding. This causes one’s mouth to foam over rather quickly. It’s kinda like popping an Alka-Seltzer into your mouth.
The problem with doing that is that you cannot swallow the foam fast enough to get it out of your mouth, and if you try to close your mouth to prevent it from escaping and embarrassing you, you will choke to death on the foam being forced down your throat and up into your sinus cavities and out of your nose.
I lovingly refer to this as the “mad dog effect.”
Believe it or not, there are actually benefits to being in such awful physical misery (I’m always looking for the bright side).
One of those benefits manifests itself in one’s ability to completely not give a rip about the multi-colored stains appearing as approximately three and a half gallons of Pop-Rockian/Alka-Seltzerian foam slithers its way out of your gaping mouth, down your chin, traversing the front of your shirt, across your beltline and and taking up permanent residence in the crotch of your favorite hiking shorts.
The chagrin comes later when you discover that the stain doesn’t come out in the wash, but at the time of the event, you’re just happy not to be drowning or, maybe worse, happy that you didn’t just swallow them whole the instant you threw them into your mouth. That would be really bad, I think…
As the day went on, so did we. Shawn be-bopping down the trail and me doing my best “ET” gait imitation.
By the time we finally reached the top of Vernal Falls and approached the Mist Trail, I had lost enough weight that my shorts were slipping badly. And I was out of notches on my belt. The only thing that was keeping them up was my rump, and that was about to give way. This is when I started hearing comments from strangers about a man my age dressing like that…
Luckily, the mist was extremely heavy, and I put on my rain poncho to 1) keep me dry (there’s some sort of irony in there, somewhere) and 2) hide the fact that my pants were about 50% of their way down to my ankles. .
It was extremely slow going down the steps on the trail, but I thought I was doing well enough until, about halfway down, I heard a woman’s voice behind me say, in heavily accented English, “Excuse me prease.” I moved as far as I could to the side and watched – I’m not kidding – a little tiny Japanese lady, who appeared to be in her 80’s, USING A WALKER, glide effortlessly past me.
It was at this point that it began to dawn on me that I might be in trouble…
After slowly making our way downward for what seemed to be an inordinately long period of time (probably because it was), we finally got down to the footbridge:
We decided that I would wait at the footbridge and Shawn would go the rest of the way to the valley (just under a mile further down the trail) and get help. He was gone for some time, and I decided that I would start my way down myself.
A few minutes along the trail, I met Judy coming up the other way. She had met Shawn on the trail (she was coming to see if she could find us – it was getting late) and he told her where I was waiting.
She helped me down the rest of the way to the trail head where we met Shawn – walking a couple of bikes.
He had gone back to camp and got his and Megan’s bikes so that I could ride back to camp and relive the pressure on my body. AWESOME!! (I mean, GROOVY!!!)
It took a minute to get me up on the bike, but when I got on, it was an amazing relief. I was able to pedal back without any problem, and Judy stopped to get me a 50 gallon drum of ice cold root beer and brought it to the camp site.
It was a little after 8:00 PM. Everybody else had made it back by about noon…
I was helped off the bike, carried to a picnic table, sat down and froze in that position for a short time. Donna sat across from me, told me to raise my right hand and swear to never do Half Dome again in my lifetime. At that point, I had no problem doing that (although I kinda regret it, now).
After eating some dinner, Judy and Shawn helped me to the tent and into my sleeping bag. I didn’t even undress, though Judy took my boots and socks off.
And that, dear friends, was as far as I could bloody go.
Saturday morning, July 16, 2011…
I woke up and couldn’t move much. Judy had to help me change my clothes and helped me get out of the tent. We walked around for a few minutes until I got loosened up a bit and was able to hobble around.
We ate breakfast, and I was able to get around a lot better, so we packed up and drove home.