This thru-hike I’m trying to eat as healthy as possible. Granted, when you’re carrying everything on your back, and filling it with food from small grocery stores and gas stations, that might not be all that healthy. But, I’m trying.
One of the nice things about the Big Sky Alternate is that there are a lot of opportunities to resupply along the route. So between that and all those Yellowstone villages I walked through, I mostly only carried 2-3 days of food with me for the past couple of weeks.
Short food carries means I have the weight capacity and space to carry fresh produce. I’ve packed out avocados, apples, bananas, bags of salad, and carrots.
Most fresh produce falls well below the 100 calories per ounce standard that I try to maintain for all food I carry backpacking. But, on a long enough trip you also need to eat fruits and vegetables as much as you can, because sometimes you won’t be able to. That’s why I always try to pack out some fresh produce. Even though most plants are closer to 15 calories per ounce, there is more to energy than just calories.
So, I’m 15 miles outside of Ennis, Montana (population 849) munching on a bag of baby carrots. My pack was feeling heavy with all the fresh produce I was carrying. I eat the whole bag of carrots for lunch, along with half an avocado and some summer sausage. I was feeling good.
After an afternoon spent hiking along beautiful ridgelines, following trails and cross-country routes, I was elated. Generally with me, when I’m at higher elevations I get more energized because of all the great views. This is probably also partially related to more endorphins from the strenuous exercise, but either way, I was feeling great.
Until late afternoon, that is.
It started as some mildly uncomfortable stomach cramps. I assumed maybe I shouldn’t have eaten a whole pound of carrots in one sitting, but thought nothing of it. But then, as I was scrambling down a very steep, scree-covered hill, the cramps got bad.
By the time I got to the bottom I was in so much pain that I had to lay down. I told Nav, who I was hiking behind, that I was going to take a break. I sat down in the shade. My stomach felt like it was simultaneously being wrung out like a rag and poked with needles. I laid down on my side.
Maybe I just have to poop?
I tried. Nope.
Okay, I’ll just lay here a little longer, then keep hiking.
45 minutes later I’m still laying there and Wayward, who I thought would have been far ahead of me by now, walks up.
“We’re just up there by the lake,” he tells me, “my stomach hurts too.”
“Oh, shit,” I reply, “Okay, I think I can make it to the lake.”
I made it to the lake and Wayward gives me an immodium, which he said helped his stomach ache. It didn’t help mine. Immodium, I realize after, is for diarrhea.
All I could do all afternoon and evening was lay on my side in a fetal position. When it becomes clear that I won’t be hiking anymore today, Flow offers to set up my sleeping stuff for me. I gratefully crawl to my sleeping pad and bag at around 8 pm and try to will myself to sleep.
But I can’t sleep. After a while, I ask Ninja for a sleeping pill. She brings one of the prescription-strength antihistamines she was recently prescribed for sleep to me. I gratefully take it and swallow it down with some water.
I lay down again. It feels like whoever is wringing out my stomach is creating a whole lot of pressure in there. I keep trying to burp to relieve some of the pressure. I manage to swallow air and burp but it doesn’t help.
Oh god, I don’t think this is gonna be a burp.
And it wasn’t. Now there’s a nice pile of chewed-up carrots and stomach juices 3 feet away from me. I dump some water on it to diminish the smell, grizzly country, you know?
I puke a couple more times but don’t keep retching after I’ve emptied my stomach. I feel…slightly better? Maybe? Or just exhausted enough to fall asleep despite the stomach pain. I drift into a restless sleep, which lasts all night.
In the morning I feel better. Not great, but better than I did last night.
I pack up my things and walk over to where my food bag was sitting on a rock. I make some coffee, drink it, and eat a few honey almonds and a granola bar. I don’t puke.
Okay, I think I can make it to Big Sky today. It’s only 18 miles.
The day starts out with a cross-country scramble up a steep slope. No trail, just grass and rocks, some loose, some not. I make it to the top without issue. I’m feeling a little weaker than normal, like I had food poisoning but getting better. But, I’m feeling better.
I stop for a break in the late afternoon. I’m feeling a little hungry and think food might help me feel more energized, but nothing in my pack sounds good to eat right now. I just want some white bread with butter. That’s all I can think about right now: white bread, butter, and ginger ale.
I don’t have any of those things, though. I settle for a handful of corn tortilla chips and a nuun tablet in my water. The corn chips don’t sit well. I can’t manage to drink much of the nuun-enhanced water either.
30 minutes later I’m lying in some shade next to the trail, curled in the fetal position. I don’t know why pulling my knees up towards my stomach helps, but I kind of does. If I pull them too close, though, it increases the pressure on my stomach and makes it hurt even worse.
My stomach feels like it did last night again. Who is twisting it like that?! And why?!
I don’t think the climb I did that afternoon was even a difficult one, but it was for me in that state. I would walk for 15 minutes, then lay down for 45 minutes or more. My mouth felt dry but my stomach didn’t like the water. I couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything even though I didn’t have energy from not eating.
Get up. Walk a little. Lay down.
I got to a trail junction near the top and was so delirious I decided the world couldn’t be so cruel as to make me climb up this hill any longer. I went the way that leveled out without checking to make sure it was the right way. I collapsed next to a lake at the top. I can’t believe I made it to the top.
“Are you okay?” a passing hiker asks me sometime later.
“…Yeah, I think I have food poisoning, but I’ll be okay,” I respond.
“Where are you headed?” they ask.
“I’m hiking the CDT, right now I’m headed towards Big Sky”
“…No you aren’t” they respond, “Big Sky’s that way.”
They point back the way I came at an angle.
Damn. Why was I so sure this was the right way?
I walk back down the hill to the trail junction. It was only a ¼ mile. I take another break when I get there. I start to slowly go up. Two breaks later and not much distance covered, I’m at the actual top.
I’m laying at the top of the pass feeling exhausted but relieved, when a group of 4 young girls with giant packs arrives. They’re really nice and have lots of questions about thru-hiking. I do my best to answer them while laying on my back with my eyes closed. They don’t seem fazed by the state I’m in. I guess this was a difficult climb for them, too.
Eventually, I ask them if they have any Pepto-bismal since I’ve taken all of mine by this point (I only had 2 tabs. They hadn’t helped but I was desperate.) One of them gives me a couple of Tums. I gratefully chew them up.
They tell me I’m not far from Big Sky and leave me lying at the pass.
I start to hike down. My legs don’t feel like they’re attached to my torso. I somehow make it down the steep switchbacks. Now I’m in a beautiful meadow. Rather than follow the trail up a very small hill, I walk off-trail down the meadow. This eventually leads to a cliff. I lay down again. It’s about 5 o’clock in the evening.
I pull myself up eventually and find my way back to the trail. I walk a little farther until I just can’t fathom walking any farther. I find a nice flat spot in the meadow near a creek to pitch my tent.
I attempt to eat some ramen noodles but they taste dry and pasty in my mouth. I take about 8 tiny bites and decide to give up on that. I eat 5 honey almonds and drink a sugary electrolyte drink. That’s a sufficient dinner, I think.
10 minutes later I’m puking up all that liquid and the small amount of food. Oh well, maybe tomorrow will be better. I brush my teeth and crawl into my tent. I had managed to hike something like 10 miles all day. So, even if I can only manage that much tomorrow I’ll be in Big Sky drinking ginger ale in 24 hours.
I wake up at 6 a.m. I feel…like I have to poop. That’s a great sign since I didn’t have any bowel movements yesterday. Normally, I’m very regular. Like, at least twice a day regular.
I dig a hole, do my business (not even diarhhea!), and bury it. I feel a lot better.
I make some coffee, drink water, and eat a few of those almonds that seem to be the most appetizing food item I’m carrying. I pack up and start walking.
I feel high from the lack of stomach pain.
A few hours later I’m in Big Sky, Montana. I get a breakfast burrito from the grocery store and eat my first solid food in over 24 hours.
Yellowstone, here I come.
A few days later, I find out Grimmway Farms had issued a recall on baby carrots the day before I bought the carrots in question. Apparently, I ate salmonella carrots.