On the evening of Monday, April 13, something didn't feel right. I never get sick, and my abdomen is feeling a bit unsettled. Did I pick up a bug in one of our properties at work? I touch numerous doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, light switches, and the like every day. Could some germ have gotten into a cut in my dry, cracked hands? Did I pick it up in our office? A couple others had some pretty bad colds in the last week. I struggled to down some dinner and called it a night.

Well, last night was a nightmare. My abdominal pains kept me up all night. I felt like I had a heavy bed of shiny, sharpened steel nails laying across the top of my stomach. My groggy red eyes gazed at my clock radio every half hour or so as I anxiously waited for daybreak. I went to work the next day, expecting things to improve. The sharp pains continued, and I felt like keeling over onto the floor several times. Towards the end of the work day, as the temperatures dropped into the 40s, I started shivering uncontrollably. I couldn't hold down any food, and when I reached home, I went to bed without dinner at 6pm.
Andy Linger PCT Bruiser - seven days post appendectomy
The days of "Skygod" are gone. Bruiser's the new name.
Pic taken at ADZPCTKO six days after surgery

April 15: I can't even remember the last time I've taken a sick day, but this is going to be it. My health insurance stops at the end of the month, and then I'll start my no frills catastrophic plan for the summer. I'll rest today, and head in for a physical first thing tomorrow.

April 16: The soreness and mild, annoying pain is still here, and not surprisingly, the Doc wants a CT scan to look at my abdomen. I headed straight to the Vail Valley Medical Center—there's a good chance I have appendicitis. After less than fifteen minutes in the machine, I patiently waited for the results... and it looks like I'm having emergency surgery to remove the appendix in the next few hours.

I spent most of the following day in the hospital, recovering well, getting up after 24 hours to walk the hallways, and do some laps around the parking structure. After being chased around by hospital security, I headed back to my room.

n the way home from a company golf outing a year ago, I asked the big question: So Jon, I'm looking at completing the Triple Crown next year. The economy will be slow, and this is a great time to take another five months off. What do you think? There was a long pause, a
Two Trails Down, and one to go!
subtle smirk emanating from the corner of his face, and a restrained nod; as in what-is-this-guy-thinking! I made the announcement to my coworkers, and here's what they think. Okay, so here we go again. Two of the three big trails done, one to go—and the favorite trail of virtually all Triple Crown thru-hikers is the PCT. Yes, the last of the three great trails is calling. I'm writing this in mid February from the top of some crazy unnamed peak in the Gore Range high above Upper Piney Lake. With the Ski Mountain (Vail) full of twenty thousand other people on the weekends, that's the last place in the world I want to be right now. I have ten days on my season pass, mostly used when I manage to sneak out for a few runs during midweek mornings. I've stomped out a platform for my groundcloth, donned my extra layers, and slid into my bag. I put my frozen water bottles into my sleeping bag, and watched the golden sun slowly drain from the sky. The endless expanse above is dotted with stars and planets, and the gentle breeze blowing across the peak has ebbed to a dull whisper. The dim lights from over a dozen snowcats grooming Vail Mountain slowly snake their way across the mountain many miles away. It's time to start thinking about the adventure ahead. As the months roll by, every now and then I'll picture myself tramping through the Mojave Desert, winding my way around Mt. Hood, or sharing epic stories with other thrus. Unlike the CDT, which required several months of planning and preparation, I haven't really done any yet. My mind is somewhere else; I don't really have too many feelings to express towards the trail right now. And, of course it has to do with the fact that I'm surrounded by snow. When I get around to the planning, I have the PCT-L email listserve to sort through, Yogi's guidebook to tell me what groceries and services are in what town, and the PCT Data Book for trail mileage information. I'll print out Halfmile's maps, and use AsABat's website for current water information. The ADZPCTKO Kickoff Party should provide me with the rest. Then, it's just time to head north; step one foot ahead of the other, and repeat—repeat about 5,238,983 times.

Somewhere in Montana -
As I reminisce about what this summer will be like, I can't help but worry about my right foot. The Continental Divide Trail beat me up, slapped me around like a rag doll, and turned me into a enervating gimp as I hobbled and staggered my way through Montana to the Canadian Border. Last summer I was never very excited to go on a long hike, search for some lost hiker with Vail Mountain Rescue, or summit a high peak. The CDT kicked my butt. I've been beleaguered by the chronic foot injury I suffered to my right foot on that Trail. I was a little over halfway along the CDT in the Wind River Range (on the descent from Texas Pass to be exact) when it started. I had a dull pain below my ankle, and a bone that seemed to be moving out of place more and more with every mile. I'd never hiked twenty five miles a day, every day, for months on end. The Appalachian Trail was a comfortable twelve to twenty (never even got a blister), and I never had to deal with several days of roadwalks at a time. The thirty five plus mile days through the Great Divide Basin leading into the Winds didn't help. In Montana, my food resupply was often limited to small towns with nothing but gas station convenience stores. The combination of bushwhacking twenty miles a day on uneven terrain, trying to keep up with the few other hikers, and lousy dinner diets of a bag of chips didn't help either.

The foot problem turns out to be the Navicular Bone on my right foot (just below and in front of the ankle bone on the inside of the foot), which has shifted ever so slightly out, causing minor tendonosis of the Posterior Tibial Tendon (PTTDisfunction). In the morning on the trail, there were no symptoms. After fifteen or so miles each day, it reared its ugly head. Not wanting to know what would happen after five continuous months of a sore PT Tendon this summer, I've plunked down a few thousand dollars for an MRI, custom orthoses from the podiatrist, and weekly visits to Vail Integrative Medical Group for chiropractic rehabilitation. Despite the seemingly dismal diagnosis, I feel optimistic. My ski boots, albeit frozen right now, are rigid compared to the running shoes on the trail, keeping my foot on a solid plane, and don't give me any problems. Thanks to that, I can still ski almost anywhere I want! And finding great tours with minimal avalanche risk is never a problem around here.

It's now early March, and the late April start date is looming ever closer. I need to get off the snow and start hiking! But where? Everything around here is buried in snow, and I don't have the time to tromp around Moab, UT for several days. Our annual Rockies Ruck (a thru-hiker reunion of sorts) weekend is in a few days; maybe I can hike the groomed Mineral Belt Trail in running shoes at 10,000 feet, in March.

March 9th: The Ruck is over, and it was great to see the usual suspects again, including Princess-of-Darkness, Mags, D-Low, Disco, Cheers, and LoveBarge; along with a good dozen or so others. We watched several inspirational videos on long distance hikes, even a short Oscar winning movie on the 1974 World Trade Center tightrope walker (I'll pass on that hobby, I'm perfectly happy with hiking at ground level). As everyone moseyed out of the Leadville Hostel on Sunday, I threw my belongings into my car and headed out to hike the Mineral Belt Trail. I completed two laps on the hardpacked groomed path, completing a twenty five mile hike, using muscles I haven't used since... well, the CDT. There is a strong ache that has fired up in the front of my legs. I found out I have shin splints. Shin splints? I've never had that before. At the end of the five day work week, my shin splints have disappeared. It hurt so good, I think I'll try it again! My parents are in town, and they also wanted to toil along the Mineral Belt Trail, chock full of many informational signs explaining the rich history of the area. And, this time I feel great. I have a small sore spot above my big toe, but my PT tendon is only the slightest bit sore. Good, I was really worried about this.

March 20: It's Friday after work again, and I'm headed down to Denver for a friend's graduation party, and some snow climbing tomorrow. On Sunday, if nothing else happens, I plan on hiking twenty miles and trying on more running shoes. Unlike the last two weekends, where I was hiking on snow, my feet will twist on the uneven terrain, roll over the rocks, and slide around in my shoe. Will my PTT be sore at the end of the day? Am I going to get blisters from my first transition to dirt in six months? I look forward to seeing what happens.

Descending below

March 21: It's Saturday morning, we're in Rocky Mountain National Park, and we're skinning up to Dragontail Couloir. Unfortunately, it's never easy for me to say goodbye to winter; I don't have to worry about heat, crowds, or permits, and skiing down thousands of feet of vertical is so much more fun than banging up my knees hiking down it. I'm excited. The conditions out here are more like late May than March, with well consolidated snow and temperatures in the 50s. The next day, after talking to several friends about places to hike, I settle on the city of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Recreation trail system. I arrive to the outskirts of town to find parking lots full and the trails chock full of hundreds of people enjoying the sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s and 70s. I grab a map of the area and settle on climbing Green Mountain and the Mesa Trail, forming a nineteen mile loop. I don shorts for the first time this year, and climb up the dusty winding trail up Gregory Canyon. I'm wearing some old New Balance 476 shoes that have been tucked away in a closet since high school. They're light, breathable, and should be great heading through the Mojave Desert. After less than three miles, my heel spurs—which developed from spending 130 days in ski boots as a ski instructor in 1997—have developed some nice quarter size blisters. Yes, I felt hotspots develop fifteen minutes into the hike, but chose to ignore it, and now I'm paying the price. On the PCT, a blister like this could easily take me off the trail for a few days.

Remodel job with
my roommate John. We routed our own molding, varnished, and getting ready to install!

Today, I'll use this opportunity to see how to best pad around the spur, and see what modifications I need to make to the shoe. I grab my bag of precut moleskin pieces and start getting to work.

"Dr. John" using whatever we had available to find the pressure points on my shoe.

The blisters were noticeable for the next several days, but as I write this exactly one month before my start date, the skin on the affected area has turned a bit harder and stronger; my feet have begun to trail harden. Now if I could only do this every other day for the next month. My roommate John, a Masters ski coach who jumps over the Equator from winter to winter every six months is helping me cut out a couple areas of my shoe for the problematic bone spur issue.

Okay, the weather's become very unproductive to hiking again, with the 8 inch dump here, and the 20 inch dump there. Again, it's been difficult to focus on the Trail ;). Another powder day here, and two day ski tour there... But no hiking in the dirt.

April 22

March 2009
Omnibus Public Land Management Act
"it's important for Americans to know that our national parks are still beautiful, our national battlefields are still sacred and our national rivers are still wild and scenic,"

—Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va.
As I headed over towards the podium to board the plane for my flight from Denver to San Diego, I noticed a familiar face partially hidden behind several other people. "Mags, is that you?" I blurted out. I know him from the Rockies Ruck held in Leadville, CO he organizes every February. We shook hands and began our journey to the West Coast.

We met Suge at the airport and picked up the rental car for the ride to Lake Morena Campground. I called Girl Scout to tell him I found a ride and didn't need a place to stay tonight, and we headed on our way. The campground was near empty as we slowly looked for our campsite under a darkening night sky. There will be an onslaught of hundreds of thru-hikers, past thru-hikers, and trail angels heading in over the next two days; hiking in from the Border (the PCT skirts around the edge of the campground), and getting rides from the airport.

ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off)

The Class of 2009! Pic courtesy of The Incredible Bulk

Okay, it's Thursday, April 23 and my plan to get a ride to the Border for the twenty mile hike to the campground is obviously not going to happen today. The emergency surgery to remove my appendix a week ago today has made it difficult to walk, let alone hike twenty miles. After helping set up tents and unload grills from vehicles (since I can't do any lifting, I provided the mental and psychological support), I attended the first event of the Kickoff Party that evening—Trail Jeopardy. The campground pavilion filled quickly, and a few minutes after finding a seat, I felt a firm tap on the top of my head. It looks like I'm playing! I found my way to the front of the room and grabbed a chair next to the two other contestants. We introduced ourselves to the crowd, and watched the screen as the PowerPoint presentation lit up the categories. Our categories included topics like PCT Geology, Hiker Trash, the Ray Way, and a few others. I started to do well, and quickly fell behind to second place from my lack of trail planning. I didn't know about Eagle Falls (other than wherever it is in Northern Oregon; I'm taking that route), or Lake Chelan (I know it's a hang gliding hotspot). Every year the current class of hikers collaborate online in the Fall and produce a DVD of their stunning life experiences over the summer. Tonight we're watching the class of '07s.

One of many presentations given. This one was on finding reliable water in the desert.
I had several people tell me "the timing of my acute appendicitis was a bummer" but let's look at the situation here: I just had a surgery that saved my life. If it happened a little over a week later, I would have been in the middle of the desert with no water for miles, and rescue could be days out. I'm not headed out on some five month long excursion on the other side of the world with a definitive departure date. I'm hiking the PCT—and I can start whenever I want (okay, as long as I'm not in the Mojave Desert in mid July). When I look at the circumstances, I feel really fortunate.

Burgers, brats, and burritos, oh my!
After two more days of meeting fellow hikers, desert water report presentations, meeting dozens and dozens of people, salivating at the vendor booths with all their high tech lightweight gear, and of course showing off my scars from surgery, it was the end of a memorable weekend. I said my goodbyes to Scarlet and Wildflower, Jug, Mags, Princess of Darkness, and Disco, and some of those I'd met on the PCT-L listserve. Walking around was a bit difficult the last few days, with a general soreness always present near the navel. After eating, I feel like my intestines are being grabbed and squeezed, like a clown metamorphosizing a long, narrow balloon into a three dimensional figure. I still lack an appetite, but always find a way to easily pound down large dinners. I've lost ten to fifteen pounds since surgery, and need to get that weight back.

Scout and Frodo's

On Saturday afternoon, I came across Scout and Frodo, Trail Angels who thru hiked the PCT in '07, and they offered me a place to stay while I healed up. After saying the last of my goodbyes Sunday morning, we drove down to their home in San Diego. Pickles and Just Jack were also in the car, and Pickles blurted something out after seeing my wounds—Bruiser. She let out a little laugh, along with everyone else in the car, and I haven't been called anything else since.

We arrived at their home a little while later, getting the tour of the kitchen, where the food is stored, who gets what room, etc. With the last of the children out of college a year ago, and a thru-hike under their belt, they've been hosting hikers ever since—picking them up at the airport and driving them to the trail's southern Terminus 63 miles away. They have hosted hikers from every continent but Africa and Antarctica, and this year alone, seen over one hundred hikers pass through their home (I think I'm 95). After dropping off my gear in an available room, I headed back downstairs to see who else was around. I met Eric Ryback, very well known in the long distance hiking community—he was the first person to hike the Triple Crown in the Late Sixties and Early Seventies starting after his junior year in high school. The PCT and CDT weren't even close to being National Scenic Trails, let alone completed trails (and I worried my parents when I did the AT right out of college!). I heard his amazing talk at the ALDHA West Gathering last fall, maybe he was lucky enough to be hiking with a friend or brother, or occasionally a day hiker a few times a month. Blazer, from the D.C. area, was on her way to the trail's terminus to see a friend off on their thru-hike. She hiked the PCT in '07 and ran into Scout and Frodo along the trail several times that summer.

The six of us tromped over to a neighbor's home for dinner, where Jim and Jan (yes, they've hiked much or all of the Trail too) served up wine, salad, and salmon while we shared the epic trail stories that make these experiences so special.

The next several days were spent resting, struggling to make changes to my website with nothing more than this XV6700 PocketPC phone I'm typing from right now, and a couple five mile hikes through Rose Canyon for some exercise. As evening would approach, we would listen to Scout skillfully play the guitar, and Frodo and the rest of us swayed to his large mental library of songs.

On my birthday Monday, my body's gift to me are sore calf muscles, slowly atrophying away from two weeks of inactivity—the most inactivity I've had since college. When I did manage to get out for a couple five mile hikes in Rose Canyon to San Clemente Canyon, my abdomen felt like it received a nice fat blow from a baseball bat.

It's now May 1st, my birthday has come and gone (thanks for the cake on Monday Scout and Frodo!!). There's been a good dozen hikers in and out since I arrived last Sunday, and I've helped a few who have never been on a long distance hike before by removing unnecessary items from their large packs. The days continue to come and go, and it's great to see hiker's eyes light up with the excitement as they leave for their adventure. Unfortunately my enthusiasm is lacking right now as my intestines cramp up from another excellent meal served up by our hosts Scout and Frodo.

It's May fourth, and I've decided to get a last minute blood test just to make sure there's no internal infection, no iron deficiency, and no other major problems. I need some peace of mind right now. Frodo and Galit dropped me off at the small testing lab as they headed off to see a movie. It was a three or four mile drive to get here, and I'm going to try walking home. It was a good mile or two along the busy streets of San Diego as I worked my way down to the nature trail in San Clemente Canyon, paralleling a busy highway. I feel relatively strong, and spiritually better with each step. I get home a few hours later and make a decision—I'm outta here tomorrow! Barney and Sandy (Scout and Frodo) are taking some hikers out tomorrow, and then it won't be until at least Sunday. After the wonderful hospitality and meals they've provided me over the last week, I refuse to have them make a special trip to the Border just for me. I don't know how to thank you two enough. Without your help, this very well could have been a frightening and arduous start to the Trail. Thanks Scout and Frodo!

To the PCT Mexican Border

My Continental Divide Trail slideshow from 2007

2007 CDT Thru-Hike - My slideshow minus the music and narration

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