Bad Water

by Gillian Larson | posted: June 12, 2018

My overnight trip took a turn for the worse the next morning, when I got violently ill only a short while after leaving camp. I had taken water from a snowmelt pond and treated it as I always do before drinking, but apparently I did not treat it sufficiently, and boy did I pay the price for that! First I had stomach cramps and then vomiting, and soon I couldn’t keep anything down, which led me to become dehydrated also. I had a long 24 mile day to cover, and I got so weak and dizzy and sick that I couldn’t stay in the saddle; I had to crawl off Shyla and lie down when I still had 14 miles to go. At one point I was so sick and depleted that in the course of 4 hours I made only 4 miles of progress; I was too weak to stand without support or even to climb into the saddle, but I also knew that I couldn't possibly make camp and care for the horses if I didn't somehow try to continue and finish the days journey.

I managed to contact my mother and warn her that I might not make it to Cumbres Pass as planned, even though I had no food for the horses (or me) to spend another night on the trail. She stopped at a pharmacy while she was driving to our meeting spot and picked up various medicines for me, then set up camp and packed a backpack and started out to meet me about 6:30 pm, carrying water and medicine and food and clothes and a headlamp, in case she had to stay out overnight with me.

I managed to drag myself back into the saddle, and we met up a little before 9pm, as it was starting to get dark. I immediately took some anti-nausea medicine, which helped to settle my stomach, and it was a good thing that my mother had scoped out the obstacles along the way, as I don’t think I would have had the strength to navigate them otherwise, especially in the dark. But she had discovered bypasses with most of them, and the others the horses were able to jump, and my mother helped me get back on Shyla to ride the rest of the way to camp.

Once we got there, I immediately crawled inside and went to bed, while my mother took care of the unsaddling and unpacking and feeding the horses. It was almost midnight by the time we were both inside for the night, but I was never so glad to see the camper—or to have my mother’s help—as I was that night. It would have a been a long, miserable, cold, sick night out on the trail, and the horses would not have had food or water, as I wasn’t strong enough to carry water for them, nor do I think I could have unpacked Takoda’s panniers. Every long ride like this has had one day of desperate sickness (in Aqua Dulce, CA, on the PCT in 2014; in Sisters, OR, on the PCT in 2016, and now here on the CDT), so I hope this is my only bout. One thing I did immediately was to exchange the water treatment solution that I was using, which was left over from my Colorado Trail ride in 2017; I don’t know if it was expired or not, but I wasn’t going to take any more chances and I replaced it with a fresh bottle that I purchased for this ride, hoping not to have to go through this again!


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