Learning a Lesson

This post is only about a month late. Next up: the story of how altitude hates me and taking my girls backpacking for the first time!

I’ve been itching to get back out on the trail, especially since I want to test out my new Gregory Jade. But every weekend, EVERY WEEKEND, there is life happening that prevents hiking. One weekend–sick daughters. Another–work. Always more life that isn’t hiking. So I finally determined that I would go, alone if necessary, no matter what. I decided to hike Steven’s Trail outside of Colfax because the trailhead is right off the freeway and it promised some really amazing views of the river and a bit of challenge for shaking down my new pack. Also, is there a cave? I think there’s also a cave!

But of course, the week prior was just one long migraine for me. For those who don’t suffer from migraines (or have someone like me in your life constantly complaining about them), let me fill you in. Migraines travel in packs (herds? murders? yeah, murders) and they tend to snowball. One migraine creates neck and shoulder tension which leads to another bigger migraine which interrupts your sleep which sets you up for another and so forth. I’d been popping my Imitrex pretty much nonstop (maybe not the best plan?) but by Sunday I felt really strong and wanted to hike. Dammit. So off I went, alone as per usual…

All my hikes are selfie hikes. *sigh*

It felt great being on the trail and my new backpack rides on my back like a happy little cloud. LOVE! Stevens Trail is 4 1/2 miles down down down and then 4 1/2 back up up up. So I flew down the first section towards the river just riding that hiking high. The air was amazing, the manzanita forest was alive with tiny birds, it was not too hot and there were only a few others on the trail, once I left the loud crowd of folks with many many dogs behind. And there was a cave!!!! It’s an old mining shaft (apparently there are several in the area but I didn’t know where else to look for them). I only went in a little way because I hadn’t brought a light and it’s very dark and scary inside the ground.

Cave hole! Plus more selfie action
Inside the cave hole. Scary!

I stopped a couple times to soak in the amazingness of being in this place, but not for long (I was trying to stay ahead of the dog people). The American river kept dipping in and out of sight and I could spot swimmers and rafters and loungers way down below. The trail follows the contours of the ridge, slowly edging down closer and closer to the riverbed. As I traveled further upstream the canyon narrows and the river gets all excited tumbling over boulders and making lots of noise. Even though it’s super low this summer (so, so low for June!) I could hear it talking to itself and, increasingly, talking to me. It wasn’t crazy hot but plenty warm and there are sections of the trail with very little shade.

River. Dust feet (I need some gaiters, so much grit in my socks)

After about 3 1/2 miles the trail levels off just above the river and then continues to travel another mile or so up river. I decided that it was time to stop. I was getting hungry and I had to get back to Sacramento before too late to pick up my girls. I’ll go all the way to the end another day.

And where I stopped was exquisitely gorgeous. I feel like it’s easy to over-state the amazingness of nature stuff just because we’re so happy to be out in it. But this here American River is riverin’ at it’s best. There were  natural stone pools perfectly capturing the cool water. The stones were striated in so many colors. You can see plenty of evidence of mining operations–bolts and random plugs of concrete in the rock. I dumped my pack and stuck my entire face in the water. So cool and good!! Who gets to do this?

I laid at the edge of that pool and soaked my feet while I ate snacks.
heart feet

So there were snacks and more face-dunking and laying under the sun just absorbing the nature through my actual skin. It felt more than amazing. Restorative. True.

Then packing it all back up, shoes and socks and ready for the long climb up. I felt so glad that I had decided to come out today. I felt filled up with it.

As soon as I started to hike, though, something was weird. Just the climb up the brushy riverbank to the trail proper felt like I was wading through jello. My legs were kind of wobbly.

Ok, get back in the rhythm, I said.

The dog folks were finally coming down and I sat next to the trail while they passed, breathing hard. Started up again and every step felt like it would force my heart out of my ribcage. I pushed up another quarter mile and came to the section with hardly any shade. Why wasn’t it getting easier? I was hydrated and rested and strong. What was this?

All of sudden (but also so, so gradually, like being in a bowl that is slowly being tipped over) the world became very fuzzy around the edges and very, very sharp right in the center. I sat down in the low fork of a tree (thanks, tree!) and dropped my head onto my knees. This is not my first fainting rodeo. I breathed. I sipped water from my handy hydration tube. I breathed. The sounds coming up from the river were amplified. A dog barked. I breathed. The sun was hot on my ankles because I couldn’t fit all of me in this tiny patch of shade. I breathed. The bowl stopping tipping just a little bit.

The dizziness didn’t let up for a long time. Ten minutes? I would try to stand and grab at the rough bark to keep from falling. The world wobbled in and out of focus. This didn’t make sense. What was actually happening? Plenty of water-check. Not too much sun-check. Strong legs-check. Lots and lots of heavy-duty migraine pain-killers over the course of a week-check.


So, that then. Perhaps.

Finally, slowly, I was on my feet. I could see the next bit of shade. Maybe 20 yards? That far, then. I made it and rested. I made it to the next one and the next one. I figured if I totally collapsed at least the dog people were behind me. They’d find me eventually, yeah? The bowl of the world continued to tip. One way, then another. No place to go but up and out and no way to get there but one foot forward at a time. I was hiking painfully slow. I felt groggy and sleepy. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I finally reached a tiny spring that crossed the trail and immediately stuck my whole face in the pool. Soooo good, that cold water. I wished I had my Sawyer with me so I could drink it. The lukewarm water in my bottle would have to do. I checked my phone and found I had reception. Girlfriend at work, didn’t want to worry my parents. I called my daughter’s dad. He’d be wondering where I was if I didn’t show up to fetch the kids anyway. And he’s pretty good at talking me off the edge. We talked for a bit, which felt really good. Like I wasn’t out here totally alone anymore. He’s good at believing in how strong I am; he always has been.

What can I really say about hiking  through this dizzy fog I was in? I kept walking. I made deals with myself. I’ll reach that next patch of shade. I’ll take 100 more breathes and stop. 100 more steps. I sang songs from junior high (apparently the only songs to which I mindlessly know all the words). I breathed.

It took a long time. I don’t know how long. My van looked like the safest home I’d ever known when I finally came around the last bend at the trailhead. I retreated into the pit toilet. After a minute there was a banging at the door. The dog people had caught up to me coming back up the hill! Whoa, I was going slow. After sitting in my car for a few, I headed home. Stopped to get coconut water and ice at the gas station. Also, I puked on the way home and more of it than I would have liked ended up on the inside of my car. I’ll spare everyone the details of that. Gross!


I don’t really know what caused all of this. I guess the excessive amount of Imitrex in my system? I was neither dehydrated or sun-exhausted. I wasn’t pushing myself hard; it’d kind of been a cruiser day.

Lesson? My first impulse was to say “Don’t Hike Alone” but let’s be honest: I’m not going to stop hiking alone ever. Firstly, I love it. I love being out there on my own in the quiet and the nature. Additionally and practically, I don’t always have someone to come with me. So that’s not happening. And I always ALWAYS make sure that someone knows where I’m going and when to expect me back (ALWAYS DO THIS, KIDS! NO JOKE).

Does there need to be a lesson? The lesson is never stop walking, then. It’s that even when you’re not strong you’re still stronger than you think. And sometimes the lesson is sit down before you fall down. There’s always that.

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