Saturday, June 21, 2014

Adventures with Giardia and Other Cautionary Tales

As Wayne and I were headed towards Tellico Gap during the Nantahala Adventure Run, he told me a story about almost passing out while running one day. It turned out that he had not eaten for 24 hours and opted to go for a run before he did so.  In retrospect, of course, that was a bad decision, but at the time he didn't think too much about it.

I had a couple of those moments in April and as Willy Natureboy says, bad decisions make for good stories.  I'm not sure how good of a story this is, but it is a cautionary tale....

There's a forest road near my house that I run fairly often.  I've only seen four people on this road in years, two hunters and a couple out for a walk.  One day after school, I headed there to run, but was surprised by a man coming down the hill as I was getting out of my car.  Not only was this person number five, but he was a runner, too.  So, we talked for a couple of minutes (he is a deputy that lives nearby) and then I headed up the hill.  I was distracted by the conversation and didn't realize until a few hundred yards up the hill that I had forgotten to take my earrings out.  Not just any earrings, but ones with blue diamonds in them that Tony had given me.

In retrospect, I should have turned around and headed back to the car and put them in a safe place.  But I was wearing a little waist belt that I stick my phone and keys in, so I stuck them in there.  It zips up securely and I didn't think about them again until the next morning, when I took my phone out of the belt and an earring fell out.  An, as in one, earring.

I searched the house, car, driveway, gym bag, every place I thought it could be.  Then I remembered that I had taken pictures at three places during my run, which meant I had opened that waist belt three times.  After school, I went back to the road and searched there.  Nothing.  I dragged Tony there with a metal detector the next evening.  Nothing.  I ran there a couple more times and again, nothing. This is a fairly big earring that would be hard to miss, especially in the sunlight and I finally assumed that someone saw it and took it home.  I spent a long time kicking myself for being stupid.

Tony, being Tony, went and got me a similar pair and we planned to make necklace out of the lone earring.  Then two or three weeks later, I was running on the road again and my shoelace came untied. I crouched down to tie it, and there was my earring, in the gravel and intact.

Now I have two pairs of nice blue diamond earrings and a secure case to put them in when I take them off to go run.  Lesson learned. Unfortunately, the weekend before, I had unknowingly made another bad, bad decision.

April is thru-hiker season here on the Appalachain Trail.  I go all winter, rarely seeing anyone, to suddenly seeing dozens of people on a short run.  The hikers hit the 100 mile mark here and many are still unversed in wilderness etiquette and procedures.  Which brings me to my bad decision.

I decided to run a 20 mile loop, a majority of which was on the AT.  On a long run, where there are several water sources, I carry a handheld bottle instead of a bladder, scoop water as I go and treat it with a Steripen, which uses UV light to zap any bad critters that might be in it.

Several months prior, I had dropped my Steripen, but it appeared to be working fine. The flashing light that indicates the steripen is making proper contact with the water was working, along with the green indicator light that tells me the water has been zapped for the appropriate 45 seconds.  I use gray bottles and never thought to look down inside the bottle to see if the most important light,the UV light was actually working.

All winter went by without incident.  Then the weekend of the 20 mile loop, I scooped water from couple of places right next to the trail.  In retrospect, of course they were not the best options.  Somewhere along the way, I, for some reason, thought to look to see if the UV light was working. It was not.  I was not too concerned because I know a lot of people do not treat their water and I realized I has been drinking untreated water for several months. But it was now thru-hiker season, when you smell all sorts of bad smells along the trail and find toilet paper in all sorts of places.

Warning:   TMI coming, but I wanted to write this down, because my symptoms were a little different than most of the internet info.  You'll be safe if you skip the next paragraph.

So, a couple weekends later, I had stomach/bathroom issues.  A couple nights later, I was awakened by an urgent need to, umm, use the restroom.  That never happens.  Then I was nauseous.  I lost my appetitie and could not eat anything but crackers and toast. I alternated between not going at all for days to explosive incidents.  I sat in the recliner and stared into space.  I could not focus enough to read or watch T.V.  I felt fuzzy-headed and dizzy.  I did not throw up.  The doctor and I assumed it was the stomach flu, but I have never had the stomach flu.  A couple weeks went by.  I missed a lot of work. I would feel a bit better and head back to work, only to have to leave early. One morning, I was on my way out the door when I had to make a run for the bathroom. I was shaky and weak and as a teacher, I had to find a sub and come up with a lesson plan in a half hour.  I cried for awhile, then our secretary helped me find a sub and I came up with a lesson plan.  They ran tests, blood tests and a regular stool test.  Low blood sugar, nothing in the stool.  By this point, over three weeks had gone by.  I lost eight pounds sitting in the recliner.  I was apparently very pale because people kept remarking on that. I spent a lot of time being angry that I could not do the things I wanted to do and not understanding what was wrong. The fourth week, the doctor and I discussed the possibility of giardia.  First she gave me a round of antibiotics in case it was animal e coli. That didn't work. The stool test for giardia came back negative, but apparently they only pass every so often, so you usually have to do multiple tests.  Instead of that, she just went ahead and gave me the antibiotic from hell, flagyll.

I could not tell if the flagyll was working, because it gives you the exact same side-effects as the symptoms of giardia.  Only I felt worse. Finally, when I was finished with it, after five weeks of hanging with Little G and eight days of antibiotics, I began to feel better.  I had some energy and was hungry.  Then I had a bad couple days.  Then several good ones.  Then a bad one.  According to Dr. Google, it can take a few months for the intestines to heal, especially since I went so long before we figured it out.  Also, that doc says a lot of people become lactose intolerant for a while, and I think that has given me a couple bad days before I realized it.

So, eight weeks later, I feel more normal; I just get tired quicker. I still have some nausea and days when I just feel "off."  I am running, but not very far yet.  Today a group was running the Nantahala Adventure Run, which I was supposed to do, but instead I provided some aid and hiked/ran out four miles to see people as they came through.  My plan was to head all the way to the NOC and back, but my body thought differently.  I enjoyed hanging out on a rock in a quiet place in the sunshine and although I wished I could run the loop, was okay with doing what I did. 

Another very hard lesson learned.  If you do not treat your water, consider it.  And according to some sources, options such as bleach may not kill giardia unless it is used in fairly high concentration.  If you use bleach, you may want to do some research.  This person did a lot of research on the different ways of purifying water.  Apparently the Steripen is very effective....but only if you are sure it is working.  And I may trade in my gray bottles for some clear ones.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Burningtown Loop/Nantahala Adventure Run and Burningtown 100K

Burningtown Loop/NAR
56ish miles

1. Start at the Bartram Parking area at the end of Wayah Road, near the Raft Put-in Area. Head north on the Bartram on a paved walkway to single track on the other side of Highway 19.  This is the first tough climb, to Cheoah Bald. The first part of the trail is pretty overgrown in the summer and the climbs are pretty deep in leaves in the fall and winter.  Plenty of water and lots of creek crossings, including one you can't rock hop.  You will connect with the AT south, shortly before you reach Cheoah Bald.  Once at Cheoah Bald, take the AT south down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  (I don't remember where water is, but there is a shelter below Cheoh, so I imagine there is water there.) Crew access (and restaurant, store at NOC)) 13.2 total miles.

2. Continue south on the AT, climbing back up to Tellico Gap. This is another long, tough climb. 8 miles. Little to no water until after the shelter that is 2.2 miles from Tellico Gap.  Great views from the Jumpoff and the Wesser fire tower. Crew access.

3. Head south on Appalachian Trail 9.3 miles to Wayah Bald. There is a long climb (about 30 minutes for me) and then it becomes more rolling to Icewater Springs shelter.  The spring runs right in front of the shelter, and for that reason, I do not use it.  You will have a long descent (a little over a mile) to Burningtown Gap.  You could have crew access you at Burningtown Gap.  About a half mile past the gap is a good water source.  The trail is nice from here to Wayah, runnable until the climb up Wayah which is not that bad.  There is a shelter and a sign that points to a water source, but the water is quite a ways off the trail.  The Bartram and AT will run together here for a while. As you climb up to Wayah, there is a spring where I usually get water.  At Wayah, be prepared for lots of people at the tower (which is always jarring after so long in the quiet woods).  There are pit toilets here. Crew Access

4. Continue south until the Bartram Trail leaves the AT.  Right before it does, there is a spring at Wine Springs.  It unfortunately does not dispense wine.  Take the Bartram toward Nantahala Lake. 3.9 miles downhill to crew access at Sawmill Gap on Dirty John Road.  You will hear firing from the firing range below, but it is quite a ways down in the valley.  Be careful at this isolated road crossing.

5. Continue steeply (very steeply/butt slide in points) downhill to Nantahala Lake.  There is water right before you reach the lake and also a creek running into the lake shortly thereafter.  Take the paved road and go right.  Be careful during the summer for traffic.  You will pass a restaurant and small store.  4.1 miles downhill. Crew access.

6. Follow Bartram to Appletree Group Campground. 4.9 miles.  Watch for the turn to the left off the road after the store.  It goes down a driveway and then makes a sharp right uphill.  It then heads to the left of a cabin at the top of the hill.  It is usually overgrown here.  Follow the trail and cross a couple of gravel roads.  Be alert to trail markings because you will take one of the gravel roads a short distance before leaving it to head back onto single track.  You will have some nice single track to run before getting dumped out on road past the dam.  You will follow roads with some turns, so again watch for markings.  There is a spring coming out of the rock wall as you get closer to Appletree.  Crew access.

6. Continue on Bartram to where you started. 12.4 miles.  The trail runs along the river very briefly, takes a gravel road through the campground and then heads back to the river.  There are bathrooms in the campground and I assume they are open in the summer, but I have never tried them.  Be alert to where the trail leaves this road and heads down to the river.  Most of this section is rolling until you hit the climb up Rattlesnake Knob.  It tends to get overgrown and can be a little confusing because it will follow an old forest road for awhile then abruptly leave it for singe track. There is abundant poison ivy in places and a couple of small streams.  You're at a lower elevation, so it is also hotter and buggier.  Before you get to Rattlesnake Knob, you will cross a creek that usually gets my feet wet  Shortly after that, there is an intersection with Piercy Creek Trail.  (If you had some sort of issue, you could take this trail, which is rocky and wet but downhill, to the Nantahala River, cross it, and then head left a mile or two back to your car.)  The climb up Rattlesnake is not overly steep, but at this point, it just seems to go forever.  There are a couple spots you could get water, but it would be better to fill up at the creek rather than take a chance that they are dry. You'll finally top out, hit some narrow singletrack with hairpin curves and steep dropoffs and pop out at a water tower.   Take the nice gravel road for a long downhill, where you will end up back where you started.  . 


This second description is a 100K course with a little out and back to bump up the mileage. It starts/ends in a different place on the loop and ends with a killer climb.

Burningtown 100K
62.3 miles
Goal: sub 18 hour

Course description with mileage and goal times.

1. Start/finish on Otter Creek Road, 3.2 miles from Tellico Gap. (Just past last old house on left. Parking place past there on right at forest road gate). Run 3.2 miles to Tellico Gap. 1:00 am
2. Head south on Appalachian Trail 9.3 miles to Wayah Bald. Crew access there. 3:45 am
3. Continue south until the Bartram Trail intersects. Take the Bartram toward Nantahala Lake. 3.9 miles downhill. Crew access at Sawmill Gap on Dirty John Road. 4:454. Continue downhill to Nantahala Lake and the Lakeside Store. 4.1 miles downhill. Crew access. 5:45 am
5. Follow Bartram to Appletree Group Campground. 4.9 miles. Crew access. 7:15 am
6. Continue on Bartram to Winding Stairs, where the raft put-in is. 12.4 miles. Crew access. 10:15 am
7. Climb 3000 in 5.1 miles with 7 stream crossings up to Cheoah Bald. Then take the AT south down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Crew access (and restaurant). 13.2 total miles. 2:30 pm.
8. Continue south on the AT, climbing back up to Tellico Gap. I did part of this on Saturday and there were a lot of steep, narrow areas on the trail, along with a lot of slick leaves. This might take some time. 8 miles. Crew access. 5 pm
9. Arrive at Tellico Gap, and head back down Otter Creek to the finish. 3.25 miles. 5:45 pm.