Alyssa’s Powerful “Why” and How It’s Kept Her on Trail Time and Time Again
Hello, my name is Oats, and today I’m joined by Trek Blogger Alyssa, who has had an absolutely wild 48 hours. After being helivaced out of the Sierra Mountains due to severe altitude sickness, Alyssa is sharing all the things you want to know about life on trail (and then some). The “then some” includes her touching motivations for hitting the trail, her wild experience getting evacuated, encountering an injury that kept her off trail for a month, and much, much, more.
TW: Sexual assault and suicide.
Just to jump right in, you were helivaced out of the Sierra just 2 days ago due to a severe case of altitude sickness. Can you give a brief overview of the experience, your symptoms leading up to the decision to call for help?
I started to feel crappy on the way up Mount Whitney, but it wasn’t until we started descending that it got really bad. We were about 3.5 miles from camp when I collapsed on the trail. One second I was thinking about sitting down, and the next I was on the ground - it was like my legs just gave out. My tramily helped me carry my gear to camp that night, one actually took my entire pack and wore it on his front. We both had little stuffed animals popping out on either side of each bag.
The next day I was feeling better because we were at a lower elevation, but then on the first climb before Forester I started throwing up.
I was experiencing nausea, dizziness, seeing stars, and when we got to the lowest elevation before ascending up to Forester that’s when I started drifting in and out of consciousness.
Luckily, one of my tramily members is an EMT so they were able to make sure I was okay and they made the decision to call for help. He’s the youngest member of my group and had just come off a 6-month intensive training. I had total muscle weakness and couldn’t feel my legs at times, so they sat me up and laid me back down to take sips of water while we waited. It was like a hangover x 10 with other symptoms added in. The SAR officers showed up about 2.5 hours after hitting the button. They gave me an IV before I got in the helicopter so my whole trail family saw complete freak-out Alyssa - I’m deathly afraid of needles. It’s scary to think that I have been alone most of this trail, and may have had to face that alone. I’m really grateful for my tramily.
What do you feel like you learned from this experience, and what advice would you give to a hiker that starts to experience some of the symptoms of altitude sickness?
I’d advise hikers to look up symptoms of altitude sickness and really monitor them if they appear. A few people in my tramily were also experiencing symptoms, some vomited and others had headaches, but then they recovered. You can die from altitude sickness, your life is more important. We looked for a side trail for me to get off, but there weren’t any around so that’s why we decided to call the button.
On that note, I’ll leave that topic sealed with a bow and would love to backtrack a little bit to your motivations for hiking 2,650-miles in America. After rereading all your posts, I believe you’d be the best person to share your story and your motivations behind hiking. So, what is it that brought you to the trail?
I was sexually assaulted and went into a period where I wasn’t able to leave my bed or take my dog outside to pee. I eventually decided I was done with living like that and wanted to take my power back (for those who have been assaulted, you know what I’m talking about). From there I wanted to strengthen my “why” even more so I got some charities involved. The two charities I’m raising money for are both in Canada, one from my hometown and one from my local community now that hugely supported me when I was assaulted. My goal is to raise $10,000.
When I was assaulted I didn’t talk to anyone about it for years because I was afraid that no one would believe me - now I want to be an outlet for anyone who feels like that.
I’ve had a lot of people message me. One shared their accomplishment of walking around the block alone by themselves, something they haven’t done in years, and it’s really empowering to see people do that for themselves. That’s what pushes me to keep going on the trail, because I’m not just doing it for myself anymore. I’m doing it for a reason, for everyone else that’s been assaulted and for other survivors.
That’s an incredibly inspiring story, and a very powerful “why”. I know you wrote about getting injured and being off trail for a month at the beginning of your hike, but you still got back on and now plan on getting back on after your tramily catches up.
Right, to back-track on my journey a little bit, I was injured in the first 250 miles of trail and was off for 30 days. Then, I got back on. Then, I got sick for 2 weeks and had to get off trail to get antibiotics. Then, I got back on. Then, I got heat exhaustion for 4 days. Then, I got back on. Then, at Kennedy Meadows I joked about altitude sickness. After a little bit more rest, I plan on getting back on in 2 more days.
Can you share one or two moments from the trail so far (trail magic, an incredible summit, a day you kicked ass, anything) that really felt like a memorable high from your journey so far?
So many! One of the most memorable ones so far (other than the helivac) was hiking with Pocket Lizard, Ms. Pancakes, and Duck in the pouring rain. We were 10 miles from Lone Pine and then had a side trail and 25 mile hitch to town. It was freezing cold rain because we were over 10,000 feet, and then it started snowing… but we were all in crazy high spirits?!
We were all miserable, but nothing could really get us down because we were going into town.
After we got into Lone Pine, soaked to the bone, we realized there was no power so we couldn’t check in to a hotel right away. I eventually just put my card on the counter and begged for them to let us in. It was an amazing day, and my tramily would attest to that.
Another good one would be finally summiting Baden-Powell. I had attempted to summit while I was still sick and didn’t have a good time - I was vomiting on the side of the trail before the first water source. I eventually gave up and went back to town, absolutely crushed. When I was finally able to summit it was an incredible day - I really truly thought I wasn’t going to get better. But I did it!
You’ve talked in your blog posts about having anxiety and managing panic attacks, something that I also manage in my life. How would you say life on trail has affected your mental health so far?
The trail has been amazing. It’s town that starts to heighten it up again, especially because I also have ADHD. Having a long list of chores to do before getting back on trail again can be pretty overwhelming, I’ve definitely had a breakdown at a laundromat.
One time I got so distracted shopping I forgot to buy a fuel canister that was supposed to last me from Lone Pine to Bishop.
The only time I feel the ADHD side of things on trail is in the mornings when I have to organize my gear and pack it back up again - that can be pretty overwhelming, too. I’m usually the last one to leave camp and love sleep.
As far as the anxiety goes, even the town experiences are starting to get better. Never in my real life would I hitchhike, but here I have no problem walking up to someone and asking them where they’re headed and if I could hop in the back. As a Canadian I’m always doing conversion to kilometers so doing a 30k day blows my mind, too. I’m gaining confidence again and on trail I feel like a badass.
I know you had to get off trail for just over a month to heal from some severe foot pain and during that time spent 20 days trail angel hopping in Idyllwild. What kept you excited about the journey ahead during that time off trail, and what advice would you have for other hikers trying to bounce back after an injury?
I’ve spoken to a lot of hikers after getting back on trail and most people say they would’ve moved on and gone home after being off for a month, but for me it was different.
This hike was about getting my life back.
I tried to commit suicide after the assault, so it was now or never and I had to keep pushing. No matter what happens, I’m getting back on trail. I even went home for a week, but left all my gear with the trail angel I was with as assurance I’d come back and start again. During that month, I was getting severely depressed just sitting in town. I couldn’t even walk around and see everyone else coming through. There were a lot of “What if’s?” that were running through my head and I had no answers. No doctors, physiotherapists, or anyone I saw found any stress fractures or breaks, so it was hard to keep morale up. Going home for a week helped, I was able to see my dog, and then my Mom drove back to Idyllwild with me to start again.
Before we officially wrap up, Alyssa, are there any shoutouts you’d like to give or any final things you’d like to touch on?
I’d love to give a shoutout to every hitch, trail angel, and person I’ve met so far - you’ve given me faith in humanity again after it was completely gone from my life. And love to my trail family, we’re called PA for Poopers Anonymous because at the end of each night we come together and rate our poos and give them a movie or song title. They’ve been Garmin Messaging me poo ratings from the trail since I’ve been off. The trail is just absolutely amazing, I hope I keep feeling this way through the rest of the trail and back into normal life afterwards as well.
Well Alyssa thank you so much for coming on with me, I hope you get some well-earned R&R to fuel you for the miles to come, go follow Alyssa @thebcbackpacker on Instagram and check out all of her updates from the trail on The Trek. Have a wonderful week, and thanks everyone for tuning in!
Katie "Oats" Houston (she/her) is a freelance outdoor writer and content creator based in Austin, TX. After being bit by the thru-hiking bug in 2019 on the Appalachian Trail, Katie has since gotten the Colorado Trail and Lone Star Hiking Trail under her belt with a bucket list of many, many more long-distance trails. She enjoys any opportunity to write about her adventures, good trail ethics, and trail stewardship and currently works as the Social Media Lead for The Trek. Check out her adventures with Thru the husky at her website and Instagram.