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  • When I was preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail my friends, and family were worried about bears. So much so in fact, that despite never having seen one during my many trips to the woods, I started to worry.
    “Will you bring a gun?” People asked. What a stupid question I thought.
    “No.” I said. “I think it’s illegal anyway.”
    “What about bear mace?” They countered.
    “Uh, sure, bear mace.” I lied. I started telling that fib to everyone. It was easier, and it made them worry less. It made me worry less too, because people stopped asking. Don’t worry about bears. I got bit, but it wasn’t by a bear.
    I was somewhere between Casa De Luna and Hiker Town when it happened. It hurt more than it itched, but that wasn’t unusual at this point. It manifested in the form of a tiny red bump, and was indistinguishable from any number of bug bites on various parts of my person. It wasn’t weird to have bites all over my body. I was sleeping on the desert floor every night under the stars, like a genuine cowboy. Just me and a whole lot of wide open space in every direction.
    When I felt my energy draining, I assumed I needed to eat more. This seemed counterintuitive as I was losing my appetite with my energy. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough water. No, I was drinking plenty, despite being in the desert hills of California. I thought I must be lacking in vitamins, I would be sure to pick some up in Tehachapi.
    Two days later I woke up to intense throbbing pains. My entire haunch felt like it was being ripped apart by unseen forces. It was the pain that woke me up. I thought at first a scorpion, or snake had got in there and was chewing up my ass in a desperate fit of rage. I shimmied out of the bag with the grace of a baboon. I craned my neck to see how bad the bite had become. It looked like a softball with a bright red ringed bull's-eye on it. I still had twelve miles to get to Tehachapi. They were the longest miles I did on the PCT. Something sinister was taking root inside me.
    Each step racked my body and taxed my will to move forward. To sit down was to invite more pain, because there was a big meaty obtrusion on my ass. Putting pressure on the bump felt awful, but the worst pain of all came whenever I had to get up, it was best to just stay standing. I thought about laying down on my stomach right there in the middle of the trail, but it was probably more work than it was worth. I decided to make the grueling walk as quickly as possible.
    My pal Freebird caught up to me at the Highway. I was grateful. He could stand in the sun hitching while I sought refuge behind the meager shade of a traffic control sign.
    I got to town, and we met up with Mosey in the Motel 6. She had left earlier that morning from our shared camp. I was so grateful to have them with me. Mosey is a nurse when she’s not hiking around, and she agreed to take a gander at my butt. Insisted actually.
    “I think something is wrong with my ass.” I told her.
    “Still.” She said. “Show me.”
    “I don’t know, it’s pretty gross.” I was embarrassed. “I think maybe it’s a pimple or something.” I had convinced myself it was the worst pimple, and I could probably just pop it.
    “I’m a nurse! Just show me your butt.” She implored. She was very concerned about my well being, even if I wasn’t.
    “Okay.” I showed her.
    “You need to see a doctor, like right now! Like today! You could die from that!” She seemed overly concerned I thought, if I could just pop this thing in the bathtub...
    They stayed with me for two more days, and finally I saw the doctor. I’m not a medical professional, so I’ll just tell you what happened in my own words. The good doctor scooped a big chunk of meat right out of my butt cheek. Squeezed all the evil out and packed it full of gauze. After my first visit they put me on antibiotics. This amazing doctor had her husband come and pick me up. He drove me to Rite Aid to get my prescription filled. I am still blown away by their generosity. If it wasn’t for their help, my trip would’ve ended right there in that quaint little town.
    From Rite Aid I met up with Byron and Sam. Two of the nicest people on the whole PCT, or anywhere else for that matter. They were staying with a charming fellow by the name of Daniel. They brought me over to his place and gave me the guest bed. They slept on the floor that night, and when I tried to argue they insisted I take the bed.
    “You’re sick, you need a bed.” Sam told me.
    “There’s two of you, and one of me, you should have it.” I suggested.
    I continued to argue half heartedly. Sam told me I was lucky I already had a trail name, because now I had two ass holes. I gave up and went to bed.
    I went back to the Doctor two days later and there was some localized necrosis, so they hacked that away, then she squeezed more poison out.
    “So you might want to switch from a bandage to a pad.” The doctor said.
    “Like a feminine pad?” I asked.
    That night my family put me up in a hotel and I tried not to bleed all over the comforter. When I changed the bandage I almost passed out. The second hole in my butt had grown to about the size of a US nickel, and while I never probed the depths of it, I’d wager it was about an inch deep. It oozed blood and other things, all day, every day. I had to rinse it out with saline solution then change the pad for about a month. I needed those pads, and I got them at K-mart with the help of a traumatized woman in a red vest.
    “Excuse me sir, do you need any help?” She had no idea how much help I needed.
    “Uh, Yeah.” I stammered “I need pads… I don’t know how you gauge them… But I need something that will soak up a lot of blood, like a whole lot, uh and the wider the better.”
    “Um, I think you might want these.” She pointed to a box. “But you can return them if they’re not what the person you’re getting them for needs.”
    Don’t say they’re for your butt. “They’re for my butt.” I said as disgust washed across her face. “I have a hole in it- Er, well it’s a second hole, everyone’s got the one right?” Stop talking, Jared, just stop. “Erm, one of them doesn’t really go anywhere though- It’s from a bite, I’m a PCT hiker, and… uh... I’m gonna go. Thank you. Bye.”
    That spider bite was the worst thing that happened to me out there, maybe ever, But I’d do it all again. It couldn’t have happened in a better spot either. Tehachapi I mean, not my butt. Tehachapi is good to hikers. The town is full of people you don’t think exist in real life. Good, honest people who just want to help you. I’m convinced these people are in towns across America, we just never meet them because we don’t need to. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
    I met a bright eyed young woman named Bri at Starbucks, she was kind and thoughtful, and she told me all about Tehachapi. She invited me to open mic night where I shared my story with a room full of the most welcoming strangers I’ve ever met. They were fun, and lively. They played songs and read poetry. It was one of the best nights I spent in that town, or any other.
    I ran into Aaron at the farmers market, I was with three other hikers, and he insisted we come over for the worlds best spagehtti. He was the type of guy who'd give you the shirt off his back, and all he'd want in return is to hear a gross story about the spider that bit your ass.
    I met a trail angel named Bernadette. She had me over for chicken and beer, and put me up for the night. She was witty and charismatic. In the morning she drove me and some other hikers out to Ridgecrest so we could get around the fire closure. We all wished she was hiking with us. Maybe next time.
    I was there for a week, but when the good doctor gave me the go ahead I was out. Dealing with an open wound in the Sierra offered its own challenges, and I was secretly worried about the blood attracting bears, but I never saw one.
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