Having dealt with the unlikely causes of death on the PCT, I should deal with the less glamorous but nonetheless risky business of hiking from Mexico to Canada.
It is remarkably safe. In fact, significantly safer than living in the Cotswolds, home to Midsomer of the 'Midsomer Murders' fame, where at least twelve people die in batches of six installments twice per year for the last twenty-four years. By comparison, there have been eleven confirmed deaths on the PCT since 1983 - there are also three unconfirmed dead hikers - men who have gone missing in the last three years, most likely caused by falls.
So what is possibly going to get me...
E-coli and Giardia are two shitting awful hazards. E-coli comes from poor hygiene practices, and the reason why one never shakes hands with fellow hikers. A fist bump is the way to go apparently. I shall be doing my most prissy Englishwoman's nod of the head.
I have never heard of anyone talk about Giardia in the UK, but the NHS calls it a major cause of farting, bloating and diarrhoea. I am most shocked that something as formal as the NHS uses the word 'fart', and makes it sound like an affliction caused by one too many beers. In reality, Giardia, or giadiasis, causes horrendous visceral expulsions in both directions lasting between two weeks to six. Great for weight-loss, terrible for mileage.
Insects, insects everywhere! As far as I'm aware I am not prone to anaphylaxis from anything, but I am aging and therefore prone to episodes of hypochondria in an instant. The PCT is host to Africanized Honey Bees, also known as killer bees, responsible for the deaths of 1,000 per annum, as well as the Asian Giant Hornet, which beckons his mates over for a family feast, and paper wasps.
Ants can also be a source complaint, especially if one accidentally parks one's tent on the Fire Ants', or Harvester Ants' nests. Mosquitoes too. There's also some really vicious caterpillars around. I had no idea! Bugs the Movie lied to me.
Getting stung is all part of the experience and is to be expected.
Spiders. The PCT is home to many kinds of venomous spiders including Tarantulas and Black Widows. Currently I can barely coax a spider out of my bath: I shall be using 'please' and 'thank you' if I find one in my tent.
Plants - notably the Poodle Dog Bush, which smells of hemp, and brushing up to it will lead to a trip to a hospital as will Poison Oak. Both are rampant on the PCT I'm told and make nettles look like a cuddly toy.
Lightning is surprisingly one of the most deadliest encounters for hikers. The advice is to stay away from ridges, unless, of course, they are unavoidable because one is already on it, which is quite likely on the PCT. Reaffirming one's faith or convert from atheist immediately is also recommended if caught in an electrical storm. Bearing in mind that falling has killed more hikers than anything else, careful foot placement should not be underestimated - one never knows when gravity is going to do its thing.
Dehydration. It's the desert for much of the first half - nuff said. I expect to consume around 1 litre every four or five miles, and will need in excess of 6 litres a day, sometimes more, and this will be naturally occurring water, and not naturally occurring out of a tap! Added to the pressure, this year is a record drought year - thankfully, I'm going early in the season but this is top of my worry list.
Hypothermia. Cold desert nights, high altitudes, wet clothes from river crossings or sweat, as well as variable seasons all pose a threat to one's digits, but hypothermia attacks the core, and although last on my list is one of the biggest threats out there. The signs of hypothermia are: confusion, random shuddering, difficulty speaking, stiff muscles and sleepiness, which incidentally are the same as middle-aged syndrome.
And finally, it should be remembered that for the most part, the PCT only has two settings: eternal hell or hypothermic. More Wildfires than usual are expected due to the drought.
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