Kristin “Rainbow Dash” Grenier to hike 2,650 mile west coast trail
After months spent recovering from an extended bout with Lyme disease, Kristin “Rainbow Dash” Grenier has decided she needs to get out of the house and take a nice, long walk — of about 2,650 miles.
Grenier will spend the next four to five months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). For those who are not familiar with the PCT, it is the west coast’s answer to the Appalachian Trail.
The trail begins in the town of Campo on the border between Mexico and California and ends eight miles across the Canadian border at Manning Park.
It covers the entire length of California, Oregon and Washington and features about every kind of natural landscape imaginable.
The PCT skirts the western edge of the Mojave desert, then runs across the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In Washington and Oregon, the path meanders around Crater Lake National Park and runs the Cascade range which contains some of the highest and most famous mountain peaks and active volcanoes in the United States, Grenier said.
While the features of this spectacular wilderness trail are enticing, few experienced hikers have completed the entire PCT. A few years ago it was estimated that more people had been to the top of Mount Everest than had traversed the PCT, she said.
“It has grown a lot in popularity in the last two years thanks to the book ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ by author Cheryl Strayed, so that statistic is probably not true anymore. But there will still be plenty of sections where people, and cell phone signals, will be scarce,” she said.
Grenier has embarked on this ambitious journey in part to raise awareness of Lyme disease and to raise money in support of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). The society supports Lyme disease research and its appropriate treatment.
But the hike is also a highly personal one for the young scientist whose life and passions were sidelined for months due to a case of Lyme disease that went misdiagnosed for nearly 10 months.
If one can pardon the cliche, the PCT is representative of Grenier’s determination to “get back in the saddle” after Lyme disease knocked her from it.
Grenier discovered a love for trail hiking around 2010 while she was living and working up in New Hampshire. As a researcher and Americorps volunteer stationed in the remote New England wilderness, there was not much to do with her free time except join friends for hiking excursions up and down the White Mountains.
Since getting hooked on trail hiking, she has adopted a trail name, Rainbow Dash, and embarked on ever more ambitious hikes. In 2012, before being sidelined with Lyme Disease, she took several months to travel the length of the Appalachian Trail.
Ironically, she believes it was during a brief section hike in Pennsylvania, apart from her full trail hike, that she was bitten by the tick that infected her with Lyme disease.
She didn’t realize it at the time. The only thing she knew is that she just started to exhibit a number of generalized symptoms of an illness that wouldn’t go away. The most prominent side effect was an alarming lack of energy. She suffered from arthritic muscle aches and general body soreness. However, providers were diagnosing other illnesses unrelated to Lyme disease and the treatments were doing no good.
“I didn’t have the textbook symptoms of the disease. I knew I’d been bitten by a tick, but there wasn’t the ‘tell-tale’ red bulls-eye rash that followed,” Grenier said.
She didn’t respond to treatments and her condition grew steadily worse. At her lowest times, Kristin suffered “brain fog” where she became forgetful and erratic in her behavior. She would lose anywhere from 14 – 20 hours of her life at a time.
“I didn’t understand at all what was going on with me,” she said. “I was just scared.”
A fact that she learned after she was correctly diagnosed is that “Lyme is known as the ‘great imitator.’”
According to the ILADS web site, a patient with Lyme might wind up being tested for anything from Lupus to MS to Fibromyalgia. Hundreds of symptoms have been attributed to Lyme disease.
Ticks that carry the disease are mostly deer ticks and incidence rates for Lyme disease are higher in the New England area and around the north central section of the United States around Minnesota and Wisconsin.
But there are risks of contracting the disease in Kentucky and throughout most of the United States, she said.
Grenier’s condition was finally diagnosed in Cynthiana by Dr. Greg Cooper and Crista Crowdy, PA, of Family Care Associates. When tests came back positive for Lyme, she was treated with two months of antibiotic therapy last year and another two months of antibiotics this year.
Thankfully, she has finally begun responding to the treatment. After spending such a long time with the illness, though, Grenier suffers setbacks from time to time.
Even now, she has moments where the bacterial infection asserts itself, Grenier said.
But rather than scaring her from the wilderness, the disease is likely to discover that it has a new enemy in Grenier.
Not only has she planned to return to her love of hiking, but she is using this excursion to gather sponsors and raise money to combat the disease.
She has so far raised over $1,500 in pledges and is open to accept more.
Many of her sponsors are pledging just a penny a mile for an overall contribution of $26.50. But every one of those pennies adds up, she said.
In a touching coda to her travel, Kristin was contacted by a Vermont woman who shared Grenier’s love of wilderness trail hiking. At 30-years-old, the woman contracted Lyme disease and went undiagnosed for 30 years, Grenier said.
When she finally got the treatment she needed, time had got past her. Lyme disease had robbed this woman of something she dearly loved.
If it is at all possible, Grenier said that the woman hopes to join her for the final leg of the journey into Canada.
“I hope that comes to pass,” Grenier said with earnest. “It would be so important.”
Awareness of Lyme disease got a celebrity boost recently from the revelations of pop singer Avril Lavigne, who was recently diagnosed and treated for the disease last year.
That has been a boost to Grenier’s cause and drawn focus to her goal to walk the PCT. She will be keeping regular updates of her progress on Facebook and on her blog: livinghighonlife.com.
She will be glad to accept further pledges of support throughout the summer. While keeping up with her progress, don’t look for Kristin Grenier. Look for her trail name: Rainbow Dash.