“I can’t stand up.” I whisper to Clayton. “Something is wrong with my foot.” I am in the tent staring at my swollen ankle while my poor husband is asking me where it hurts. I am so disappointed with myself. All the fears about how physically weak I am come stumbling through.” I knew this was going to be too much for me.” I reply bitterly to Clayton’s reassuring remarks.
We have been planning this trip for six months and it is the beginning of our third day of backpacking around the Three Sisters wilderness. We have four more days to go…
So far our trip has been fantastic. Four of our close friends joined us for the first night in the wilderness, and for some of them it was their first experience backpacking, so everyone was excited and in high spirits.
The next day we woke up and said goodbye to our friends and continued on with our trip while they retraced their steps. I have enjoyed being on the trail so far, listening to the quietness of the woods, taking in the fantastic views, and focusing on carrying my backpack in a way that wouldn’t kill my back . We have covered only about 20 miles and we have 50 more to go. My foot is a problem.
“I can’t believe I thought I could actually do this.” I mumble under my breath and ask my concerned husband to give me a moment to myself. As soon as he leaves hot tears roll down my cheek. Because of me, all five of us would have to turn back ad cancel the trip. We have been looking forward to this trip for so long.
I’ve never been an athletic girl. I didn’t play any sports as a kid, preferring the peacefulness of a good book or a gentle stroll in the woods close to our house. I was labeled – and I labeled myself – as as too uncoordinated and weak to do any competitive sports. The same story followed me in college except it got legitimately worse due to my fast food diet. I could barely go up a hill without panting, feeling out of breath, and becoming dizzy. I had no idea that my body couldn’t run on cheetos, ramen, and coke! As my diet got better, so did my athletic life. I began enjoying longer walks and hikes, and later when I got married, I discovered backpacking. I felt so strong being able to carry a backpack for a few days and walking miles and miles in the wilderness!
After a few years of developing my new passion, I thought I was ready for a week-long trip, but apparently my body thought otherwise. After staring at my throbbing foot for a few minutes I decided I was going to walk on despite the pain for one more day. I never pushed my body physically like that, and it was all pretty new territory for me. I decided that if I felt worse by the evening, I would have to tell everyone that we had to go back. I wrapped my foot with an elastic band, put on two pairs of wool socks and gently tried on my friend’s lent hiking boots.
When I finally stumbled outside everyone was ready to go and my husband made me a walking stick to use for our 12 mile trek that day. The pain was sharp and throbbing at first, but after a few hours of walking the pain became more dull and my foot finally started to loosen up.
The scenery we were walking through was breathtakingly beautiful and when we stopped at a creek for water and lunch, we were all in high spirits! Yes, you saw that right, my friend Walter is chewing on a block of cheese. But I will talk more about our food choices in a later post.
The creek, flowing directly down from a nearby glacier as it was, was icy cold, so I decided to dunk my beat up feet in the creek to reduce some of the swelling. That’s when I realized I had developed a blisters on both of my feet. A few of them. And big.
My friend Jessinah had a similar problem so she started hiking in her crocks, which worked unexpectedly well.
My friend Josiah preformed what we coined on the trail as a “blisterectomy”: to drain the blisters by rupturing them with a sterilized safety pin.
This would be an event we had to preform every night after I took my shoes off.
My feet felt a ton better after the ice cold bath and our little procedure. By the end of the day we covered 13 miles, and I was ready for a drink!
No I didn’t drink that whole bottle, even though I was elated with my success. We mixed whiskey with hot jello, which was an amazing beverage to have in the evening after a long day of pounding your joints. My foot felt better even though I was limping. The next day was going to be an easy day only 8 miles. I survived the hardest part of the trip, I thought that night as we sang campfire songs and I tried to cover my ears when the ghost stories came up.
Our morning was spent leisurely enjoying coffee and tea.
Then we began what we thought would be our easy hike day. Two and a half miles in we realized we were so relaxed that we missed our turn, and had to walk back. By noon we were back were we started, and we had already hiked five miles. After a short lunch break we started again. It wasn’t long before we discovered that our trail for the day was through a part of the forest that had succumbed to a massive fire just last year. This section wasn’t on our maps, so we hadn’t factored it into our plans. There was to be no camping in the “burn zone”, and most creeks in the area were dry.
We had to hike until we got out of there, and we weren’t quite sure how long that would be. Until now I had been hiking in the back of the group, taking pictures and limping, but something switched when I realized the nature of our situation.
Somehow I ended up at the front of the group, and I instinctively began walking faster than I ever thought I could. The path was sandy, the sun was hot, and my pack as heavy. But all of a sudden I had energy I had never tapped into before… I completely cleared my brain and focused only on my pace and the path ahead of me.
And finally, after hiking for more than 16 miles that day, we made it out of the burn zone. There was still no water, and it was getting darker, but we had to set up camp.
Our night wasn’t as lively as previously. We were too exhausted to make a bigger fire and we had only a little bit of water. So the next day we woke up early, eager to find a river. I woke up to Jessinah doing yoga. but she wouldn’t let me snap a photo of her poses 😉
My foot way better than it had for the last three days! I don’t have an explanation for that, since by this point I had developed blisters on every single toe, and then some. Yet I felt I could hike Mt Everest! I’ve never been more confident and proud of my body. After years of battling diet demons and body image that left me scared and self loathing, this gave me an incredible sense of satisfaction and respect for myself. I was no longer the frail girl in the corner of gym class trying to stay invisible.
The rest of the trip turned into a breeze. We hiked over seventy miles and I never stayed behind unless I was snapping photos. We even took a day trip to peak one of the mountains. The hike up was extremely steep and my foot began throbbing, As cheesy as it may sound, I began telling myself “I can do this. I can do this. i can do this.” When even that stopped working, I began counting to ten in Romanian. Here is my husband ahead of me making sure I was still following behind.
I was, and when we got to the top I screamed at the top of my lungs and heard the echo coming back from all four directions.
There was so much beauty around us.
Our friend Walter started getting sick from the altitude so he began making the trip down.
So we began ascending, admiring this alien glacial lake nestled in a valley along the way.
When we finally got back down, I sat down and tried to allow my body to take it all in. My journey towards healing is continuous, and sometimes just when I think I can’t do something, my body proves me wrong. I am humbled and grateful for these lessons…
I’m writing this post laying down with my foot propped up, wrapped in a bandage. It’s feeling better, but I’m trying to make sure it heals correctly. The sense of accomplishment I feel can’t be explained in words. Of course I’m not saying that everyone should have the same experience – hike more than seventy miles with blisters on their feet and a swollen ankle! This meant more to me than just pushing myself for no reason. I didn’t think I could do it. I have always considered myself too weak and frail, and while today I am still a rather petite woman, I proved to myself that I am not weak. I have shown myself my physical strength.
And the journey continues…
Thank you Clayton for always having faith in me and pushing me in ways I have never been pushed before!