Wednesday, August 29, 2007

End of the Trail

Red and Gary:

Gary and me:


The note on the PCT monument is for the three of us from a section hiker who finished the day before. The silver replica of the Washington Monument is Milepost 78 on the US-Canadian border.


More Than You Need to Know About My Feet

[I'm still getting back into the world off the trail but I am mainly trying to record some of the many impressions I had during my PCT hike. I also spent much of the weekend assembling a copy of my AT manuscript for a publisher who responded favorably to a query letter. I will get into events and affairs in due time. Meanwhile I process (and share for whatever it's worth) my first thoughts.]

Ten days after walking into Manning Park, British Columbia my feet are still healing. The Pacific Crest Trail blistered my feet in a way that I’ve not experienced in years. Coming off the trail my left Achilles tendon had an open blister about the size of a US quarter. The space between the little and fourth toes on that same foot blistered on each side. The same toes on my right foot blistered in a similar manner. A blister came up between the ball and big toe of my right foot. The right Achilles tendon developed a small blister. Even so, these injured feet carried me about 75 miles up the trail.

My feet are still recovering, which involves mainly staying off my feet, keeping them elevated and devising custom open bandages for my heel and toes that allow the wounds to dry out and close. Only one open wound remains, on the side and bottom of the fourth toe, left foot. This toe seems to be the worst injured. In addition to the blisters, it was swollen and bruised-looking for days after the hike. It’s better now but that area is the most tender yet.

Blisters like these after two weeks on the Appalachian Trail could well have ended that hike. I had virtually no blister problems on the AT even as I went through three pairs of boots. Hot spots developed in a few areas, including the fourth and fifth toes, but I kept them covered with duct tape and had no real difficulty with them. My biggest foot problem on the AT was the increasing tenderness in the balls of my feet. Banging on rocks or bending my foot sharply was noticeably painful later in the hike but not surprising.

Perhaps the 15+ mile days, including 21 and 24 mile days, on the PCT tore my feet apart. It’s hard to argue otherwise, especially when you factor in the hard terrain. But blisters weren’t a problem early in the hike. My feet were often wet, which gave me some lubrication. I only noticed blisters for the first time on the seventh day when we began a zero day in Stehikan. They were small, easily treated and would be wrapped in duct tape when I walked out. No problem, I thought. The first night’s camp told me otherwise. None of the tape held in place and my fourth and fifth toes on each foot were even more blistered than they were in town. The blister on my left Achilles tendon was also rubbed raw. I cleaned all the blisters and bandaged each toe and my tendon carefully, hoping to limit the damage.

Bandages tended to move around in my socks so each day’s walk further dug into my feet. I finally began taping my fourth and fifth toes together with gauze and antibiotic cream between them. That approach kept the additional blistering to a minimum. I was less successful with the back of my foot. Even a large slab of duct tape over a bandage would not stay in place a full day. By the end of the second day out from Stehikan, my feet were very sore; I moved about camp with difficulty and wondered how I could walk the next day. Yet in the morning, once I put my boots on and began walking the pain mostly went away. Or I noticed it less in the course of the day’s events and distances. The same held true on the following days and even on the 24 mile "thunder run" to Manning Park on the final day

The reality of my injuries became apparent only in the lodge at Manning Park. My feet seemed to know that the work was over and decided to transmit all the injury to my brain, which until this point had been preoccupied with getting down the trail. Now came the time to see the damage. Both feet were swollen up to the ankles. The left foot had a big, raw hole above the heel. The space between my little toe and its neighbor was mangled, reddish flesh. The balls of both feet throbbed, occasionally sending a shooting pain up my leg. The open blisters were extremely tender to the touch. Although I had just walked many miles on these feet, simply walking to the restaurant across the parking lot was a slow progression for me. Red and Gary would walk on ahead of me and were sometimes even seated when I reached the building. Not unlike the trail where I was often behind them.

The first night at Manning was sleepless despite a very comfortable bed--my feet kept me awake until I took a prescription pain killer late in the night. I mainly stayed off my feet and kept them elevated when I wasn’t doing post hike chores like laundry, drying gear and organizing for the bus trip to Vancouver and flight to Phoenix. I never put my boots back on, I wore the Crocs which had been camp shoes. I would have preferred an open toe sandal but at least I could wear Crocs without the strap across my raw Achilles tendon.

We did some walking in Vancouver. I was able to keep up with Red and Gary but my feet remained tender. I also had the opportunity to crawl in and out of a top bunk at the hostel there, which certainly challenged my feet. But I managed to get about there and after returning home. Ten days later it looks like about everything is healing well. I just wish the process were faster.