Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: Winding Stair Gap to Hot Springs, NC

One Feet, Two Feet, Red Feet, Blue feet

Before leaving Franklin, I stopped at an Outfitter in order to get my feet checked since I had been having a lot of foot/ankle pain. My feet had been aching every since leaving Springer Mountain which is par for the course out here, but over the previous couple of days this had transitioned into full blown pain on the inside of my ankles. I had similar pain before and it was easily fixed with an orthotic, so that’s what I thought I needed. They measured my foot and told that my beloved Chaco boots were too small, that even though my foot length was an eight, my arch length was a nine (this would probably also explain why my pinkie toe is completely numb). He said I needed new shoes.


What I think I look like while hiking

Now being the completely reasonable and understanding stubborn person that I am, I decided to ignore his advice and buy insoles anyway (after all, it’s his job to sell me new shoes, I didn’t really need them). Barely two miles out of Franklin the new insoles were in my pack instead of my shoes. They seemed to make the problem worse. I pressed on telling myself that I just needed to make it to the Smokies where my mom could meet us with my back up shoes.


What I actually look like while hiking

The next few days passed in a haze of Tylenol and gingerly taken steps. By the time I hobbled into the NOC I was desperate for a pair of shoes that fit. Seriously, I probably would have bought a pair of shoes made of 24k gold if the salesman had told me that it would feel like walking on marshmallows the rest of the way to Maine.


I tried on a bunch of shoes and eventually settled with a pair of zero drop trail runners. In the store they felt like cocoons of happiness on my feet, and I felt optimistic for the first time in days.

Sure enough the larger shoe seemed to fix my arch pain.  However, after a couple of days I started to develop aching in my Achilles tendons which developed into full blown tendonitis after several days of steep tread on the trail. I started walking some of the steeper inclines backwards because i couldn’t tolerate it. 

By the time we ascended into the Smokies I was in tears. On any normal day I would have insisted we stop and pitch the tent, but in the Smokies you have to stay at the shelters. With two miles left, Jordan went ahead so he could set up, and I started my longest and most demoralizing ascent so far on the trail. At this point it was more my head than my feet in my way. I kept telling myself I was too weak to do this. Every step I took didn’t matter. In my head,  I had convinced myself that in the span of an hour I had only gone a quarter of a mile. I collapsed on the side of the trail and dissolved into tears not knowing how I was going to take another step.  As I lay there, all I could do was ask God for the strength to make it the rest of the way. Now, I know many of you may not believe in the power of prayer, or that the God of the universe would care about the pain of a girl hiking an insignificant trail, but at that exact moment, I heard Jordan’s whistle (we use the four note whistle from the Hunger Games to communicate  when we get separated on the trail). At first I thought I was imagining it, because I thought he was at least a mile up the trail, but I got up and started walking again and a few seconds later I saw him running (South!) toward me on the trail. We embraced for a long time and he told me we were only 0.2 miles from the shelter. I had not only hiked farther than I thought, but uphill at a steady 2 mph pace. My feet had been moving forward the whole time and my head had been stuck wallowing in misery.


Clingman's Dome

The next two days the tread was much easier, but I also knew not to get in my head. The foot saga ends with me switching to my Brooks Cascadias (which I probably should have started the trail in in the first place) in Gatlinburg, and my feet and I have been happy the last 70 miles.

The Good Stuff

Ok, so I just spent the last 15 minutes of your life complaining about my feet. What insane person hikes 13 miles a day with foot pain? Why bother? The point is, it’s not all bad. In fact. Most of this experience is mindblowingly awesome:

I did happy dances in front of strangers when handed a cold coke at road side trail magic.

We succeeded in another Operation “hitch to town for Mexican food and hitch back and keep hiking with a stomach full of fajitas just for kicks.”

I giggled with murmuring trail side creeks. 

I frolicked on grassy mountain balds twirling and dancing with uninhibited joy.

I laughed at something funny Jordan said for the 143 time that day.

I marveled at the rugged wilderness of the Smokies, feeling insignificant next to their towering heights while at the same time feeling like I can drop kick a giant after summiting their peaks.


Charlie's Bunion

I relished in the pampering of my mom when she came to visit, enjoying the extravagant luxuries of a hot tub and King sized bed, but reveling in the small luxeries of the love of family.

I cried while watching the sunset at Max Patch.


Cowboy camping at Max Patch

I rejoiced with exhausted relief at the completion of my first 17 mile day, amazed at what my body is able to do.

My mom asked me when she visited why we talk so much about being tired or hurt in our videos. I looked at her and said, because we are! I’m not going to sugar coat it! “Why do this then?” I told her, “life isn’t about doing what feels good. If we always try to stay comfortable we would never grow physically or mentally.”


Enjoying my Custom coconut smoothie at Artisun Cafe in Hot Springs!

That whole foot melodrama is just a fraction of my experience over the last 270 miles. But without that pain, I never would have been able to experience what I have so far on the trail, and I wouldn’t trade that for a hundred pairs of golden marshmallow soled shoes.

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