Mind vs. Body – The Beginning of the PCT
I have competed in one of the hardest half-marathons in the world, raced in ultramarathons, and was a collegiate athlete, but the first few days of my first thru-hike were some of the most mentally and physically challenging things I have ever done.
Approximately ten miles from Campo I could feel my first blisters start to form. Right on the tips of my pinky toes. I get these pinky blisters every time I do a long day of exercise so it did not worry me too much. I changed up the pressure points on my feet as I walked to account for these pinky blisters, and low and behold other blisters stared to form. By this point I was already done with the climb up from Hauser Creek so it was full steam ahead to Lake Morena. After setting up camp it was time to check the damage: four major blisters and two minor ones. I popped and cleaned what I could and was done for the night. The next morning it was some morning pop and clean and I was on the trail with the sights set on Mount Laguna. My feet were uncomfortable and I continued to try to switch up the pressure points away from the blisters… which again just created more blisters. Each step I took I just kept telling myself that my body was being soft, it was trying to get me to give up. Through my past experiences I knew my body could do so much more than it thinks it can, so I just kept pushing and hoping my body would turn the corner.
By the time I rolled into Mount Laguna my feet looked like they had been beaten up by a meat tenderizer. At the campsite I again performed my surgery and just hoped that they would slowly recover. I met this awesome hiker, Bobby “Ozone,” earlier in the day and we all shared a campsite for the night as his wife was slackpacking him to Idyllwild. Ozone was a godsend for me as he gave me a pair of his extra Injinji socks to hopefully slow the spread of the blisters. The next morning I woke up with high hopes but could barely walk to the bathroom. Looking back I think it was a combination of the eight to ten blisters I now had as well as my feet being broken into walking 20 miles a day. I performed my morning surgeries and was up and hiking; with a little bit of a limp and hobble I was able to make it another 22 miles.
Fast forward another 15 hours and I was five miles from Scissors Crossing when my feet finally gave out. The game of chicken that I was playing between my mind and my body was finally being won by my body. I slowly limped my way down the slope and was faced with a final three miles of flat desert. If I was placed in this exact spot one week earlier these three miles would have been a literal walk in the park, but on that day I have never looked at a three-mile stretch with more dread and angst. Imagine every step you take it feels like you are stepping on a bunch of Legos only to get a big needle prick every few steps; would you want to keep walking? It took everything in my heart and soul to make it to Scissors Crossing, where I told my hiking partner that an overnight stay in Julian, which wasn’t part of the plan, was a total must. I spent the next 20+ hours soaking, elevating, and massaging my feet, just hoping and wishing I could just waddle again.
As the days and miles have continued to flow by my feet have adjusted and the pleasure of hiking has slowly come back. Looking back on those first few days I do not know if I could pinpoint a specific time that I should have shut it down earlier or taken it slower; I was hiking the only way I knew how. There is no groundbreaking advice that has come from these first few days, but I can reiterate this advice: listen to your body; you can always make up the mileage later.
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