Quitting Before I Have Begun?
“You’re not going to like this, but I think we need to go further today than planned.” My husband (trail name Unfiltered) was sitting in the shade of an overlook point as I came up.
“What?!” Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. Did he not know how hard the last few miles had been for me? I had only made it by repeating “your feet do not hurt, this is not the hardest thing you have ever done, you are a fucking badass, all you have to do is walk, your feet do not hurt!” out loud for all the world to hear, willing my body to believe the words.
But the truth was, my feet DID hurt. Badly. The blisters were uncomfortable but manageable. It was a deeper ache in my inner heels and outer midfoot that had been worsening throughout the day that was starting to worry me. The shoes that I had thought were the most comfortable hiking shoes I had ever found had turned on me. I had bought them a size bigger than normal to accommodate the foot “growth” thru-hikers experience. However, my normally narrow feet had widened significantly already, painfully compressing the outer edge of my midfoot. In addition, the arch support I had described as a “cloud hugging my feet” had disappeared, causing my foot to pronate and put all of my weight on my inner heel with each step, causing a much deeper soft tissue injury than the blisters that showed on the surface. Every rock I stepped on made my knees want to buckle. And there were A LOT of rocks.
“The campsite we had planned on is going to be too windy, the next one is only a mile more and much more protected.” Seeing the tears in my eyes he added “do you think you can make it? We can just stay where we planned, we can deal with the wind.”
Thinking of the wind that had almost knocked me over while traversing a summit a few miles back, I looked down the path, desperately fighting to keep the tears from falling. Dejectedly, I said, “no, I can make it.”
This was day three of our hike with close to 30 miles to go before getting close to a town with the promise of new shoes or at least arch supports.
The next day was worse. Constant pain and little sleep combined to make me an emotional mess, which my husband paid the price for. This time I couldn’t keep the tears from falling.
The last 10 miles into town on day five were excruciating, the mantra “I hate rocks” playing on repeat in my head, my body fueled only by the promise of new shoes and, hopefully, a new lease on my trail life. I forced myself to continue taking in the scenery and stopped to watch a baby bunny hop around in the brush. But after each break, it was becoming harder and harder to force my feet to keep moving forward.
We finally made it to Julian, where my first stop (after a Dr. Pepper, a shower, and laundry) was the outfitter. I watched as a member of my fledgling tramily (trail family) put on new shoes with immediate relief and was excited to feel that joy myself. I gingerly slipped into a pair of Altra Olympus 4s. They were a little better. I walked around, up and down some stairs. No, the pain was still there.
We ate and drank the afternoon away and then said our goodbyes to our tramily as they walked on. Unfiltered had reserved a hotel room for us for the night to see if a night off would restore my feet enough to keep walking. We returned to the outfitter the next morning as they had promised to get another size out of storage. I put them on. Maybe… hopefully…. no. Not pain-free. But slightly better than the Salomons I was currently hiking in. I bought them and planned to walk around town in the morning and see if we could head out in the afternoon. A few short blocks later I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
It hit me hard. I might have to quit. I only just started and this might be the end. Was I just being a baby? I have never been one to say “I have a high tolerance for pain” but am I THAT much of a wuss? I really can’t imagine everyone is walking through this much pain, but maybe I just can’t hack it. The negative self-talk was hitting hard.
Unfiltered booked another night at the hotel and caught wind of a trail angel heading to San Diego. I traveled the hour by car to REI and tried on almost every trail runner they carried. My normally narrow, size 10 feet were having trouble getting into wider 11s and they didn’t have 11.5s in women’s. I let go of my pride and tried on men’s shoes as well. Finally, I found a combination of arch supports and Hoka Speedgoats that promised a more comfortable future hike. But that hike was not going to start tomorrow.
We contemplated the logistics. The bubble of hikers we had met the first five days on the trail was moving away, along with our little tramily which had barely begun to form. Unfiltered, not known for his ability to sit still, was anxious to get back on trail. We had no idea if it would take another day or another week for me to feel up to putting big miles in again. I urged him to start hiking and I would plan to hitch forward along the trail until my feet felt better. It was hard to give up those miles on the trail. I would miss the photo op at Eagle Rock and passing the 100-mile mark. But the longer we delayed, the hotter it was going to be. We needed to get out of the desert while we could. I said goodbye to Unfiltered and grabbed a bottle of wine and some Epsom salts and settled in for another zero day.
The next day I got a ride with trail angel Ghost to Montezuma Valley Market. I spent the next two days catching up with familiar faces as they passed me by. Unfiltered pushed heavy miles while I tried to suppress my FOMO.
Finally, I hitched forward to Paradise Valley Café to get back on trail. Seventy-three total miles lost from my hike. Could I still call myself a thru-hiker?
The next few days saw over 30 miles pass beneath my feet. While some residual soreness remained and the blisters had yet to fully heal, I could tell my hike would continue. I was hiking again with Unfiltered and we caught up with our tramily. And I came to the conclusion that the “purity” of MY hike only matters to me. Once I have made it to Canada, if someone else wants to say I didn’t really thru-hike, it won’t matter. That’s not why I am here. My journey is MY journey, whatever that looks like.
There will be more trials and setbacks before Canada looms on the horizon, I am sure. But I was able to set aside my ego for the sake of my body and quitting is back off of the agenda.
“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with weary feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.” Frodo, The Lord of the Rings
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