Tag Archives: AT

Healing

Since I’ve been back from the Trail, I’ve had to concentrate on getting back on my feet. Literally. Plantar Fasciitis: inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. It connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. The inflammation occurs when it’s overstretched or overused. Like walking for 10 hours a day over rough terrain. This condition is more likely to develop if you have high arches (or flat feet!), obesity or sudden weight gain, long distance running or extreme hiking on uneven surfaces, tight Achilles tendon, shoes with poor arch support. It is one of the most common orthopedic complaints relating to the foot.

Usually the pain is most intense in the heel and happens with the first steps in the morning, standing or sitting for a while, intense activity.

My research also indicates that the pain can persist for a very long time. Already I am getting relief with the boots. Some people apparently deal with this pain for years.

My high arch (which I’ve always been told was cute) made my feet prone to the terrible condition I developed on the Trail. I had no idea my arches were going to be a problem. I’ve always worn support inserts and never had a problem. My life has been spent on my feet. Waitressing, retail jobs, nursing home work, hiking, walking, outdoor activities-my life has been spent in physical activity and I loved it. Of course, many nights I came home with tired feet-what server hasn’t? But I put my feet up and gave myself a good foot massage and the next day I was ready for more.

Since I’ve been here at my friend’s, with my feet up, I’ve had ample time to research remedies for this awful condition. I have to get back to normal because I have to work. If I can’t walk, I can’t work. I’m trying to use my time productively and finish some writing projects, but the panic is steadily rising. I have to work. I’d love to find a work-at-home situation, and I’m working on that-but I’m running out of time to get better. I can’t ask my friend to let me live here indefinitely and living on my own means paying rent. So, I gotta work.

I used some of my dwindling finances to buy a pair of boots designed to treat Plantar Fasciitis. Ideally, you wear them to bed so your tendons and tissue stay flexible during the night.

When I came off the Trail I stayed in bed as much as possible, thinking if I could stay there long enough, sleeping and eating tissue-building food, I would return to normal. After 2 weeks, I was despairing of ever walking normally again. Then a friend who suffers from this condition gave me straight talk.

“If you ever plan to hike again, you’re going to have to spend the money on these boots. You’ll eventually be walking more or less OK in a few months but you probably don’t have that kind of time. Get these boots. They keep your feet stretched during the night and help your feet rebuild. I only use them occasionally now, but I couldn’t do the things I wanted without them.”

I got the boots a couple of days ago and I’m shocked at the difference. I have been wearing them during the day during these long hours when I’m reading, writing, and watching movies. I’m also taking s supplements for bone and tissue repair, extra protein, vegan style, and it’s all working. I still can’t be up more than a few hours before my feet start hurting-and once they start, I have to get off them. The boots are a huge help here, too. When I sit down, I put them on. Now, if I rest for a while in the boots, I can get back up relatively pain-free.

I feel so grateful that I have friends who are generous enough to help me. I also feel grateful that I am healthy enough to start with that this isn’t going to debilitate me for the rest of my life. I’m irritated with myself that I was ignorant about this condition, but nowhere in my reading about preparing for the hike did I see anything about this. Of course, I read articles about wearing good supports and good shoes. I’d been working all my life on my feet and thought I’d been doing that already. I worked to get my pack to no more than 25% of my body weight. I know now there are areas I should have researched more, and this is a valuable lesson that I hope will help others as well.

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After the Trail

3 weeks of pain, misery, and trudging long after I wanted to stop because I couldn’t find a place to stop has left me with tendon damage and relief that I finally made myself stop.

I listened to more than a few hikers talk about the incredible amounts of ibuprofen they took every day to keep getting their miles in. Hikers who talked of “open wounds on their heels that shot pain up their legs with every step,” who kept walking because they had to get so many miles in. Is it worth liver damage, blood that may or may not clot properly if they sustain an injury, just to get to Katahdin?

I felt shame, the inevitable sense of failure, until the day I actually stopped walking, standing on feet that could barely hold me up and said “I hate this!” Then, relief. I have lived for years with the sense of panic that I might not make the rent, that my car won’t get me to work and back, that I won’t sell the art I’ve put in shops, that something I do won’t work out as I hope. That same sense of constraint, of being in a type of prison, was with me every step of the trail. I couldn’t stop when I saw something beautiful (oh, I did, sometimes, but not with the usual feeling of awe and satisfaction) or even when I was tired and my feet hurt. I couldn’t tell how far I’d walked and even though I knew how far the next shelter was, I couldn’t tell how far I’d come, how far I had to go. I knew I needed to find a campsite before full dark, with a water source, and I went through long stretches where I couldn’t stop because of terrain. I was carrying about a quarter of my body weight so uphill was slow going. I met every step with a growing sense of panic. Where could I stop if I didn’t make it to the shelter? At the shelter were campsites, water, and the safety of people, even though I wasn’t interested in lots of interaction. The point is that I found every day meant nothing more than walking, constantly, for 10 hours to get to the next shelter.

I had trouble eating. Trail food was so far removed from what I normally ate that I really had trouble getting it down and keeping it there. When I’m really tired, and anxious, I can’t eat. If you walk with a pack on rough terrain, uphill and down for hours and hours, you use a lot of energy. I needed to eat and I couldn’t. That added to my panic, and of course, made eating even harder.

Many days I encountered no one until I got close to the shelter. That didn’t bother me, and it gave me hours and hours to think. I realized that my life on the trail was not so different from the life I’ve been leading for years. Getting from one rent day to the next was a lot like making it from one shelter to the next. Wishing I could stop and just look at the sky was a lot like wishing I could spend a day making art instead of going to a job that would leave me exhausted, physically and creatively. I had no more freedom on the trail than I did in real life. Less, in fact. In real life, I did find time to write, to make art, just not nearly enough. On the trail, I couldn’t draw, or write. The longer I went without doing those things that have always sustained me, the harder the days became. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how exhausted, because of the pain in my feet and my heart. I wanted to draw. I wanted to write. I wanted to read.

The trail taught me, in far less than 6 months, that I wanted to return to my life and refine it, enjoy it. I learned that freedom is a concept more than an actual environment, and we often make our own. When I go into the woods to get away from noise and work, I feel refreshed and grateful. I left the trail because I don’t want to spoil my relationship with the woods, with Nature. She doesn’t care, of course, but I do. I will still go hiking, backpacking, and spend the night out when I want to get my fill of stargazing and peace. But I’m not going to do more damage to my feet and ruin my love of the outdoors so I can say I hiked the AT.

I hiked the AT long enough to realize that I can find what I need here. I can’t speak for what other people find, or don’t find, on the AT. What I found is that I need to write, to make art, to eat fresh food and stop walking when I want to stop walking. I found that I want to get back to making my own life again, constraints and all.

I have art bouncing around in my head, stories weaving themselves in and out of random thoughts, and I can’t wait to get busy. My feet still can’t hold me up, but I can write. I can draw. As soon as I can walk, I’ll be back to work. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my life. I have a lot more appreciation for my humble building blocks.

Ready to go!

I am testing my equipment, hiking all day to see how much food and water I need, before I actually set out on the AT. It’s the smart thing to do. My entire body is straining with the need to GO. I can hardly keep food down.

My brother is driving me to Atlanta next weekend so I only have to endure one more week. A friend sent me a text to let me know about the wild weather on the AT right now (tornado watch??) so yes, I am doing the right thing by waiting one more week. It’s going to be one long, long week.

People around me are talking about the insane price of gas, elections, celebrity gossip (I will not use the word news), and myriad other topics, none of which matter to me. In fact, they don’t seem to matter at all. I understand a lot of this is because my head and heart are somewhere else. But the same old chatter that has seemed banal and pointless for so long has become like TV static, loud and irritating and..pointless. I want to be in the woods. I want to be in the woods!