Walking with a pack for days on end takes a bit of getting used to. Enter: the growing pains of starting an AT thru-hike. (Disclaimer: We are not currently hiking, but still writing while we wait for Lindsay to heal up. Read more about it by clicking here.)
The first day of walking, which was the approach trail to Springer Mountain, I felt great. I’ve hiked with a heavy pack before so my body was pretty comfortable with the 48lbs on my back for the 4 hours it took us to get to the shelter that night. The comfort was very short lived, however, as the next day my first blisters formed. In our haste to get ready for our summer-long hike, the one thing I did not do was wear my hiking shoes extra to get my feet reacquainted with them. So instead this process happened on the AT as our last back country hike was the previous summer. In the subsequent few days the blisters grew and new ones formed, which in addition to the the acclimatization of extra weight on my feet made the soles of my feet extra sensitive. By Day 4 every step hurt. Between the pins and needles from the pressure and the seven sensitive blisters, every step hurt. The last 1/3 of our day was spent balancing breaks to raise my feet long enough so I could keep walking, and walking long enough so we’d eventually get to camp.
Day 7 was a glorious day for my feet, our first Town Day and Zero Day. This was the first full 24 hour period without a pack on my back and hiking shoes on my feet. The rest was needed. My feet healed just enough so that when we started back on the trail my blisters stopped filling and I went a whole half day without pins and needles.
Through all of this, my muscles were okay with the stress. They got tired from hours of walking, but in my former life I was a strength athlete so the relatively very little weight on my back and moving around with this weight was no problem. I’m also comfortable being in the woods for days, so the lack of a daily shower, not wearing makeup, and wearing the same stinky shirt day after day was also just fine with me. Let me be clear that we are sticklers on “woods hygiene”, but that’s a post of its own.
It took about the first two weeks for most of the pressure pain to go away and for me to learn how to manage what remained. Every night I now sleep with my feet elevated on my pack (which magically still works even though I’m predominantly a side sleeper), every sit-down break I rest my feet on my pack. The blisters had to heal on their own and the skin toughen up; they’re still healing but haven’t hurt since about Day 10.
The last of my growing pains, which I’m sure most people won’t admit to; was mentally pushing on when I didn’t want to go any further because of the physical pain. I had a mentally tough day. I knew how far we had planned to walk that day, but about 4 miles (at that point about 2 hours) shy of our campground I was done. I wanted to sit to rest my feet for 15 minutes every 15 minutes. It would have taken us 4 hours to get to camp and a bad water source left us rationing our water…we didn’t have water for 4 hours. We wouldn’t have died, but we’d have been pretty uncomfortable. So reluctantly, with Clay’s encouragement I pushed on. Everything seemed to hit a low point all at once, and I really had to reevaluate if this was where I wanted to be: out on the trail day after day when it seemed like the pain in my feet would never go away. Could I push on through this discomfort? When would it end? What’s the point in walking this trail that goes up just to go back down with seemingly no destination? We hadn’t been rained on yet but how crappy was that going to be? Did I WANT to be here? Two hours, even uncomfortable hours, gives a person a lot of time to think.
I needed this low point to reaffirm that yes, I want to be out here for all of the good and the bad and the comfortable and the uncomfortable. I guess I’m in it for the long haul. This is the only time I was truly uncertain, but it happened.