Transported back to medieval times, the crude and brutal methods of torture used to illicit answers is used upon us. Each step our own personal goaler, twists the screws deeper into our soul figuratively and our souls, literally. They have developed a type of contraption that only the most sick and twisted minds could ever conceive. What answers they seek, we just do not know, but we scream at the top of our lungs anyway, looking for any reprieve any relief. Yet, every answer is the wrong one, and we become certain that there is no right answer at all, just the sick pleasure the torture chambers provide our goaler. We must persist, to succumb to the pain, would mean to succumb to madness and insanity within, so we must hold onto the pain, let it transcend through us, and continue our journey forward in the contraption that we have come to know as, "Foot Torture Chambers."
A serene place that holds so much peace...
Can also hold levels of turmoil and pain if we but look below the surface.
Yes, we refer to our shoes. Yes, we refer to having purchased at least two sizes too small of trail runners. Yes, we refused to try and alleviate this problem and instead stubbornly pressed ahead. Yes, we were the goaler of our own pain dungeon. Yes, we also held the key to release. Yet, only through pain would we come to know we had the strength and fortitude for change in ourselves all along, we held the key, we just had to use it.
There is little else more painful on a thru-hike then when your feet have problems. Literally the activity that you are doing requires constant movement, constant footsteps, constant travel where your feet become the vehicle. There are many types of foot pain associated with long distance hiking. The classic soreness of long mile days and repetitive impact upon the ground. A tweaked ankle from landing crooked upon a rock or a twig. Blisters, cuts, broken skin that has no time to heal. In extreme cases a broken foot. Yet, most if not all of these types of foot pain, are "common" or more so accurately stated unavoidable for the most part. You will experience soreness along a hike, you probably will experience a slightly rolled ankle or two, you will experience blisters, cuts and scrapes, in extreme cases you may even experience a broken bone, this just comes with the territory when you chose to walk thousands of miles. However, you do have the power to alleviate or mitigate many of these foot issues, if you but chose to take care of your feet as properly as you can. We did not.
Let us bring you back, back to Ohio on the North Country Trail, back to the dog days of summer, back to our own internal making of medieval times. Our shoes were trashed, they had 1,000+ miles upon them, and it was time for a new pair. Common on a hike of long distance, so we ran into the gear shop giddy with excitement. As we scanned their in stock items, our heart sank as our go to favorite shoe was sold out. Over the course of a few years we had experienced tens of thousands of miles in this shoe. We knew our footfall in this shoe as intimately as we did our own body, at a certain point it became just an extension of ourselves. So, to say we were bummed is putting it lightly. Yet, there was an "alternate" shoe that had many of the same features and design as our previous pair, made by the same company. It promised new soles, promised unbroken laces, promised a pep in our step. Not to mention it was on sale, so the decision was no longer ours, it was made for us, we bought the shoes.
A rare photo that pictures said "torture chambers"
Yes, we had the same thought.
Those statues metal shoes would have been preferable and way more comfortable to wear.
Ahead of us lay countless miles, millions of steps, as we began our first step in our fresh shoes we noticed a tightness envelop our feet. Chalking it up to new shoes that needed to break in, we tried to ignore it. 10 miles went by, 20 miles, and as the day neared the end with 30 miles, the pain had not subsided. In fact the pain had greatly amplified. As we would watch our feet strike the ground in front we would hold out hope that the next step would be painless. Whether that painless feeling came about from lack of blood flow and numbness, or the shoe expanding, we could have cared less, we just needed to escape the pain. When we finally called camp that first day, breaking the seal of our torture chambers of shoes, had us on the verge of joyful tears. The pain had stopped, if but for a moment. The future lay ahead with more pain, more torture, but for now we could rest.
The next day as we awoke, we looked upon the shoes outside our camp with much distaste, weariness, and even emotions bordering on hate. Yet, we had no other choice. We must once again become the goaler of our own destiny, of our new day of torture. As we molded the torture devices to our feet, the throbbing pain once again began. We were once again transported back to medieval methods of extracting information. What information they were seeking, we still do not know, but we gladly offered up our Snickers Bars locations as tribute, told them of the best water source, and even offered the location of our secret reserve of Reese's Pieces candy. Yet, not even our most closely guarded secrets could appease the shoes, their only mission it seemed was to inflict more pain. Inflicting pain is exactly what they did.
If that face doesn't represent sanity lost...
Our second day in these shoes was terrible. Our partner would widen the distance as we hobbled and limped with each step. Literally every footstep was encased in discomfort, pain, and squeezing as our feet continued on a rollercoaster of pain. When you begin to experience pain as a constant, never outside of its grasp, your mind finds a sick acceptance within it. To hold hope that the pain will end only amplifies and extends the torture of the body and mind, instead losing yourself fully within its clutches is the only way to hold onto the fractional piece of sanity you still have. We accepted our fate, we embraced the pain, we knew we were no longer the master of our own destiny, we were now in a prison of our own making with which there was no escape.
This cycle of stubbornness and thought would go on for a few more days, a few more eternities. Then as if some entity had heard our internal screams and prayers, our knight in shining armor arrived, or more accurately our knight draped in the stench of day old sweaty clothes arrived. They were almost too beautiful to behold with our painfully squinted eyes and definitely too smelly to breathe in the air around them without risk of suffocation . Our partner out of frustration for our slow pace had run ahead to a shoe store to get the last size of our old shoes. They arrived with box in hand and bestowed upon us the key to our prison. All at once our repressed feelings of hope burst forth as our hands shook to unlock our shackles of torture. Many teachings speak of a form of enlightenment and in this moment we believed them all. We had found peace.
All heavy metaphors aside, we hiked 100+ miles in shoes that were literally 2 sizes too small. We wear usually anywhere from a 10-10 1/2 size shoe when on trail, sometimes even with swelling of the feet a size 11. This time we wore a size 8 shoe, purely because we had no better options, or so we had believed. The better option would have been to continue to use our 1,000+ mile trashed shoes, honestly flip flops of shoes would have been better than the pain we endured with the constriction on our feet. Not only was the size drastically smaller than we should have used, but also the formation of the shoe was way narrower than our standard shoe. A perfect storm to create a torture chamber of pain upon our feet.
It even hurts us to picture the moment we changed our fate, created our prison!
What can we say we learned through our enlightenment born through pain? Well, first off NEVER buy shoes that are too small when on a thru-hike, if anything always always go bigger. Second, even though we joked many times that we were "stuck" within a prison of our own making, we had honestly resigned ourselves to suffering for another 1,000~ miles or until the shoes needed replacing from being worn down. This was incredibly stubborn, yes we are incredibly stubborn people. Do not let your own stubbornness and foolishness blind you to choices that can be made in the moment when out hiking that can drastically change your experience. This may sound like common sense and it is, yet when you find yourself in the moment, inside of a trail, it is amazing the acceptance your mind will find, even though there are always other options, be aware. This applies to not only shoes but decisions of all types while out hiking. Last but not least, take care of your feet. Again something that sounds like common sense, but we have seen to many people, heard to many stories, and experienced to many personal situations where this piece of wisdom was lacking. The feet are what carry you through the miles, through the trail, take care of them and they will take care of you. Put them in tiny little torture chambers of medieval pain and suffer the consequences physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our feet have healed now, our soul... well our soul may still be lost. Take care of your feet.
With Phantom Pain,
P:S: You want to know the sickest part? We still have the shoes!
Our "knight in smelly armor" would not let us burn them, instead citing possibilities of use for other activities.
If this is not an example and more importantly a warning of how sick and twisted the pain can corrupt a once sane mind...take heed.