Cuts, scrapes, contusions, broken bones, eyes almost being poked out by branches, the list goes on and on. A thru-hike is a wonderful experience, but even in all its beauty, your body will come away different than when it started. A spider bite on our inner thighs that started to eat away a crater into our skin, the vege-mat-ic slicing and dicing any of our exposed skin, frost-nip on our toes that has changed how our feet respond to cold permanently. Broken toes, broken fingers, scars that we see upon our body that while not being 100% sure how they got there, know without a doubt the trail provided us with this new body bling. You may come away lucky, and have few scars, or you may come away lucky by having many small scars that each tell a story. Yet, no matter how many, no matter how small or big, no matter how unique, there will be a permanent scar that you can not avoid. If you chose this life, and chose to do this year after year, your body will tell the story. Every hiker will have this same scar, in the same spot, the only difference is the varying degree to which it is there. Our permanent scar is now part of us, we can not remember a time that the discoloration was not there, we are talking about hip chafe!
Frozen eyelids are just a plus, look into the eyes and see the layers of permanent scars.
Granted hip chafe can be mitigated with a properly fitted pack, and can be mitigated with how hard you push yourself on trail, but no matter what it is still a constant. We no longer feel it as extremely as we used to due to the skin becoming almost purely scar tissue and burning away any nerve endings, but it is still there to welcome us every time we remove our shirt. Brown and silver, bruised, shining the only way a scar can, it reminds us of what we had to go through, to get where we are today, and continues to be a part of our story, as it will be a part of yours. Let us bring you on a journey of the progression of our hips, from being unblemished as a freshly born calf to the discoloration and tapestry of scars that we now know them as.
When we started thru-hiking back in 2016, our pack was a behemoth. We did not know the proper gear, proper care, our how to hike smart. Instead we used our stubbornness to prevail, (we still utilize it quite frequently in fact) but now we know how to hike smarter not harder through pain. So, as our newborn calf like skin on our hips began to take upon the burden of a heavy pack, the chafing began. It was a warm embrace at first, just reminding us that we were hiking day after day. Soon, it would turn into an inferno. There were many days on that trail that when we arrived in camp, we would literally peel our hip belt away from us. As we shed our sweat soaked shirt off our bodies, skin would slough off in layers as well. Each side of our hips was the type of color red, that can only be represented when your skin has been sanded down step after step for hours. It was neither a pleasant sight nor a pleasant feeling. In fact it was immensely painful. When we would try to sleep at night we would toss and turn trying to avoid pressure on our hips, and every time we made the mistake of landing on them, being rewarded with searing pain, as if we were that newborn calf branded, but instead of one brand, a continuous branding over and over again. This would continue in varying degrees of pain until our first thru-hike was done.
Some days it may be 400 grit sandpaper which is pleasant, then some days it may be 60 grit which is quite painful! Pick your sand paper and get your hips ready!
Once we finished our first thru-hike our hips greeted us with their new evolved form. They were no longer unblemished, no longer innocent, they had been rubbed raw day after day and protested their distaste to us in the form of a hue of colors. Yet, the pain was gone, we were no longer thru-hiking, or so we thought.... Little did we know that our hips were in for another trial by chafe fire on the PCT. We believed we had conquered this, we believed we had moved past this level of hiking, but we were incredibly ignorant, and our hips would pay the price.
Onto the PCT in 2017, where we were met with the desert to begin. The classic soreness that meets you at the start of any thru-hike was prevalent, but we had expected this, welcomed it, reveled in it, we were back on trail, we could not be happier. Yet, unfortunately we could not outrun or outpace time, (if you figure out how to do this please let us know how!) and with time on trail came the slow burn again that would increase into an inferno. Our hips still had their discoloration but had not yet reached the leather-hide like quality that they now are, and the hip belt began its slow journey deeper and deeper into our skin again. First it stripped away all of the previous scar tissue we had accumulated, this was the least painful step. The next step, is when the true test would arise again. It began to eat into our fresh nerves now, and found new pain sensors to activate. Layer after layer, deeper and deeper, into our hips, until we believed it should have reached bone by now! Again the pain became a part of us, expected with each step, each time tossing and turning at night, and our stubbornness again prevailed, but our hips had now reached a point of no return. They were no longer the hips of a new hiker on the AT, and were no longer the hips of a "seasoned" hiker that completed the AT. They were now in a class all of their own, they were now thru-hiker hips that had won their scars through blood, sweat, and yes many tears from us.
Well... we also have to add layers of our hips, but Winston Churchill got everything else right!
Our next hike in 2018 brought us onto the CDT. Here we would test our hard won hips, and test them we did. Through extreme heat waves, through snow fields as far as the eye could see, and through high mile days every day, we tested them. They would still every so often protest when our hip belt would find a layer of skin not previously worn down, but for the most part the nerve ends were now frayed, filed down mile after mile, until they were no longer there. This brought us into 2019 and 2020, with a confidence that our hips had reached a new threshold, a threshold outside of pain. The only pain now that we had to contend with was the 1,000 other types of pain accumulated on a thru-hike.
Hip chafe is a thru-hikers companion. Especially when starting out, it will be your companion, your neighbor, your partner, and your most intimate friend. You will share all of yourself with hip chafe to the point that it will begin reshaping you. Layer after layer of your former hips will be stripped and flayed away, until you no longer recognize the skin that looks back at you. This is not a bad thing, it is a painful experience, but it is slowly shaping your body to handle tougher miles and tougher trails. Eventually, the pain will subside, it may take years, but no longer will it be an inferno of pain, but instead a new type of companion, a new neighbor, a new partner, and new intimate friend on your hikes. One that pushes you instead of impedes you, and one that you begin to smile with when thinking of the journey you went through together to get there.
Even as we are off trail right now, our hips remain colored and tough. When we run our hand over these scars, the skin has a drastically different consistency then that of other places on our body. It is not one layer of scar tissue, but instead layers upon layers upon layers, that were broken down and reformed year after year. We honestly do not believe there are any nerve endings left in our hips. When we push the skin and take in the discoloration all we see are scars and stories. We do not feel the texture of our finger against our skin, we know it is there, and we can feel pressure, but outside of that our hips no longer register texture. We now look upon our hips as if we are looking upon rings of a tree. You can see the deep hued red that used to be painfully bright from the AT, you can see the dust brown discoloration from the PCT, you can see the tough as dried leather skin from the CDT, you can see the rock-cut skin of the PNT, you can see the 40 mile days of the IAT, you can see the canyons of the AZT, you can see the Pain Well of the NTNST, you can see the hypothermia of the GDT, you can see the bushwhacks of the VIT, you can see every story, every trail, every year.
Just like the rings of the trees say, first year of growth may be the smallest ring but most painful, and then the scars begin to form! Rainy season, dry season, forest fires, all will add layers to your hips!
Yes we have many other scars upon our bodies and heart both from trail and from off trail, yet the rings of our hips are the most visible. They tell a story, of consistent pain, they tell a story of stubbornness, and they tell a story of perseverance. Yet, now they also tell a story of well earned freedom from pain. We have harnessed and earned our heart animal, the cow, and our hips now mimic tough leather. When we say much of us had to be stripped away to get to the point we are today, we mean that quite literally, strips upon strips of our hips have re-nourished many a trail system. They are now a part of our collection of permanent scars, yet they are a special type of permanent scar. Not one that remains stagnant. A type of scar that will continue to change, continue to re-form, and continue to grow with us trail after trail and year after year. We no longer fear adding rings to this tree, but look forward to it. What rings will we add in 2021?!
With permanent scars and growing stories,