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The Boots We All Carry

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone! It is Monday, and as we like to do on Mondays we will give you a little laugh along with a little deep introspection on a story to help the Monday Blues slide on by. This story comes to us from a recent interview we did on The Hiking-Thru Podcast hosted by Erin. The podcast will be available to listen on Wednesday, (October 14th) on any of the platforms that you use to listen to podcasts.


I will also include a link here: https://www.hiking-thru.com/episodes


This link will bring you to the webpage, where you can look around and listen to our founder talk about the trails he has done, the journey to get to where we are today with ElevenSkys, and some trials and tribulations along the way that made us laugh. We are Episode 93 of this wonderful podcast. Erin asked the really hard questions of our founder, like the question of, "What was so important about those boots, and why did you carry them for so long?!"

 

Episode 93, with Constantine and the growth on trail with the love and loss of a pair of boots.

 

Our initial response was one of puzzlement. We had completely forgotten about this experience until Erin, brought us down this train of thought. We had forgotten because it was an integral part of who we were, it is like the tree that you see everyday on the way to work, it is always a part of your day but at times you may not even notice it. As we fumbled and chewed through the meaning behind this question, we responded with they had meant something to us. That was not enough for Erin, she wanted more! Okay, then let's really get into it than shall we.


The Appalachian Trail, which was our first thru-hike in 2016, like anyone's first thru-hike has many firsts, many mistakes, many learning curves on how to thru-hike comfortably in the style you prefer. We are not ashamed to admit we had many STEEP learning curves. There were times we packed out (2) sleeping bags because we had forgot to send the old one home in the previous town, times where we packed out a FULL bottle of ranch because hey, what happens on trail when you need absurd amounts of ranch, we wanted to be safe. Ranch Safety is a must in the backcountry we thought. There were times that we may have packed out 2+ LBS of carrots in one resupply, well this was a necessary weight efficient snack and you had to use the ranch for something right?? We bought Approach shoes (approach shoes are climbers shoes for getting to the rock wall to climb, their tread and shape is completely different than trail runners) and used them for 1,500+ miles. By the time we finished, the trail the shoes were more trail than shoe. Only held together by its sheer will and one lace. There were holes on the bottom, holes on the sides, and the top had completely disintegrated, not holes but instead just one gaping open face of one lace apiece. Literally putting the shoes on in the morning was more so of a ritual than actually preparation for a hike, they accomplished very little in protecting the feet from the trail, yet we pushed on and finished in them, because that is what we thought made a thru-hiker, pure will. So suffice it to say, we learned a lot on that trail and we made many mistakes, which leads us into the Boots!

 

Sadly, we do not have a picture of this ridiculous endeavor in the wild, so instead here is a bottle of ranch to show you for reference, just how much we had to learn... Yes it is quite big and bulky isn't it....

 

We started off our thru-hike in these old Salomon ankle high boots. Boots that were great for backcountry travel when doing 5 miles a day, not 20+ like you do on a thru-hike. Boots that were great for yard work and great for exploring deep brush in the South, but once again terrible for a thru-hike. We found this out quickly on our first few days on trail. They shredded our feet! Blisters and hot-spots became the norm! Yet, we did not know any other way to continue, than to continue with what we had. So, we pushed through the pain, pushed through the ankle weights that were our shoes, and continued hiking.


There is one particular instance that sticks out in our mind to this day. We were coming into the town of Hot Springs, NC. Our trail family wanted to push some big miles to set ourselves up for a Nero into town the next day. We had "comfortably" been doing 15-20s for a while and today would be one of our first mid to high 20 mile day. I believe it turned into a 27-28 mile day. Our muscles at this point were there for thru hiking, our mind was sufficiently settled into this lifestyle, but our feet were in a different world. A world of pain, torment, and protest. As we got deeper into this day, we began to notice a growing pain on the bottoms of our feet. We had dealt with FireFoot previously to this day (there are many different versions of FireFoot whether that is feeling like your foot is heating up, your foot swelling from the consistent pounding, or our personal favorite and the one we experienced the most, the one where each step felt as if our bones were crunching directly into the Earth). Yet, this FireFoot was a new experience for us, it was something different. It started off with a slow burn and continued to grow into an inferno throughout the day. Our trail family began talking about just pushing into Hot Springs that night as we crept above 20 miles for the day. We looked at our maps and saw a shelter in 7-8 miles and that was still a reach for us. Every step was agony, the feet had transformed themselves into a raging fire. Each step felt as if a very skilled carpenter was using high-grit sand paper to polish our feet. Each step brought a new wave of pain that washed over our body and mind completely. There was no room for thought only room for finding the strength for the next step. We remember one of our friends waiting for us on one of the climbs before the shelter, concerned with our pace, because usually we were the jolly and joyful hiker bouncing out in front on the trail, but today we lagged. I want to give a huge shout out to Tortugga, because he stayed with us the next 4-5 miles to reach the shelter, continuously trying to bring us outside of the pain with humor and conversation. Honestly, I believe we blacked out to the pain, because trying to remember what happened in that span to the shelter is quite foggy. Yet, we reached the shelter and slumped down into a crumpled ball of pain and relief that hiking was done for the day.

 

Tortugga is the legend with his arms in the air, we are the noob with the hot sauce on our trekking poles..... yea still a lot to learn... but hot sauce was never a mistake!

 

It was time to take toll of the damage done to the feet. We knew it was bad, we had never experienced pain that was so consistent and only continued to escalate with each step. We had dealt with the aches and acclimations associated with a body getting used to a thru-hike, but nothing close to this scale of discomfort. Even taking off our boots, took us 10 minutes, it felt as if we were continuing to flay the skin from our feet. Which as our feet became free from the boot was in fact exactly what we had been doing all day. The entire bottoms of our feet were bloody and raw. Extra skin and flakes snowed down out of our socks, as like a band-aid we ripped the last layer away. Our feet were a mess. Not just one hot spot, or a few blisters, but instead the entire bottoms of both of our feet had been completely transformed into meat that had been chewed, grinded, processed, and spit back out. We looked upon our feet and questioned if we could even make it into Hot Springs tomorrow, well we would have to wouldn't we?

 

Pictures of the feet as they bega