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 began to heal......
The next day was just as painful if not more than when getting to camp that previous night. We duct-taped our feet with an entire half a roll, a more duct tape than foot ratio, knowing it would create more pain in the future when removing it, but we just needed to limp into town, we would figure it out from there. That brought us into the town of Hot Springs, only about 250ish miles into trail. We had planned on taking a Nero and a Zero to rest, our entire trail family was tired. It would be a perfect time to heal the feet as best we could. Epson Salts, rest, limping to diners for food, was the remedy. While not fully healed they would get us to the next town at least, and from there, well just keep heading North and something will happen.
So, the boots shredded our feet and instead of getting new shoes in Hot Springs, what did we do? Well, we thought we needed to continue until the boots told us they could go no further, not the other way around. We hiked out. Finally, the boots had one to many holes, the bottom flap was undone and would catch with every step, and they were broken. Not to mention our feet. So, finally we replaced them in the town of Damascus, Virginia, about 450-500 miles into the trail.
There had been so much experienced in those 500 miles that we were nostalgic when replacing the boots. Not only had we hiked this far already, we were beginning to take shape into thru-hiker form. We had lost toenails, popped blisters, experienced the Smokies, laughed around campfires, drank terrible water, saw the sunrise on the highest point on the AT (Clingman's Dome) hiking in the dark at 4 A.M. to reach it, had our first AYCE buffet of trail back in North Carolina, washed dirt away from our bodies as they began to tighten from the miles in town, we had experienced so much of what it meant to be out on trail. Our shoes even though they had broken us at points, had brought us this far. They were with us the entire journey. So much had happened and so much was going to happen with more than 1,700+ miles left that it felt wrong to just throw them away. Even though we limped, cried, and chewed on pain as a daily meal because of these boots, they were a part of our transformation. Thus, we carried them attached on the outside of our pack for a few more hundred miles.....
We couldn't find a picture of this, (there has to be one out there, so if you have one please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org). So instead enjoy a picture of Reese Witherspoon from the movie Wild throwing her boot off a mountain. We know how much everyone in the hiking community loves this movie, so here you go! You're Welcome!
The exact number of miles that we carried them for has been lost to time, but we know it was at least 2-3 resupply points, which would in turn be somewhere in the realm of 120-200 miles. We just could not find it within ourselves to throw them away or even send them home. Yet, somewhere within that 200~ miles we continued to grow as a hiker, and the weight of them while mentally was freeing, was physically taking a toll on us. We had to say goodbye, and we did in a small undescriptive town that we can not even recall the name. A fitting retirement of the boots, because as we have continued to grow as a hiker we have realized that there are so many small towns, that the name does not hold importance, only the emotions and memories around it. We remember as we packed them up to be shipped out, that it felt like we were letting go of a piece of ourselves. It sounds corny, but it honestly felt this way. We wanted them to get all the way to Katahdin with us, but came to realize to get to Katahdin they would need to be left behind in physical form. They would be carried and honored with us instead by letting them take a well deserved rest, while we pushed on and would complete this trail with them in our hearts.
So, back to answering Erin's question. What did the boots mean to you?
This is still a hard question to answer to us. Part of it is because honestly we were a little scared and worried when we set out on the Appalachian Trail that our body would not hold up for the miles to come. Our mind was sharp and strong, but due to an old ice hockey injury our body was prone to intense bouts of defiance. There were moments on section hikes leading to our thru-hike that our old knee injury would flare up and would lock our leg into a stiff unbendable rod of iron, that would refuse to go one more step. This turned 10 miles left on sections before the thru-hike, sometimes into full days of hiking as we had to swing and swivel our ramrod straight leg around ascents and descents because it purely would not bend. So, when we finally hiked far enough and hard enough without this injury arriving to the point that the boots began to disintegrate, it meant that our body had not. The fact that the trail had thrown so much already at us, and our body met the challenges head on without falling apart, meant the world to us. It proved to us that the gear (our boots) would fall apart before we would. It showed us a strength that we knew was there, but was affirmed with a steel certainty. With the falling apart of our boots and not our body, we knew we could go on.
We will choose being an "adult" outside of societies definition every time. One that still laughs, one that still see joy in every day, one that holds onto the child-like happiness of each day as the gift it truly is.
They meant so much, they were not just a pair of boots in our mind. They were an embodiment of what it meant to be a thru hiker, and embodiment of the pain but also happiness we had experienced on trail, an embodiment of who we were becoming. Looking back the person that wore those boots, to the person we are today, are very different people. The person that wore those boots was one that would be content with a cookie-cutter life, someone that was okay with the status-quo, someone that just wanted an adventure before becoming what society defined as an "adult." The person that has grown after leaving those boots, is someone that not only wants but needs this lifestyle of freedom mentally and physically that the trail provides, that found a community of weirdos that love this life and are genuinely happy, that found to be an "adult" is the inner-strength of what you hold within yourself, not the way society defines it.
Those boots were the prelude to so much. They quite literally took the steps for us to get where we are today. They figuratively were part of much larger steps than just the 450-500 miles that they lasted. They were part of the steps that led us to our summit of Katahdin, they were part of the steps of the PCT, CDT, OCT, PT, PNT, IAT, AZT, NTNST, GDT, VIT, and the Sea to Sky. They were part of the steps of meeting a partner that loves this life as much as we do. They were part of the steps that brought us to this opportunity of creating a company that provides the community that we love with quality gear that will outlast the test of time. They brought us to become ElevenSkys in everything that encompasses. The values that continue to push us to be better not only as individuals in our everyday lives but as a company in how we respect this world and all that is holds.
These boots will continue to be parts of our steps moving forward as well. They will be with us as we continue to find new trails, push harder miles, test our limits of physical and mental endurance. They will take the steps with us as we continue to triumph and fail throughout this life as an "adult." They will be with us in each step as we continue to always learn more of the people that make up this wonderful community and about the "boots they carry" on their journey through life. They will be with us as ElevenSkys will always continue to take steps to bring you the best quality gear available.
Steps on and off trail that promote growth!
So, back to Erin's question, how did it feel when you sent them home? Well.... I do not think we ever did send them home, they are a part of our journey and will always remain a part of who we are.
What are the "boots you carry" through your life? What do they mean to you? What steps have they been a part of and what steps do they continue to shape? The initial physical boot-print in the dirt may be gone, but the boot-print upon who and what we are remain.
Let us know the "boots you carry!"