Over my Appalachian Trail hike last year and the PCT this year, I was fortunate never to have to leave the trail for injury or illness. Sadly my fortune ran out a few days ago. That morning, I felt a little twinge in my left ankle but chalked it up to the aches and pains that invariably accompany a thru-hike.
When I stopped for lunch and peeled off my sock, I was alarmed to see a large blister had formed on my Achilles tendon. I popped it immediately, washed it with soap and water, and applied antibiotic ointment. Then I smothered it with Leukotape, a hiker favorite that will stick to practically anything and remain stuck through a nuclear winter. Still, a sharp pain rose through my leg every time I pushed off my left foot in the afternoon.
Hiking with pain is a cruel inversion of hiking without it. Suddenly your perception narrows and you can think of nothing besides how the pain feels and what you can do to avoid it. Beautiful scenery goes by unappreciated or even unnoticed. I soldiered on for a bit then decided to doff my hiking shoes and don my heelless clogs. That relieved the discomfort and I continued, ungainly, to the next trailhead. There I hitched a ride to a hostel where I could finally remove the Leukotape and inspect the damage.
The hostel owner and resident hikers conferenced around my heel and decided that I should clean and disinfect the blister then let it air out and callus over for a few days. The hostel owner graciously offered to let me work for room and board, so I have been making beds and cleaning bathrooms since!
My little injury has given me greater compassion for those who hike through the pain. It has also reminded me of a central hiking dictum – flexibility is essential. The trail may chew and spit out your best-laid plans. Should that happen, you must not dwell on the disruption but instead reassess and make new plans. And that applies not just to hiking but life generally, I’d say.
While I nurse my blister and ruminate on the philosophy of hiking I cannot help but spare a thought for all the Zimbabweans who are battling with their day to day survival. With medicines hard to get and without money to buy them, a small injury or illness could very easily become overwhelming and my little setback comes into perspective.
Please find it in your heart to donate whatever you can to ZANE so that the important work of helping the most vulnerable Zimbabweans can be sustained.
Please make a donation if you can on my GoFundMe page.
Please visit Mike’s GoFundMe page and donate!
If you are following Mike’s tales of endurance on the Pacific Crest Trail with interest please consider donating through his GoFundMe page or directly to ZANE Australia or ZANE UK to support this work – often intervention by ZANE is all that stands between life and death for these vulnerable elderly people struggling to survive the power cuts, fuel shortages and the spiralling costs of food and medicine.