Happy Feet, Happy Hiker

Long-distance hikers utterly depend on functional feet that can take a beating and keep on walking. The photograph shows me doctoring an infected blister on the outside of my left heel on the Colorado Trail in 2009. You can see the outlines of strips of duct tape that I wrapped around my heels. I learned on that trip that I need bigger shoes with a wider toe box. Now I wear longer (11.5) and for me, more importantly, extra-wide (4E) shoes.

Over the past few days, I’ve experienced ominous transient pains in both my right and left feet. I’ve had similar pains during all my previous long-distance hikes. When these pains started, I slowed my walking pace and, without exception, the pains subsided and disappeared in ten minutes or less. But not this time. I have no idea what precipitated the current pains. Maybe I’ve been carrying too much weight (29 pounds) on my 4-mile, every other day training hikes. Maybe changing out my Merrill Moab Ventillator hiking shoes for my New Balance 1340V2 running shoes upset my feet. Maybe it’s the orthotic that I’ve started wearing.

I’ve made a concerted effort to divert my thoughts from my hurting feet and the possibility that my AT hike may implode. I focus on what I can do to bring my feet back to their previously happy condition.

I’ve made a concerted effort to divert my thoughts from my hurting feet and the possibility that my AT hike may implode. I focus on what I can do to bring my feet back to their previously happy condition.  Soaking my right foot (the more painful of the two) in an ice bath followed by a hot bath every evening seems to help. Walking with less weight (19 compared to 29 pounds) in my pack. Walking more slowly. Paying more attention to how my feet feel. Maybe taking ibuprofen. Before my first ice bath, I noticed that my right instep was slightly swollen. After the ice bath, the swelling vanished. Maybe I sustained soft tissue damage.

My left big toe tingled and hurt a little during my most recent 4-mile walk, but my toe sensation feels like a neuroma. Several years ago, a podiatrist diagnosed a neuroma as the cause of numbness and tingling that affects toes number three and four on my left foot. Has that neuroma gone into remission only to be replaced by a new one? That evening, my right foot hurt a little for a few minutes then the pain disappeared. My feet seem to be better today than they have been recently. Right now, manipulating either of my feet produces no pain.

I’ll see the podiatrist Monday. I expect she’ll be unable to find anything wrong with either foot. Most likely, I have some sort of minor soft tissue damage. I’m optimistic that whatever I have will resolve itself over the next week.

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