Date: August 11, 2017
Miles: 23.5 miles (37.1km)
Health: New shoes have completely wrecked my feet. I can barely walk.
My plan for today is to set myself up for getting to the town of Etna by tomorrow. As Etna is roughly 66 miles (106km) away, I need to start early and hopefully do a 40-mile day today (64,3km). I'm also hoping to catch up to Sam as he’s probably not more than 5 miles away at this point.
Even with getting to camp late last night I manage to wake up early and get a 5.30am start. The views are ok but as the plan is to crush miles I don’t stop to take any photos.
By midday, I’m feeling great and already on a path to do 40 miles. The only issue is my feet which are feeling a little iffy due to the new shoes. The shoes had felt great the day before, and even most of the day yesterday, but last night the problems started.
The shoes have a stiff, shaped bottom, meaning there’s a sort of a plastic foot-shaped area where your feet are supposed to sit. As my feet swell during the long day, they don’t fit into the shape anymore and walking becomes painful while my feet distort into weird positions.
The second issue is that I’ve walked almost all of the way here with zero drop shoes, meaning the difference between the heal and the toe is zero (usually shoes have 10-12mm drop). The new shoes have a larger drop and this is causing my stride and hiking form to go all wrong. I notice this as it’s putting a lot of stress on muscles I don’t normally use.
I stop for a quick lunch after about 21 miles. After lunch, as I try to put my shoes back on, I simply can’t get them to fit. I force my feet in and try to start walking. This causes so much pain that I can barely take a step.
I sit back down and assess the situation. I have about 19 more miles to do today and can’t seem to take a single step. After some painkillers and trying to get the swelling on my feet to go down, I tie the shoes really loosely and try to keep pushing on.
As soon as I start walking the pain shoots up my legs and my feet are hurting really bad. I try to limp on and that helps for a while but after a little over half a mile, the pain becomes unbearable. I stop, sit down and get my feet up. I take more painkillers and after about fifteen minutes, try to push on. Managing to wobble only about a couple hundred feet I have to stop again.
I keep repeating this and at some point try to walk barefooted but the pain is too much. After about an hour of this and only managing to do less than a mile it’s becoming painfully clear I’m not doing 40 today. Heck, just getting off of this mountain is going to be doubtful.
Looking at the map there’s a road with a camping area coming up in about 1.7 miles (2.7km). I decide to try to get there and see what I can do.
It takes me almost three hours to cover that distance. The pain is so intense that every step hurts even with the painkillers. I finally limp on to the road and make my way to the campground where I find a couple of other PCT hikers I’ve never met before.
After talking with some of the hikers I hear that the road from here goes to Etna and that I could possibly get a ride early next morning. I could also stay here for the night, hope that sleep would heal my feet and try to push on. But doing that would mean I’d have to commit to the roughly 40 miles in the mountains with no way of bailing out if the pain doesn’t go away.
I decide that if I ever want to catch up to Sam, and not possibly wreck my feet in the process, my best option is to order new shoes and hitchhike to Etna. As there’s no cell service here, I should get to Etna as soon as possible so that I can order the shoes and hopefully have them delivered in a few days.
I shoulder my pack and limp back on the road hoping to get lucky with a hitch. After about an hour and no cars coming either way, it’s not looking good. A couple who's leaving tomorrow offers me a ride with them in the morning. They also offer me a bag of chips for tonight. I hesitantly accept the chips as I’m still hoping to get a ride to town and feel like the other hikers might benefit more from the salty snack.
Just as it’s getting dark and I’m about to give up, a car drives up to drop someone off. I walk over and ask if they’re possibly heading back tonight and where they’re going. They tell me they’re going back to Etna and tell me to hop on. I ask them to wait for a second while I go give the bag of chips to the other PCT hikers.
As soon as I get in the nice couple offer me a leftover pizza AND an ice cold beer. While we’re driving down from the mountain, I eat the pizza and enjoy a nice conversation with the couple. They tell me their son is a firefighter and currently putting out some of the fires close by. We can see the flames up in the mountains as we’re driving in the dark.
When we arrive in Etna, it’s pitch black and the couple drops me off at the park where PCT hikers can camp for a small donation. I thank them for their kindness and they give me one more ice cold beer for the night.
After leaving five dollars in the donation box I take out my headlight and try to find a spot to camp for the night. Once settled, I open the beer and order new shoes from Amazon. Even with Prime, it’s going to take a couple of days for the shoes to arrive. That should be fine as it’s going to take a day or two for Sam to get here anyway.
While it sucks I had to skip almost 40 miles, I think in the bigger picture getting new shoes and resting my feet, is a better option than to try to force it and possibly run out of food while injured up in the mountains. With wildfires blazing close by.
In hindsight, I should’ve gone with the Superiors in Shasta.