A Life You Love Beside You

Rod and I seem to be walking two different caminos. Mine is pleasantly challenging and filled with firsts and discovery, while Rod’s is painful and exhausting. So, how did I get so lucky and how did Rod get on the struggle bus? Shoes.

As every through-hiker and long-distance walker knows, shoe choice is tantamount to foot health and foot health is everything. We live on our feet, and our ability to continue our journey is dependent on them. My trail shoe of choice is the Oboz Sawtooth Low Original, size 8.5. It’s a full size up from my casual city shoes, which allows room for swelling and accommodates ascent and descent without toe impact. I wear them with 1/4 height Wright socks. I remember and guard this information like life itself. I recite it like the poetry it is; it keeps my feet happy.

Rod also wears the Oboz Sawtooth Low, though he has struggled with sock choice and bruising on his littlest toes. Historically, he wore a size 13 wide. For this trip, he made a last-minute switch to a size 14, which only comes in standard width, thinking the additional room would solve his littlest toes problem. It did not. Instead, the narrower width has caused severe blistering on his littlest toes, as well as general toe crowding, which causes blistering and bleeding across his digits. The extra length of the shoes allows shifting and rubbing on the balls of his feet and backs of his heels, and that too causes massive blisters. For the first 75 miles, he attributed the damage to change– new fit means new wear patterns, not necessarily a bad fit. As the crop of blisters continued to grow, however, and his feet failed to accustom themselves to his new shoes, he began to curse them– both his feet AND the ill-fitting shoes.

Each night he shucks his shoes, peels his socks off bloody feet, and lances a dozen new blisters, new on top of old. Each morning, he faces the daunting task of donning the torturous shoes anew and reacclimating to raw pain. It has affected our pace– 18 miles takes 8 hours to walk instead of 6– and has forced at least one extra rest day. It turns a beautiful walk into a grueling journey, and so I feel as if we are on two different paths entirely.

Yesterday, for example, was a day I will remember with joy. We pushed up hill on paved roads as the misty marine layer burned off, and I was delighted to discover the first ripe thimbleberries had appeared overnight. We walked across the Hood Canal bridge as the sun broke over smooth and sparkling water, my nose full of salt air. On the far side of the bridge, I found a patch of native blackberries fruiting and stooped to pick a handful; we shared their complex sweetness by the roadside, our hands staining pink. We strolled into quaint, colonial Port Gambel and took a two hour lunch by the seaside, eating ice cream in the sun. After lunch, we walked through shady forest, ambling down wide sun dappled paths, leveraging ourselves up steep hills over knotted tree roots, and emerging into a vast, sunny clear-cut in the afternoon heat. There, I found wild raspberries on thorny cane– a first for me– in such abundance that I filled my hands over and over again, shouting my joy to Rod and insisting he share in them. As the forest overtook us again, I found another first: red huckleberries. As Rod hobbled slowly down the grassy path, pushing through the pain, feet screaming and knee aching, I skipped from bush to bush, harvesting huckleberries and savoring their sharp sourness. This is an apt metaphor for our (un)shared experience.

Rod is stoic, but his pain is obvious. He longs for this portion of our journey to be over. To be home, to rest, to recuperate. He wants nothing more than to board a ferry to Seattle, to pitch his shoes into the cold and unforgiving waters of Puget Sound and to never see them again. He’ll soon get his chance. We’re now just a day’s walk from the Bainbridge ferry. At home wait his familiar, comfortable shoes and a chance at a pain-free camino, or at least a camino with only the usual pains: sore muscles, creaking joints, sun-scorched skin, and the familiar, welcome weariness of a life well-walked.

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