Thursday, August 28, 2014

Collegiate West: Day 6, Paying Homage to My Feet


              A few weeks ago, I came around a bend on the Colorado Trail and the busyness of Monarch Pass opened up before me. Six days earlier, my wife Helene dropped me off at Twin Lakes, seventy seven mountain miles north of my destination, Monarch Pass, which was now a quarter mile down the trail. Helene
was down there – I could see her crossing the highway to meet me. I had been out backpacking a new stretch of the Colorado Trail, Collegiate West, to raise funds for the Nature education programs for a not-for-profit environmental education center that I started 15 years ago. When I left, I was up to $114/mile in donations and pledges. With the new trail being 80 miles, I was closing in on $10,000 raised so far!

            As I hiked those last steps down the trail, a huge sense of gratitude filled me. For one, I was so thankful for Helene, who did lots of driving to get me where I needed to be and then pick me up as planned. I was also feeling much appreciation for all of the donors who believed in the cause of Nature education, and in me, to give some of their hard-earned dollars towards this effort. Without them, it would have just been a long backpack through some of Colorado’s beautiful, but challenging, high country. 

            I was also feeling a healthy dose of gratitude for my almost six-decade old body. I suppose that throwing an extra 30 pounds on my back and hitting that mountain trail could be considered something above and beyond the call of duty for a body that’s been around this long.   For sure, I was feeling a bit weary on those final rocky steps, having just hiked a few 15+ mile days of up-and-down hiking over several 12,500+ ridges. But I still felt pretty darn good. Especially, my feet!

            When it comes to backpacking, I am of the belief that, after a mind that will make wise decisions, the most important pieces of equipment for a safe, successful and enjoyable backpacking trek are happy feet! The feet are where my body meets the ground, up close and personal. A nice fitting backpack, the right clothes, staying well hydrated and protected from the sun and rain and wind – all of that and everything else takes place on the foundation of – my feet.

            I have all too much experience knowing how a bad blister or two, or shoes that are poorly matched, can wreak havoc on a hiking adventure that otherwise would have been a most pleasurable experience. Admittedly, it has taken me quite a few years, and a fair handful of painful backpacking adventures, to figure out what my feet needed to be happy.

            After a visit to a knowledgeable pedorthist – someone who knows how to assess a pair of feet and what kind of footwear those feet need – gone are the stiff high-top boots that took 100 miles to break in, gone are the special liner socks, gone are the special ways of lacing and tying.I now wear a quality pair of waterproof, low-top trail shoes with excellent sole support, a good-fitting pair of non-cotton socks, and a pair of low gators to keep small rocks and forest debris out of my shoes. With this simple lower extremity wardrobe, my feet have been happy backpackers ever since. Nearly 500 miles on the original Colorado Trail and only one blister (due to tiny pebble that got into my shoe – after that the gators became a part of my backpacking apparel).  

            But there is more to my happy feet than the fine looking duds I put on them. The right footwear, no matter how right they may be, will not make an unhealthy foot healthy. I also attribute the well-being of my feet to the regular yoga routine that I have made a part of my life. I am no yoga expert, mind you – I couldn’t tell you the difference between Dhanurasana and Dadasana – I could hardly pronounce them, let alone tell you what they are. But, I probably do them, along with several other basic yoga poses most days, and I am convinced that doing them has contributed much to the making of my happy feet.

            And so, I bow to you, my feet (I think bowing like that is called Uttanasana) for taking me across mountain meadows, up steep mountain trails, quickly across open alpine ridges when the clouds began to rumble, over gnarly talus fields and slippery slopes of scree, and for doing all of this and more with hardly an ache, a hot spot, or a sore toe. I have enormous gratitude for you, my feet! Thank you for all you do to make my fund-raising backpacks, and everything else I do on you, such a success. 


            I actually still have a few more miles to go to officially complete this specific fund-raising hike. The Collegiate West trail continues another five miles beyond Monarch Pass, climbing up to almost 12,000’, where it meets the original Colorado Trail for another 8.5 miles out to a road. So, I will be back out there in a few days on that mountain trail, completing my hike for Nature education on my happy and oh-so-appreciated feet!

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