Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ballad of Unhappy Feet

Adam & his daughter, Robin & Jeremy White, me and Michelle in Radford on Wednesday night

On Tuesday I was scheduled to walk from Salem to Christiansburg. The original plan was to stay with Barry & Francine Helms Tuesday evening. But on Monday I received a call from Barry to say that Francine was quite sick. Before I even had a chance to think about plan B, Barry told me he had already taken care of it.

He arranged for a hotel room in Christiansburg and when I arrived Tuesday afternoon there was a hand written card waiting for me expressing his regrets and wishing me a comfortable stay. I wasn't in the room ten minutes before Barry called to make sure I had arrived and everything was okay. I thanked him, said all was well and we arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning before he went to work.

So at the crack of dawn on Wednesday we met at the Denny's next to the hotel. Barry and Francine are the parents of Mary Vissani. I've never met Mary but she and her husband Dan know my parents and are now in Zimbabwe starting an agricultural mission project in urban townships. Barry's other daughter lives in Germany. It must be hard to have both children living on different continents. I was impressed that he and Francince already have plans to visit Zimbabwe next summer. Of my three living grandparents at the time we were in Africa only my dad's mom ever made it over to to visit. For her trouble she almost got charged by an elephant. The other two were just not interested and that was back when Zimbabwe was much more stable. So kudos to Barry and Francine for supporting their daughter and son-in-law. My only advice would be stay clear of early morning safari walks on Fathergill Island. The elephants can get a little jumpy.

After a night in a hotel the promise of meeting new friends drew me toward Dublin after sharing breakfast with Barry. It was a 20 mile walk across downtown Christiansburg, through the college town of Radford and on into the sleepy village of Dublin. I hadn't done a 20 mile day for a while and it reminded me how much difference those extra two miles can make. By the time I arrived at Jeremy and Robin's house my "tank" was on low and my feet were sore. Any illusions that my feet would become immune to blisters after 8 weeks on the road were shattered. The back of both of my heels throbbed and my left pinkie toe felt raw.

When I get to a host's house the first thing I always do is get out of my shoes. Walking around in bare feet is positively liberating. Since we were headed back out to dinner I was internally lamenting having to squeeze back into my hiking boots. Being seasoned hikers, Jeremy and Robin must have read my mind. Before heading out the door Jeremy pointed to a pair of flip flops and offered them to me. I gratefully accepted. My feet would continue to breathe free.

Dublin isn't terribly far from the Appalachian Trail and Robin and Jeremy do their share of day and weekend treks. Recently they got to play superheroes for a thru-trekker in distress. This guy had injured his leg nearby and was in danger of having to abandon his journey. He limped to the nearest internet access, got on couchsurfing, found they were the nearest hosts and sent them an email. Like responding to a Bat Signal above Gotham Robin and Jeremy drove over an hour to where he was and took him back to their house. He recuperated there ... for 8 days ... and then returned to the trail. He was due to summit in Maine that very night I was with them.

Like the other couchsurfers I have met they really live out its ethos. It truly is a beautiful community of like minded individuals and I can't encourage people enough to become a part of it. After dinner with their friends Adam and Michelle in Radford we returned home to catch some of the Phillies game. I went to bed early but Jeremy stayed up to watch the flickering embers of his beloved Dodgers' season slowly burn out.

When I woke on Thursday morning my feet were still tender. I was staring down the barrel of a 23 mile walk over a mountain and into Max Meadows. With my feet playing a mournful wail on the bagpipes I wanted no part of that distance. I asked Jeremy if he would drop me off 6 miles down the road and trim the walk to a more manageable 17 miles. He happily obliged.

He took me to the Walgreens in Pulaski where I stocked up on foot care supplies. Bandaged up I headed out into another day. There aren't any tricks to walking with blisters. It hurts like hell for the first few minutes then you gradually start to get used to the pain. Once you become acquainted with it it is best to just keep on walking. If you do stop, or God forbid stop and take off your shoes, you are sentencing yourself to the tortuous process all over again.

I decided to take a metaphysical approach to the plaintive wail of my feet. I simply accepted its presence. As a great thinker once said, why argue with the "is-ness" of the world? Better to face it with a spirit of acceptance than try to wish it away, because wishing things were different doesn't change anything. At least acceptance allows me to make friends with the present moment, however uncomfortable it might be.

At least with this physical pain I knew when it would end. With emotional pain we don't usually get a time line. I knew that as soon as I got to my hotel, removed my shoes and lay down on the bed I would have sweet relief. That's exactly what happened. For the rest of the night the only time I got up was to limp over to the Mexican restaurant next door.

Back in my hotel room I briefly felt sorry for myself. I had forgotten my lesson from hours before about making friends with the present. Instead I was caught up in imagining that I wouldn't be able to walk the next day. I reminded myself tomorrow would come in its own time. All I had to deal with was the present moment. That meant laying on the bed and watching Thursday night NBC comedies. My feet weren't singing any sad ballads. They were propped up on a pillow singing Doo-Wop. That is some "is-ness" I had an easy time accepting.


  1. You my friend are the eternal optimist! You might loose your way for a moment but you always find your way back. :-) I will most definately be learning from you.
    Stay Healthy and Strong

  2. Wow you had me wanting to run to you just to take care of your feet. I am happy to know that you have supportive and hospitable people along your journey. It's nice to know that there are people like that in the world. Pure good hearted people.

  3. just a thought...have you tried some new socks?