I am two months, three states, and close to 900 miles into the walk and on my third pair of shoes. (Images at the bottom – Warning!!! funky feet!)
If you could see my feet right now, you would probably think I needed serious medical attention. Despite being 4.5 toenails lighter with permanent off-colored callouses, I assure you – the feet feel better every day.
I started the walk in a pair of hiking boots that I had been wearing for about a month before departing. They were great for shorter day hikes in the woods, and I was confident they would do me solid for the first leg of the walk. My good friend Eryc, who is an experienced hiker and backpacker, suggested I get sneakers since I’d be walking mostly on pavement. I stubbornly declined, explaining that I always hike in boots and had never had serious issues.
By the end of day two of my journey, my blisters had me in tears. I had blisters around my toenails – something I had never experienced before. My heels were just completely blistered and puss-filled. The balls of my feet were perhaps the worst – taking most of the impact and completely blistered over. I was in serious pain, questioning how I would even move the next day.
I was confused. I had walked much further on past backpacking trips without such damage. Of course, I had gotten blisters before, but no where near as serious. While hiking 200 miles on the John Muir Trail, my feet were consistently wet, causing blisters most days. The difference was that on the JMT a good old cleaning, popping , and tape-job worked wonders, and was all I needed to continue on the next day. Now – though I cleaned, popped, aired-out, neosporin-ed, and bandaged – the blisters fought back.
I thought about what Eryc had said, and the impact of the pavement. I knew I’d have to get through one and a half more days of boots before coming across a shoes store. I honestly don’t remember much from those two days, as the pain blurred all interactions into a big puddle.
Midway through day 4, I made it to a Big 5 sporting goods store. I walked to the shoes, asked for the best walking shoe they had, and walked out with a pair of $40 New Balance sneakers on my feet. Immediate relief.
I continued to deal with the carnage of the boots for a few weeks, and still did a nightly foot care routine (cleaning, popping, cleaning again, etc.). When you’re walking 20-30 miles a day, blisters are inevitable, but the sneakers made a world of difference.
As the blisters began to improve, I noticed two loose toenails – on my second toe of each foot. Every night of the Mojave crossing I said to Travis, “I think this is the night I loose a nail!” Despite my projections, they held on.
When we got out of the Mojave, we took a celebratory dip in the Colorado River. I came out two toenails lighter.
I have since lost a third toenail, the day after getting a new pair of sneakers- Brooks running shoes – in Tucson, and a fourth after crossing into New Mexico.
The sneakers I have now are holding up well, with about 330 miles on them. I’m hoping they last me another 250 at least. I have one more nail toe nail that might go any day now, and after that I’ll have six un-harmed. After New Mexico I’ll have six states to go- so if the trend continues I’ll expect to loose one per state.
A great group of women adventurers I met in New Mexico gifted me Leukotape – a magical blister saver! For me it works better than moleskin, and better than any other sort of taping. I highly suggest any hikers try it out! It sticks on for days, even with wet/sweaty feet. I also heard from a military Veteran that stockings under socks are a great blister prevention trick, but have not been able to try yet. I’ll update once I do.
Have questions about foot care? Or other body/health care you’re curious about? Reach out!