My Feet

I’ve had the funny experience of going around Santa Cruz the past couple of weeks and when I see people I know, they often greet me with, “So how are your feet?” My first thought is, “How did you know?” But then I realize—oh yeah, I wrote about it!

Two weeks ago, when my feet were at their most banged up and sore, with a blister, some hot spots and lots of tender, aching places, from my training and the effort to try out/break in two new pairs of shoes, I acted on the excellent advice I got from many people to stop walking and to rest my feet, which I’ve been doing assiduously ever since. I haven’t been doing much walking the last couple of weeks. I’ve been crocheting, cooking, savoring a novel, reading a Camino memoir, finding beautiful poems about hiking and pilgrimages, preparing materials to teach writing on the go when our classroom is the Camino. Visiting with our sons and daughters-in-law. Our grandkids. And now, our daughter. I’m trusting that all the training I’ve done over the past ten months will hold me in good stead and that arriving in Spain rested and happy, with spaciousness in my heart is the best preparation in these final days before my departure for Madrid.

But last week, while I had my feet up (bathed in Epsom salts, carefully dried, coated with herbal foot salve, tucked in cotton socks), I downloaded a book on my Kindle: Fixing Your Feet: Injury Prevention and Treatment for Athletes by John Vonhof and Tonya Olson. Apparently, it’s a classic.

Their focus is on runners, but they also have a lot to offer backpackers and long-distance hikers. I found the book fascinating, informative and completely overwhelming.

OMG. If you want to learn every possible thing you can about your feet and how to take care of them, read this book. I skipped around and read random sections that interested me, with titles like “You can have happy and healthy feet,” “Summer Foot Care Basics,” “Winter Foot Care Basics,” “Aging Feet,” “Tips for Hard-to-Fit Feet,” “The Anatomy of Footwear,” “Specialty Socks,” “Going Sockless,” “Blister Prevention: The New Paradigm,” “Blister Research: 31 Notable Studies,” “Lacing Options,” “Aching Feet,” “Trench Foot and Chilblains,” “Jungle Rot,” “Extreme Blister Patching,” and “Maceration.” (If you’re faint of heart, definitely don’t look at the photo of macerated feet.) I’m not kidding. This book has everything.

Here are the few key things I gleaned from the hours I spent scanning sections relevant to me:

  • Everyone’s feet are different and what works for one person won’t work for another. The perfect shoe for someone else will not be the perfect shoe for you. You have to know YOUR own feet and the regime that works for you in caring for them.
  • You should learn how to treat and tend to your own feet. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you.
  • The first moment you feel a problem with your feet—a hot spot, a tiny stone or bit of sand in your shoe, the first hint of a blister, STOP and take care of it immediately. Do not keep walking.
  • Take your shoes off whenever you stop to rest and give them a breather. Stick your feet in cold water whenever you can (like in a stream).
  • There are so many products you can buy to take care of your feet in a capitalist marketplace it can absolutely make your head spin.

So, here’s what I’m bringing on the Camino for my feet:

A pair of men’s Speedgoat Hokas, size 10.5. These are the shoes I trained in for several months in the late spring and early summer. They felt good—until they wore out and my feet started to ache in them. They may not have longevity, but if they last me the course of my two weeks on the Camino, I’m hoping that’s good enough for my main pair of shoes.

A pair of Ecco hiking/walking sandals, size 42. This is the third pair I’ve bought in the last fifteen years. They work great on my feet. This is a new pair I bought in July when the Velcro finally died on my last pair after many years of service and walking in one too many streams with them. I wore those shoes out. I’ll wear these in the evenings so I have a second pair of shoes to relax in after hiking, with or without socks, depending on the weather. I also plan to hang them from my backpack everyday so I can switch to them if needed on the trail. I’ll also carry a spare pair of thin socks I can wear with these sandals to prevent chafing.

I’m leaving my new hiking boots at home. I’ll break them in slowly and they’ll hold me in good stead on future trips into the mountains. But I don’t need them on the Camino.

A small ziplock in my fanny pack with emergency foot treatments on the trail: a pin and book of matches (in case I have to lance a blister), nail clippers and an emory board to tame unruly (sharp) toenail edges, several blister bandages, a couple of alcohol wipes and some neosporin. This emergency pack will be with me during our daily hikes.

Merino wool socks of different thicknesses depending on how swollen or tender my feet are and how hot or cool it is.

An extra pair of clean socks every day (or as clean as I can get them washing them in my hotel room sink at night) so I can change socks midway through the day.

I have two diaper pins attached to the back of my backpack (along with a women’s pee cloth that snaps on to the frame, but that’s for another post) so I can pin a pair of wet newly hand-washed, wrung-out socks onto my pack so they can dry while I hike.

And then there’s all these foot/body care products in ziplocks in my luggage:

  • Spenco Second Skin to cover blisters so I can keep walking
  • Uhuru wool to wind between toes to stop friction (haven’t tried it yet, but was curious enough to buy it)
  • HikeGoo to smear on my feet before donning my socks every day, a blister preventative
  • Lavender essential oil for healing feet
  • Trail Toes. A second type of cream to prevent blisters.
  • Green Goo Foot Care Salve. A healing blend of caledula, yarrow and comfrey to smear on at night with a pair of cotton socks. I love this stuff!
  • Yoni Flower cream for chafing in tender vaginal areas from walking day after day . . . at 67, you know it’s pretty dry down there
  • Compeed blister bandages . . . I will wear these every day on my known hot spots, around my little toes, and for blisters
  • Zinc Oxide ointment to put directly on blisters to dry them before wrapping them
  • An emory board and nail clipper to keep toenails from having sharp edges
  • Blister patches that go directly on shoes if they start to chafe
  • Brave Soldier Antiseptic healing ointment
  • Wraps to hold things in place and for sore muscles

Crazy, right?

I haven’t tried them all and expect to have a daily regime for caring for my feet that include some of the ones I already know work for my feet. Others I’ll be testing out on the trail.

Frankly, I’m not sure how I ended up with SO MANY foot products. I guess I read about them, or someone suggested them, and so I bought them, one at a time, over time. It’s only now that I’m packing that the immense volume that I purchased has become apparent. And yes, I freely admit, it is over the top.

Although as trip leader, I always bring extra things that may be helpful to people who get hurt, sick, have a headache, the first sign of a cold, and in this case, trouble with their feet. Brenda and Andre, our hiking guides, will also have well-stocked first aid kits.

And from what I hear, this being my first Camino, there is an immense variety of foot products for sale along The Way. Though I don’t expect I’ll need to buy anything else! Unless I can buy new feet.

Admitting my excesses in this post is fun. I have a dear friend Barbara Cymrot, who has once called me, “the Queen of Abundance,” and I guess this post proves it. I’m the type of person who never buys a four-pack of toilet paper; I buy enough to fill a closet shelf. Though I did cancel my Costco membership many years ago.

Coming to the end of this post, I just stopped to check in with my body and how I’m feeling inside it. And what I’m feeling is that lovely excitement that comes with anticipating an adventure. I feel relaxed and spacious inside. I’m ready to go.

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