Friday, June 19, 2015

Day 40: Shoe Blowout!

April 16: The weather, as per usual, turned out to be dead wrong. Predictions included rain for the day, but when we woke in the morning, the sky was sunny and clear! I immediately canceled the zero day I had been planning on and had Amanda drive me back to the trail. I’d take my zero day on a rainy day—not a beautiful day like today!

Another wonderful mural in Damascus as I walked out of town.

The trail out of Damascus followed the Virginia Creeper Trail, an old railroad grade that had been turned into a hiking and biking trail. A few miles out of town, a sign on a tree warned of a trail detour due to a washed out bridge. It sounded short and a non-event, and it was. The detour didn’t last long and didn’t really add much in terms of miles to my distance.

Late in the morning, however, I noticed a growing problem with one of my shoes: the bottom of it was starting to fall off. The entire front half started flopping around making walking difficult. I’d pick up my foot much higher than normal hoping the flopping front wouldn’t catch on rocks or logs across the trail, but I stumbled multiple times.

My first thought was to duct tape the sole of the shoe in place, but I was slackpacking and my duct tape was back in my pack at the hotel. As the sole of my shoe continued to grow increasingly disconnected from the rest of my shoe, however, I remembered that I used quite a bit of duct tape to fix up my trekking pole hundreds of miles back. My trekking pole, lest you’ve forgotten, had broken and I replaced the broken piece with a tent pole I found abandoned at a shelter. It was slightly too small to stay in place, though, and I wrapped duct tape around it multiple times to make it wide enough to stay in place and it had been working great.

But I really used more duct tape than was necessary and decided to take off as much as I could from the trekking pole and wrap it around my shoe. It wasn’t a very thorough fix—I could have done a much better job if I had plenty of duct tape, but it was better than nothing.

Trail detour! But not to worry, it didn’t look big or significant.

It worked for a short while, but after five or ten minutes of walking, I noticed the duct tape slowly working its way up my shoe and starting to come off. I would stop to adjust it, and it would continue to work for another five or ten minutes before needing adjusting again. It got really old, really fast and every time I adjusted it, I had to unwrap the duct tape from around my shoe and reattach it so it was becoming less and less sticky with every fix. It would, I feared, fail completely at some point.

I started imagining a worst-case scenario—a total shoe failure and having to walk essentially bare-footed along the trail. Temperatures were cool, but not so cold I’d have to worry about frostbite or anything, and the trail actually didn’t look terrible for bare feet. It had the occasional rock and root in the trail, but mostly it was just dirt and leaves and could probably be walked on without too much trouble. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, I decided.

I continued using the duct tape solution for a couple of hours and grew increasingly annoyed at its performance and eventually decided to continue on without it. I’d walk until my shoe fell apart completely. Slackpacking was really doing me in! Normally I carried more duct tape, but that was in my regular pack and not the one I currently carried. I could have switched to hiking in my Crocs, but those too were in my regular pack and not in the pack I currently carried. Slackpacking might be easy on the back, but it certainly didn’t include the “ten essentials” that would help me out in a situation such as this.

Amanda left her mark at one of the road crossings along the trail.

But that floppy front was super annoying and at the next stop, I studied my guidebook. The next shelter was only another mile or so ahead, then there was another 1.1 miles to US 58 where Amanda was planning to pick me up, and I started warming up to the idea of hiking completely barefoot. I’d never hiked barefoot before, and if there was ever a good time to do so, now would certainly be it! At the very least, I could try hiking barefoot and if it really wasn’t working out, I could put my shoes back on and keep muddling along like I have been.

The rest of the way to the shelter I spent talking myself into hiking barefoot. When I arrived at the shelter, a few hikers were already there including Goosebumps, Shoelace and a third guy whose name I wasn’t sure of and I showed them my shoe upon my arrival. Goosebumps looked surprised saying she’d never seen a shoe do that before. I ate a quick snack then started taking off my shoes and socks, and Shoelace seemed surprised. “You’re really going to hike barefoot?”

“I’m going to certainly give it a try!” I told him, “But if it really doesn’t work out, I’ll be putting the shoes back on!”

I tied the shoes to my pack—I wasn’t going to leave them behind!—picked up my pack and hit the trail again. I only had 1.1 miles to the next road where Amanda would pick me up. I could make it.

Yep, still following the AT detour.

And I did make it. The walking went slower since I had to be more careful where I put my feet, avoiding rocks and roots that I’d walk over in a heartbeat if I had been wearing shoes. The roots, I was somewhat surprised, were the most difficult sections to walk on since they were hard and cut into my feet. The rocks weren’t so much a problem since they were generally large and flat. The nicest parts of the trail to walk on was where it was slightly muddy—almost like a foot massage walking through those sections. That surprised me the most because when I wore shoes, I would typically avoid trying to step in those areas. When I was barefoot, I preferred them!

Near the road, I passed two pairs of socks laying on the side of the trail with a note that they had been left there was trail magic. Socks? Really? What kind of stupid trail magic is that?! The socks looked like ordinary cotton socks—not even particularly good for hiking in. But seeing as I was hiking barefoot at the time, I couldn’t help but feel like someone was mocking me. Whoever left them couldn’t have known I’d be hiking by barefoot, but it was an usual coincidence to find “trail magic socks” (something I’d never seen before!) on the 1.1 miles of trail I had ever walked barefoot! Someone was mocking me…

I left the socks behind—I didn’t need them—and eventually arrived at US 58 where Amanda was waiting for me. It was also the most painful part of my walk because the shoulder of the roadbed was made up of crushed rocks that hurt to walk on barefoot. It was only a few steps, but I winced as I walked across it and Amanda didn’t notice my bare feet until she saw me wincing as I walked onto the road.

“What happened?!” she exclaimed, concern in her voice.

So I told her about my shoe problem and my decision to give the bare-footed hiking a try but that everything was otherwise fine—including my feet. Just the shoulder of the road was difficult to walk on, but the actual road surface was asphalt and felt fine.

We first drove back to Damascus where I stopped at the outfitters and bought a new pair of shoes—priorities are priorities! And although my bare-footed hiking went well enough, I had no intention of doing that permanently.

Then we headed back to Abingdon for the night. My day was done!



Although rain had been forecast, it held off for the entire day. I did start worrying a bit later in the afternoon after the clouds started rolling in, however.

A quick lunch break at Saunders Shelter.

Now that’s a real shoe problem!

My first attempt at a fix didn’t really work for more than five or ten minutes at a time before I had to unwrap the duct tape and reapply it because it kept sliding off the front of my foot.


The AT follows a small section of the Virginia Creeper Trail, an old railroad right-of-way that has since been turned into a hiking and biking trail which is why this section is so flat and straight. (And a lot easier for me to walk on with a problematic shoe!)


The Virginia Creeper Trail crossed multiple trestles, and this one towered over even the tallest of trees!

What a spectacular trestle!

But enough of falling apart shoes… it’s time to try some bare-footed hiking!

Trail magic socks… someone is mocking me!

Yep, still barefoot 1.1 miles later to the bridge just before US 58 where Amanda was waiting to pick me up.

Amanda first notices that I’m waking barefoot as I hobbled onto the street.

Several days later, the Four Horsemen would catch up with me and tell me that they had a photo that I “had” to see. This is that photo! They found Amanda’s chalk writing on the trail and one of them go the idea to take this photo of three of them with their shirts off laying in sexy poses next to the “I heart Green Tortuga” message. (From left to right, that’s Blueberry, Superman and Heavyweight respectively. Bostrich—the forth horsemen, took the photo.)

The video of my hiking barefooted!


Anonymous said...

Am I too simplistic? Why not cut part of the shoe lace, and tie the sole in place, along with reinforcement from the used duct tape?
But kudos for the barefoot hike; my inner child approves!

Honey Bear Clan said...

When I was in 4th grade, the same thing happened to one of my red sneakers. But, being 10 years old, I refused to let my mom buy me a new pair. Instead, I wore that falling-apart shoe for months, and whenever I walked down the halls at school, you could hear: ga-flop. ga-flop. ga-flop.