Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. –Albert Einstein
We all make mistakes… right? It can spawn from seemingly anywhere. Frankly it’s for the better, as without mistakes, without trial and error, we wouldn’t have much to learn. And what better way is there to learn than through sheer and unadulterated adversity? It’s the greatest teacher of all. Of course I have to say something to justify the tale I’m about to share, as there was a grand lack of foresight on my part.
I can attempt to credit my misadventure to ignorance or misfortune, but either way, my lesson was learned the hard way. I’m certainly no expert, nor have I accomplished any significant feats. I haven’t climbed Mt. Everest or trudged through the Ganges Delta. And though I’ve spent my fair share of nights under the stars, I consider myself simply as an enthusiast with no great claim to fame.
That said, and without further ado, let’s go over why you should consider every step, keep your nose to the wind, and eyes on the horizon. But most importantly… just think.
Achilles Didn’t Fall For Any Old Reason
So that picture above is of me and I don’t I look happy? That was the start of perhaps the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned about how the most unexpected parts of our body can be the weakest. What you can’t see in that photo are the Vibram ninja shoes I so foolishly decided to wear while walking 30 miles in 3 days down Paria Canyon in Southern Utah.
About 2/3 of the trek was walking down the river in the canyon, and me attempting to be smart thought that the Vibrams would work great. They weigh next to nothing, would allow my feet to dry out quickly, and also made it so I could find my footing easier under the murky water.
What I did not consider was that these shoes force your feet to use all the individual muscles that aren’t normally used when you shove your foot into a boot. Vibrams were originally made as a boating shoe so you could have better awareness of your footing on a boat, making it seem almost as though you are barefoot. Conversely, a proper hiking shoe literally turns your foot into a sort of hoof.
The foot, toes, and ankles are all wrapped up tightly together and act as a single unit rather than individually. Couple that with my 50+ pound backpack, uneven terrain, chilled water, 10 miles to be hiked, and all of a sudden my smart little idea turned into a soon to be nightmare.
I finished the first day and 10 miles without a single problem or hint towards one. The Vibrams worked exactly as I thought they would. Perhaps I was taken in by the beauty of the landscape to not notice what was to come, but once we reached our first camp, and I took those little buggers off… both of my feet literally seized up.
Toes and both ankles completely locked and trying to stretch them out was excruciating. I had absolutely no mobility whatsoever. Fortunately I brought a light pair of actual hiking boots and near crippled, hobbled my way through the remaining 20 miles of the canyon. This of course was supplemented with a good deal of Tylenol, which I’m usually not one to take medication of any sort. But without it, the remaining hike would have been impossible.
I was fit otherwise and healthy all around, but the least considered and weakest part of my body, my feet, brought me to a screeching halt. My feet failing me like that was startling to say the least. It was completely unexpected and that in itself is the problem. How could I not have considered that wearing those shoes in those conditions would be a bad idea? Logic alone should have warned me my feet were overall too weak.
I even recall reading that your toes and feet will become tired and that you should be sure to break them in to get used to. And I did go running a few times in them prior to this trip, and my feet did become tired. I just didn’t fully consider the difficulty of what was ahead.
For nearly a month afterwards I could not fully stretch my ankles out, and two golf ball sized knots developed on my both of my Achilles heals. I thought I may have caused permanent damage, and my Achilles does still feel funny at times, but overall they recovered. The moral of the story, and one I wouldn’t soon forget, is that nature indeed does teach you.
She will teach you to respect the world and yourself, she will teach you the meaning of peace and calm, she will even lead you into adventure and excitement, but this time, she taught me that as many strengths I may believe I possess, there are probably equally as many, if not more, weaknesses that I am completely blind to.
Logic and reason should have helped to avert this little problem, but being absent and taken in by the allure of making the job of hiking easier, I didn’t think clearly. As a result, my little trip through Paria Canyon, though both beautiful and memorable, caused one of the weirdest and most painful experiences of my outdoor adventuring career. That said, I still wouldn’t change anything. Because without a lesson, what exactly is to be learned?
License: Image author owned
License: Image author owned
The author of this piece is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this article you can follow me on Twitter @CustParadigm. When I’m not writing about my blundering misadventures, I can usually be found Salt River Rafting in Arizona, Mountain Biking through the Colorado Rockies, or any other number of outdoor activities.