Today’s Miles: 20.4
Total Miles: 725.4
Past Skoaddejávre – July 31, 2016
I pack up my tent and take three steps before I know something is wrong. Pain shoots up from my left ankle. I remember twisting it a little yesterday, but I didn’t think anything of it. After a few tender steps, I’d walked miles on it without a hint of pain.
But now, something inside feels wrong. I limp to a rock and sit. I pull my shoe off and hold my foot in both hands, running my fingers across the bones and muscles. I rotate it, flex it, move it back and forth, figuring out where the pain comes from.
Feet are complicated things, so many bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments just to take a single step.You forget how fragile you are until a piece goes bad. I stare down at my foot. Nothing seems broken, but something in the ankle’s outside edge hurts every time my foot tilts in.
I tighten up my shoes and begin to walk, limping slightly, remembering yesterday’s miles, hoping the joint will warm up, loosen, and the pain will go away.
I feel it every step. Not sharp, but there, lingering on the edge as I put my weight down, a hint of pain waiting to explode if I step wrong. It changes my stride. It slows me down. It makes me think about every movement.
Bits of pain inject into the moments of the day. As I stare at mountains, as I scramble over rocky passes, as lakes glimmer in the sun, I see it all through the lens of my ankle, through bad steps or shifting boulders that shoot pain though my leg, through the dull reminder that I am not whole, that I can’t walk forever, that any one step could be the last.
A broken bone, a torn ligament, any single moment can end this adventure. It can happen so fast. I stare down at my ankle and wonder if it happened already and I don’t even know. Is this just a little tear that will fix itself or is it a crack that will only widen until it breaks to pieces.
Long-distance hikers have a lot will. We walk through a lot of little pains. Sometimes it’s hard to figure which are real and which are just sore, tired muscles and joints. I’ve known people to walk on broken bones for miles and refuse to realize it. I stretch my foot again. I press on the bones.
“It’s not broken,” I tell myself.
I limp forward, trying to keep my foot in place, to walk normal steps, knowing that shifting it one way or the other will cause some other joint to react. The ankle could turn into a knee, the knee to a hip, each pulling the next out of place. I have to keep the damage from spreading.
The day drags. I want twenty miles. I want to know I can keep the pace I need to not run out of food a week from now. I want to know if I have to stop, leave the trail, and limp toward civilization.
Late in the day, with a mile left, a rainstorm moves across the distant mountains towards me. I can see it, the grey sheets of rain devouring the peaks. I beg the mountains for a bit more time.
“Just another half hour,” I say. “Just another mile.”
I need to make twenty miles. I need to know I can do it. The mountains give me my half hour, holding the first drops of rain until I limp that last bit and set the final stake in my tent.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
I sit inside, eating dinner and massaging my foot, rotating it, stretching it, begging it to be better in the morning. I think of Wally, the possibly imaginary repair man who lives in my stomach and fixes all the rips, tears, and breaks to keep me moving. I imagine him throwing down his newspaper and grumbling something about walking over a billion rocks as he grabs a few bolts and a hammer before heading off to pick up his repair crew and make the nightly rounds.
“Get on this ankle, Wally,” I say.
“Yea, yea,” he says, shaking his head and waving me off, tired of me telling him things he already knows. “Had a crew on it since yesterday.”;
I stretch my foot back and forth a few more times, rubbing my fingers through the muscles and joints, pressing and prodding, searching out the pain.
“You can’t break,” I tell it. “You’re not allowed.”