Before leaving the Pie Town Toaster House, I took an informal inventory of the different injuries various through-hikers had accumulated thus far along the route. A little snowstorm had created a bottleneck at the Toaster House, with about 25 hikers funneling in off the trail. They came in all throughout the day, dropped their packs, tugged off their shoes, pulled braces off their knees, ripped duct tape off their blisters and unspooled medical tape from their feet and ankles. By nightfall, the place was something like a medical clinic – although the atmosphere was happy rather than harrowing.
Most hikers (excepting Chimi and maybe a few others) had more than a few blisters. One dude showed me an array of bubbles on the left side of his foot. These blisters had formed inside of and on top of and side-by-side with other blisters – blisters on blisters on blisters – so that I could only describe the pussy mass as a sort of blister complex. My bud Andrew had blisters on his heels the sizes of quarters. And when Andrew’s girlfriend S.O.L., also my bud, popped a blister outside near the porch, the arcing juice made a four-foot parabola.
Aside from blisters, I encountered numerous other injuries. One guy was battling plantar fasciitis, a disorder resulting from continuous pounding on the bottom of the foot. This occurs when the ligaments and fascia and muscle of the footpad break down – a common casualty of the infamous road walk.
One dude’s knee was swollen as an overripe orange. I heard of a broken foot, strained knee and twisted ankles. Of all these ailments, however, the one that seems to knock most hikers off the trail is shin splints.
On this topic, I spoke with one hiker who had hitched in off Highway 60. He limped up the stairs, sopping wet with melted snow, and looked around the room for a place to sit before collapsing onto a mattress on the floor. His right calf was wrapped tightly in bandages. “Shin splints,” he told me, when I asked what was wrong. “Want to feel them?”
I placed two fingers on his shin, halfway between knee and ankle. He cranked his foot up and down, a motion like pushing a pedal, and the tightly-wound tendons grated like fence-line pulled tight with a come-along.
“That feels terrible,” I told him. “What are you going to do?”
He said he’d waited for more than a week in Silver City for the shin splints to heal. They got a little better, but returned. He said he was going to power through as long as he could.
A tough dude, to be sure.
If shin splints are continually aggravated, they can cause a stress fracture, a game-ender for a through-hiker. I know of at least three people this year who have had to quit because of stress fractures.
As for me, I’ve been lucky in the injury department: Two small blisters, one on each foot. Although, I do hike fewer daily miles than many of these people with battered limbs.
On to Grants
Leaving Pie Town was a lengthy road walk. We pushed for 29 miles before camping – my longest day yet. From there we went into the Cebolla Wilderness, following a scenic canyon where stood a pueblo cabin that was originally constructed in 1200 AD. We took a path called the Narrows Rim Trail which had outstanding views of El Malpais, Spanish for “The Badlands.”
A national monument, El Malpais is a black, barren lava field that spreads across nearly 200 square miles of the Colorado Plateau. The entire flow itself, viewed from on high, looks like something that should be described in an apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel. A sea of hardened black lava, cracked and buckled, spreading like an immense scab across the wide flatlands between the mountains and mesas.
At one point along the rim trail (sometime after the above photo was taken), we stopped to take a picture on the cliffs, posing ourselves along the outcrops before the lava field. I set up my camera and tripod, but the photo, unfortunately, was not meant to be.
As I stood, the tripod suddenly straightened, the three legs going from an outstretched claw to a point, and my camera teetered. In that moment the impulse came up in me to lunge for it, but doing so would have meant probable death. So I let the doomed device take a dive, and listened sadly as it went smashing and clattering down the 30-foot cliff.
After standing there silently for a moment, too stunned to move or speak, we scouted a manageable line for me to scramble down the cliff and get it. Chimi directed me to where it lay, beaten and battered, in a bush. Picking it up I saw the screen was slightly detached and the body was dented and scuffed and the retractable lens was bent and jammed so that it could no longer focus. The camera turned on but blinked error. At this point, it is altogether unusable. A disheartening loss, but c’est la vie, I suppose. iPhone photos from here on out. And at least I got the memory card.
From there we scrambled past La Ventana, a sinuous stone arch in the cliff side, the largest natural arch in New Mexico. We took the Acoma-Zuni Trail over part of the lava field, a 7.5-mile route marked by cairns. The path was established as a trade route by the Puebloan people. Many of the cairns were built as long as 700 years ago. With all the forking cracks and deep fissures in the lava crust, it was not unlike walking over a glacier – except it was black rather than blue and grippy rather than slippery. Memphis, Chimi and I made our way across it with something other than the grace of ballerinas. My shoes were deteriorating badly and, toward the end, I stubbed my toe and ripped my foot out through the top of the mesh. Now, every once in a while, whenever they feel like it, my little piggies poke out for a breath of fresh air.
In Grants I wound my kicks in duct tape. In this manner I hope to travel the 115 or so miles to Cuba.
(Thanks to Chimichanga for some of these photos!)
Scenes From the Trail:
Chimi doing some mapwork as Memphis relaxes at Zuni Canyon
Chimi climbed a windmill
Impending hail storm Bonita Canyon