My strategy for purchasing my very first real pair of walking shoes was to look at whatever the most popular outdoor magazine in the U.S. said was the best, find it online, and order a pair in my normal shoe size. End of process. I never before had tried a pair of this style or brand on, or any hiking shoe for that matter, because I had always hiked in running shoes. I didn’t allow for any extra room for my wide feet or layered socks. I didn’t know what goretex actually was and how it can cripple you in the Arizona heat. Appalling truth is, this didn’t happen in some cute little uninformed segment of my youth, but it happened this last February, about 3 weeks before I was to leave on an 819 mile trek across the Arizona desert. I bet you’re wondering how that worked out for me. Well, I have pictures. And they are more repulsive than that picture of the severed cow head I also encountered on the Arizona Trail. It is a MIRACLE, or at least a valid indicator of my awe-inspiring capacity to withstand pain, that I finished that trail, and that I finished with a new giddying passion for long-distance walking. Both of my feet looked like roadkill at the end and for quite awhile after. I daresay they may have permanently changed their shape.
I didn’t quite understand the true science that properly shodding your feet actually is. All of the variables that include where you tie them, at what height you tie them, how tightly you tie them, what insoles you use, what laces you use, how you layer your socks, whether they are waterproof or not, how hot they get, what kind of traction they have, how flexible the sole is, how stiff the heel is, where your feet land when walking in them, how your heel agitates, the thickness of the tongue, how much they weigh, the grippiness of the soles, where the top hits the Achilles tendon, the width of the toe bed, the depth of the heel bed, and of course the color (still a girl), DO make dramatic and enormous differences in my comfort, speed, level of injury, achiness, and endurance. If I alter one little thing, something in my walking ability responds. I only recently just discovered that tying my laces too tight was pulling on my calf muscles (somehow) and bumming up my knee. The kindliest soul on the planet just recently slipped me into a pair of Inov-8s. I was like a Grand Canyon mail mule suddenly liberated in an open field of soft grasses. So many pains and limitations that I had just accepted were the norm until my feet manlied up, were COMPLETELY gone! I have yet to walk 800 miles in them, but in the immediate, it’s as if I have been given new feet that somebody trail hardened for me already.
I will continue to experiment. I can’t yet declare that I’ve settled into the perfect system for my feet and the way that I walk (yours will be very different.. you might just LOVE those Kayland Zephyrs).. But I am confident now that no trip need be compromised by foot, leg, and knee pain.. that we have more points of power than just manning up to the pain. And I WILL have it down before the 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail lay in front of me.