A slug. Or possibly a leach considering it was filled with blood… I gazed down at my bare feet, my socks stuffed into my worn out skate shoes and tossed aside for the moment. Two of my toenails had already turned black. It was only a matter of time before they fell off. Grosser though was the blood filled slugs crawling up between the big and index toe of each foot.
Okay, not real slugs, though they sure looked that way. They were weirdo pockets of fluid caused by the repetitive motion of walking on the hard pavement for over 100 km’s (60 miles). I won’t even describe what the bottoms of my feet looked like.
My Jack Russell Terrier, Bree, and I sat across the highway from the huge “welcome to Nanaimo” sign and waited for our ride. We had made it, just the two of us, almost a quarter of the way across Vancouver Island but now we would have to stop as I was scheduled to go on a family trip to Alberta. It mentally pained me to have to quit, even though it was just temporarily, but really I needed it. I was hobbling along so slow by then that I’m pretty sure my eighty year old grandmother could have beat me in a foot race. As usual, I had pushed myself to hard.
Two and a half weeks later, when Bree and I were dropped off at the same spot, we were raring to go and I even had a pair of fancy brand new running shoes. I was determined that my feet would hold up this time. Only 400 km’s further to go!
We strode along, feeling on top of the world and even though we were on the highway, with cars whizzing by only metres away, it was incredibly beautiful. Vancouver Island is what is called a temperate rainforest. It is lush and green and thick with trees and underbrush. It also meant a lot of rain usually, but now it was July, the hottest, driest month of the year. We were greeted in the mornings by blue skies and often with the little island deer crashing away into the forest at the sight of us and the occasional bald eagle gliding above.
The lack of clouds also meant heat. It’s a good thing that I had Bree with me, otherwise I probably would have pushed on all day everyday no matter how hot it got. But of course I wouldn’t do that to my dog. Every afternoon we found a nice place to wait out the swelter, whether it was just out of sight down an abandoned side road or at an actual park overlooking the ocean. There we would relax and I would read the Tao Te Ching or work on my newest book or just stare dreamily into the treetops and wait for the sun to sink low enough that we could start walking again.
At night we camped wherever we could, usually in a farmer’s field or if we were lucky, a campground. On the second evening we came across a native campground around Qualicum. The sweet indigenous girl at the desk gave me the most amazing ice cold water and told us we could set up camp wherever we wanted. Bree isn’t all that friendly with strangers so we found a private clearing. It was guarded by what I call the sentinels; two towering native carvings, one of an indigenous man and the other of a woman. That night I felt oddly safer than on any other night of the walk.
On the third day we stopped for the afternoon at Rosewall Creek, north of Qualicum Bay. Bree stretched out in the shade after the appropriate amount of sniffing around, while I lay my tent in the sun to dry (it always got damp with condensation during the night). Despite the new shoes, my feet had already started to fall apart again. I had to lean heavily on the outsides of my soles cause the inside front (where the slugs had previously developed) hurt too much. I limped over the rocks and took a seat by the water, sticking my feet in the cold stream. The bottom was slimy but damn it felt good!
I probably shouldn’t have drunk any of that slimy water. Even though I always used water purification tablets, that time it just didn’t do the trick. After a few hours of walking again, I began to feel really weird. Slightly sick to the stomach yes, but the weird part was the shooting cold feeling in my lower back and up my legs. I’d never felt anything like it. If I were smarter I probably would have gone looking for some medical help. After all, what if it got worse during the night? I was alone in the woods and my dog, though completely wonderful, was certainly no Lassie. But instead, I went with my usual habit of simply bulling my way through.
Lucky for me, it worked out that time. I forced myself to eat a little granola for dinner, passed out in my tent and in the morning, felt a lot better.
By day five, my feet had become their own separate entities, demanding pets that had to be stopped and cared for constantly. I named one Frodo and the other Sam to encourage them but still damage was accumulating. Even though I leaned on the outsides only, the inside fronts were the parts heading for another breakdown. Something had to change and that thing was my mind not my feet.
For one, it was time to stop pushing myself so hard, to accept that I was not in fact Wonder Woman, and that maybe that was okay. So I slowed down my step and payed close attention to Frodo and Sam. What was up?
The problem was so tiny, so quick, but I still couldn’t believe that I didn’t notice it before. Sure I was leaning on the outsides of my feet as I walked but the split second before pushing, every single time, my feet would switch over and push off solely from the far inside front.
I was walking wrong! And had been my whole life. If you have ever tried to change the way you walk, you know that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You really need to walk for days with absolutely nothing else to concentrate on but your feet. From that moment on that’s what I did. I concentrated every step to push off from the outside of my feet instead and what a world of difference it made. I actually started to heal even though I was still on the move.
We passed the halfway point across the island, 250 km’s (150 miles), that day. Bree danced next to me, her usual energetic self, and me, well I wasn’t limping quite so much anymore. Two milestones crossed. Halfway across the island and at thirty years old, I had finally learned to walk!
Check out the final instalment of my Walk Across Vancouver Island!: