In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir
What do you do when you wake up and find that you are almost unable to walk, that there is absolutely NO WAY you can pull shoes on, and you are about 8 miles from the nearest road….your path there a rugged and uneven trail littered with rocks and roots?
Matt had been watching me quietly as I tried to stand. Overnight, my heels had scabbed over and they were so tight that standing upright was difficult and painful. Each step was awkward as I tottered across the floor, unable to fully set my heel on the floor, and finding that I had to basically walk on my tiptoes. I could tell by his silence that he finally realized how bad my feet were.
"Why did you keep hiking?" he asked me quietly. "You should have told me. We didn't have to do this hike."
I really didn't have to explain to him. He knew why.
Because being in Glacier brings me a peace that nothing else can. Because the joy that hiking those trails fills me with far outweighed the pain that those blisters caused me. And because I wasn’t willing to miss a moment of it.
I could tell he was angry that I hadn't let him know how bad they were. His face looked sick. I knew he was worried. But I also knew that he understood how much I wanted to be there. And so, he just sat quietly while I carefully taped my feet up again. As I taped, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was quietly removing nearly everything from my pack and putting it in his own.
I guess he figured he could carry my stuff….or he could carry me.
We had 8 miles to hike. The first mile would be up a steep pass. Then we would hike several steep miles down the other side, ending with about 4 miles through a valley until we reached the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where our friends would pick us up.
I actually tried to pull my boots on. Can you believe it? I don't know what I was thinking. It simply wasn’t possible. What was I going to do? The rugged terrain of the trails necessitates a sturdy boot. Even light hiking shoes are ill advised.
All I had were flip flops.
So I did the best I could. I wrapped my feet up, put on socks, and taped my flip flops to my feet.
Don’t ever accuse me of being a sissy.
We made our breakfast in the kitchen and enjoyed toasted PB&J waffles with maple syrup before hitting the trail….not even knowing if my crazy flip flop scheme was going to work.
It worked. I had to be careful not to roll my ankles, since I had no ankle support, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad. Other than every hiker we passed that day looking at me like I was a madwoman, it wasn’t so bad.
As we reached the pass, we noticed that passing hikers had built two large cairns at the top of the pass. Originally used to indicate trail direction when the path is not clear, many hiking cairns today are simply and expression of accomplishment, a way of belonging to the unique group of individuals who have passed through a place before you. Some hikers don’t like cairns. They see them as a violation of the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, but I find an appeal in them.
And so Matt and I added our stones. My stone said, “I have been in this place, on this mountain. I existed. I passed through. I am now a part of this place like those before me and those who will come after me. I was here.”
The trip down the other side of the pass was tricky in flip flops. I slid, I rolled on gravel, I turned my feet on rocks. It was a challenge.
But I was easily distracted by the distant view of the valley and the lakes, by the mountain goats that perched themselves so easily on the side of the mountain and watched us pass, by the young bull moose that we saw walking below us.
This is why I was here. This was worth everything.
We decided to have lunch at a small lake once we reached the end of our decent into the valley. In that moment, it was the most perfect spot in all the universe.
We thought we were alone.
But we weren’t.
Do you ever get that weird feeling that you are being watched?
He came scrambling over and sat a few inches away. I know you aren’t supposed to feed the animals. I also know you are supposed to break in your boots before wearing them. If you haven’t figured out by now, I don’t always adhere to what you are “supposed to do.”
Our little ground squirrel kept us entertained through lunch as we lay back and enjoyed the solitude of a mountain lake in the early hours of the day. Life doesn’t get much more perfect than that.
The last few miles of the hike were uneventful, taking us through the beautiful landscape and past Red Rock Falls.
We found ourselves at the Swiftcurrent Inn before we knew it. We grabbed some huckleberry soft serve ice cream and sat on a bench to wait.
And wait….and wait……and wait.
After 2 hours, we figured out that our friends were….detained. We were able to hitch a free ride on a shuttle to the Many Glacier Hotel.
When we checked into our room, I thought I would die from happiness when I walked into our room and saw that we had a large, old clawfoot tub. Only a few rooms have a tub, and a long hot soak was exactly what I wanted. I was able to soak the dirt out of my skin and the bandages off my feet.
When it was time to dress for dinner, I wasn’t even thinking as I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans.
When our friends finally made it back from their own hike, we all headed for a celebratory meal at the Cattle Baron Supper Club. This place looks like a total dive from the outside…complete with neon beer signs and a parking lot full of pick-up trucks.
Inside, it’s an entirely different experience. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.
The steaks are huge and the food is good.
I think our friend John ordered his steak from the Fred Flintstone menu.
Remember the skinny jeans?
Well, they were fine until I got back to the hotel room. Matt was with our friends going over plans for the next day so I was in the room alone.
I could not get my pants off.
There was no way to pull those jeans over my now raw, scabbed, aching heels. I had hiked with those blisters for 4 days and hadn’t broken once. I had been tough, determined, and I had powered through, never showing a moment of weakness.
But after days of endurance…I finally broke.
I can only imagine what it looked like to Matt when he walked in the room to see me sitting on the bed crying like there was no tomorrow. I just looked up at him tearfully and whispered, “I can’t get my pants off.”
Then I started sobbing again.
It was rather pathetic. I am not proud. But a person can only take so much. I could handle the cold, the bears, the miles of walking with a heavy pack on my back. I could handle the blisters, the pain, the hours of walking on feet rubbed raw. I could handle drinking water from a stream, eating food cooked on a 3 inch stove, and sleeping on the ground.
What I could not handle, however, were the skinny jeans.
We finally managed to carefully wriggle the narrow opening over my ragged heels and stuffed my poor feet inside some newly purchased fluffy house shoes and, once again, everything was right with the world.