I had wanted to hike to Lake Ann for a few years now. As the end of summer was rapidly approaching, I decided that this year was the year to make the trip. A week before I went I had thought that if no one could go with me, I would just do a shorter hike, closer to town. But as Saturday drew nearer, something shifted in me and I decided that I wanted to go on this hike bad enough that it didn’t matter whether or not I went alone. When it came down to it, I ended up going alone. Hiking alone can be a bit scary for a woman but can also be a very empowering experience. My mother, who still worries about me despite all the crazy things I did in my youth, was afraid for my safety but I assured her that not only did I have a knife and a whistle, but that the real danger out on the trails lies with me getting injured with no one else around, not scary hikers. So my dog and I went on this lovely hike together.
I decided before I hit the trail that I wanted to do this one barefoot, at least one direction. There is something so perfectly grounding about walking barefoot. Feeling the different textures under your feet and learning to conform your foot to the ground as it is instead of stomping your boots down, is a lovely thing and a perfect metaphor for life. I strongly encourage anyone to try going barefoot even if only in your own home or yard. The feeling of pure mountain mud or a stream between your toes is like none other. I did get many comments from other hikers about how tough I was and I assured every one of them that, “It really isn’t that bad. You figure out how to walk without getting hurt real quick”.
Deciding to hike barefoot proved to be the most mentally challenging part of this hike. I did bring my Vibrams just in case but I managed to tough it out all the way to the lake. The first 3 miles or so were pretty nice, a little rocky and a couple of snow fields but if you’re at all used to being barefoot its no problem. About a mile or so from the lake the trail got quite rocky, like the rocks along train tracks, only worse. It wasn’t too bad at first but part of what made it difficult was that I didn’t know how long the trail would remain this way. If I had known, I probably would have put my shoes on but I didn’t. The other difficult part was that I often don’t know when to quit. I kept at it to the point of relatively intense pain. Now, I consider myself a pretty tough cookie with a decent threshold for pain. Plus, I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment. I really do enjoy seeing how far I can push my physical and mental self on occasion. This hike brought me to tears. I almost gave up and put on my shoes. Almost.
I’m a big fan of positive self-talk (yes, I talk to myself. A lot actually). It has gotten me pretty far in life. I have also been pretty foolish at times and caused myself long-term injuries out of sheer stubborn will. So I had to do a little check in up there on that mountain. Somewhere within a mile after this picture was taken (see those rocks below my feet?…those were a piece of cake compared to the last mile!).
I had committed myself to doing this hike totally barefoot at least one way. But what I knew was that it was ok for me to put on my shoes if I really needed to. So, with raw, burning feet, sweat, tears and that kind of mental exhaustion that only comes with pain, I knew that I didn’t have to force myself to do this and that if I did decide to put on my shoes that that didn’t mean that I was weak or a quitter or that I should be completely disappointed with myself. It just meant that I had reached my limit…no biggie…we all have them. And only when I was really ok with the fact that I Carrie, have limits, I was able to continue barefoot despite the pain I was in. Other hikers were starting to pass me at this point, admiring (I think) my crazy, barefootedness. I would declare my pain and continue at my slow and steady pace. The thought of how refreshing it would feel to plunge my burning feet into the icy lake kept me going.