The following morning I bandaged the blister with mole skin, laced up my boots snugly to minimize any friction, and set off for the Tye River crossing. Not long into the hike, I could feel irritation on the foot. I felt the first twinge of real concern. But I had plenty of first aid supplies, the weather was great. I enjoyed a fantastic walk through the woods and made it down to the river where I stopped, checked the blister, redressed it, and had some snacks. I had a long climb up the Priest ahead of me. It was nearly 9:00 a.m., and I wanted to get to the top of the mountain around noontime. I had a brief conversation with another hiker from the group. Unfortunately, he had made the decision to leave the hike because of knee problems. Briefly, ever so briefly, a thought zipped through my mind. Would the blister get worse? Get out now, my head told me. Don’t climb the mountain, because the blister will bother you the entire week. Again, that thought was returned in a back-and-forth, tennis-like head game. Get off now. You can get a ride back to your car. No. Keep hiking. It’s just a blister. It’s no big deal.
I crossed the road and started climbing. And then the head game moved up into a bigger league. Uphill hiking has always been a major league head game for me. I don’t know why. Perhaps my dislike of elevation goes back to my childhood, growing up on the banks of the Delaware River in Paulsboro, NJ, elevation 10 feet above sea level. I eventually moved across the river to aPhiladelphia suburb, and learned to deal with altitude sickness at a full 40 feet above sea level. Mall escalators account for most of the altitude gain in my day-to-day life. A nearly 4000′ climb up the Priest may as well be a Himalayan trek in my world.
Big league head games began. I started climbing, and each step was a battle with gravity. At first I played it cool. I kept my pace close to the downhill pace I had set as I walked to the Tye River from Harper’s Creek earlier that morning. My breathing was relatively controlled. I was glad for my pre-hike training. I was doing fine. Even though the muscles in my legs were warming up and I could feel the strain, I was having fun. I enjoyed the game. It was a challenge, but it was a good challenge, a fair competition.
I had already been hiking for several hours, and though it had been a pleasant hike, it still required an energy burn. I was getting a little tired. Now, as I crossed Cripple Creek, the pitch of the trail became sharper, the switchbacks stacked more closely. Each step planted my heel lower than my toes, thus applying more friction and stretch on the tender, blistered skin of my left heel. The twinge of pain became a slight but steady burn. I played my best defensive strategy. I ignored it and kept moving upward.
Previously, the head game had been more of a spectator sport. Things weren’t too bad. While the game was playing out, I was still enjoying my surroundings, looking at the pale yellow-green buds on the trees, talking to other hikers I met. The mountain was my playing field, though certainly not level. I was having a good time. But now, inside my head there were two very strong opponents. One was tossing up a good dose of physical pain. The other was refusing to let the pain defeat me. The game was ramping up, and I had to turn my focus inward.
To be continued…..
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