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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hiking Lessons for Mindsets and Feet: Having the Right Equipment is Everything (Especially for Mild Dystonia, Parkinson's, and Hyperhidrosis)!!

            In August of 2013, I had this grand dream. After getting off my chubby butt for the better part of 4 months, I felt that I could do a 5-6 day trek (with backpack) of the entire Standing Stone Trail (under 75 miles or so at the time if you include the distance from parking lot to the sign). I learned many things on the 20 miles of the journey I fought my way through over the 2 days I spent attempting the trail. Most of them were in line with, "Don't think; it can only hurt the ball club." Others were along the line of "rock hiking is slower and tougher than regular hiking."

1)      For me, there was no reward for starting and not finishing a task that isn’t accomplishable. Sure, I went out and experienced a part of it, while learning what not to do next time (a lot of what I did), but that's it. If you're doing something like I did, you know that we get our pictures and memories of what we saw, but if the goal is the finish line, we lost if we don't make it, and if we only go 1/3 of the way, we lost big. Thus, it’s important to have realistic goals and redefine success as pleasure and opening our minds to the flow of losing ourselves in the moment of productive accomplishment. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his take on flow / optimal experience would be proud of us if we could find something we enjoy that much that we can make time vanish while creating / achieving (as long as it's not video game victories).

2)      “Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory (Ed Viesturs).” From a book that is entitled No Shortcuts to the Top, I should have been learning that a solid overnight back and forth would have been better to start (and at this point in my life, too), but I was electing to go all or nothing, so yeah. Not close and no cigar. I won’t say I’ve given up on over-nighters, but I’d just prefer to hike in and out to shelters instead. Now that I'm diagnosed with Parkinson's, life has changed BIG TIME. I’ve learned I’m more about the experience of seeing neat things than hauling a backpack day after day without a shower or without fresh cold water. As a Parkinson’s person with hyperhidrosis (I wrote about that HERE), I absorb and sweat out water quickly. Having almost 200 ounces of water on a sunny summer day doing 23 miles at Blue Marsh is about half of what I really want for something like that (I also want Clif Shots and gummy blocks - another of my favorite things I wrote about HERE and in its concluding part HERE. This is when I learned how they (and companions) could get me back from Arizona's Wave in 1 piece).

3)     On that note, I learned that there’s no reward for getting seriously injured or killed in some remote wilderness. Emergency rescues cost money. Hospital prices can be brutal, even with insurance (and sometimes, insurance won't cover it). The key is to train extensively and push ourselves just beyond our limits, not to 5 times our limits. Besides, we have people that love and need us. Remember, don't do stupid stuff or s**t.

4)     Always have an emergency way out. Companions for hikes are good, too. I went solo, which was pretty much my only option because I didn’t know anyone to go with. I had met and been influenced by one thru-hiker at the time (Lakeland, who is pretty much one of the premier long-distance elite hikers out there. At the time, he had accomplished the 5,500 Eastern Continental Trail during a year-long hike that also encompassed the Appalachian Trail), and the hike I was going to be on wasn’t going to be his type of hike. Hence, I did mine as a solo journey. Day 2, I woke up with blisters. Ten hours later, I was desperately trying to call my wife from an area of zero cell reception. I finally got in touch with her, but to put it in simplest terms, it wasn’t easy for her to find the unmarked dirt road that I was hiking to (and she was driving a Mini!). Let’s just say, at the end of the day, it’s nice to have someone who loves us enough to keep searching after driving 2 hours to rescue us from dehydration, exhaustion, and blisters. It's even nicer when said person doesn't say, "I told you so."

5)      Don’t carry more weight than you have to. I did. As the character Katz from Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods learned, people will hate your guts if you throw excess weight into the forest. Food weight doesn’t go down fast enough to make it easier to ascend big mountains. Water weight also adds up for us hyperhidrosis types (he says while growling at the ultra-light types!). It doesn’t need to be compounded with lots of extra clothes. It also needs to be replenished quickly. Conserving water isn't smart for a hyperhidrosis hiker.

6)      Having the right equipment is everything! For instance, when the trek was over, I replaced my walking stick with Black Diamond trekking poles. And yes, like Oprah would say, “These are one of my favorite things.” As Lakeland said, they put us in four-wheel drive. It’s true; they do. They also help my Parkinson’s balance and my dystonia left foot as I ascend mountains and traverse boulder fields. Having them and my other essentials for all season (bear mace, Microspikes, and an ice ax) make a hell of a difference in being able to make it through. Someday, I'll be using mine as a "cane."

Prior to the trip, I had bought an REI tent, backpack, sleeping bag, ground cover, and other little supplies to take my Camelbak daypack (another one of my favorite things) and turn it into an overnight pack. I bought a ton of Cliff Bars (another of my favorite things) and dried food since I had no stove to cook with. And yes, they added up in weight. Knowing what I do about the need to stay hydrated on a pretty much dry trail, I'd rather see the trail over spread out days instead of a week straight. And this is what I currently do and have done. It’s better for my Parkie self to stay alive than to push it too hard.

That said, for a hiker, I would say that the most important bit of equipment other than water is whatever happens to or goes on our feet. Now, I carry blister pads. If I went any kind of distance in 2 days, I would have some kind of healing lotion for my paws as well. It might be weight, but anything that can soothe the feet is a good thing.
This brings us to footwear.

As a Parkinson’s guy with DYSTONIA in my left foot, I will never wear sneakers again, unless it’s a house to car to house trip. Even wandering around Wal-mart will produce a painful sensation on the mid-foot after a short distance (the three cuneiform bones, the cuboid bone, and the navicular bone). This discomfort feels like a nasty consistent annoyance that multiplies the 90° angle that my toes form. And yes, that's painful, too. Believe it or not, in just a short less than a tenth of a mile distance, this makes casual walking painful. Running is out for me, and fast walking, when I don't wear boots, can really hurt, too. Sometimes, I can walk through it if I'm feeling like pushing it, but most times, I can't - even if I try to push it. 
Given the choice of giving up only one of toe or mid-foot issues, I think could walk through the mid-foot, but the toe rearrangements hurt like hell. Thus, sneakers are a thing of the past, even if I had finally got snazzy running ones in 2014 (in the time dystonia was setting in / before PD was diagnosed). Now, it's all shoes that hold my toes in place.

I didn’t hike with sneakers that time. Instead, I had an old pair of ill-fitting Columbia boots, which got wet and created blisters. When I came back, I decided I would pay whatever it cost to never have blisters again. Instead, the guy from EMS put me into a pair of Keen Targhee boots for about half of the price I was willing to pay ($140 - I would have paid over $200 if they said these were blister-proof). He was awesome! I now have a second pair of similar boots from Keen, and I love them. I can see myself getting a new pair when my REI rebate comes in, too. 
By the way, there are regular Taghees and Targee 2s. When it comes to my experience and happiness with them, let’s just say they’ve kept me warm, dry, and safe while crossing streams and enduring Rocksylvania’s finest boulder piles and woodland floor brush. It would be nice to get paid by them to shill, but at this point, I'm just writing out of love for the product.

Additionally, I paid for better-fitting hiking socks, which may have been more expensive, but they provide cushion and avoid blisters. As any hiker will agree, comfort, lack of injuries, and ability to withstand the trail make all of the difference in the world. As a Parkinson’s guy, my body is generally an inferno, so I’m OK there, but my toes get cold (it’s the name of my game). Put simply, I’ve had numb toes sitting at home while just wearing shorts since the rest of me was toasty. I know; I’m an enigma and a conundrum. Thus, I like to have warmer socks on my toes. Not like my snazzy hospital socks, but you get the picture.

This week, I had to replace my old, dead slip on work shoes with nice ones for an interview. Recently, I’ve found that the old ones and even my water shoes / sandals were becoming more susceptible to dystonia pain, so just like with hiking, I found I needed a tight shoe to keep the 90° toe angle from getting in the way of annoyance. I can’t wear hiking boots to an interview, but I do wear them when I go anywhere that involves walking. That meant I needed to bring the CEO of my brain (my wife) along to pick out a good pair for all colors of pants. For work, this involved getting a shiny new pair of dark brown Dockers shoes from Kohl’s, which is one of my wife’s favorite things.

And for all that I wore them so far, I’m happy. The look is sharp and the dystonia is under control. Ideally, I like slip on shoes better, but to look professional instead of relaxed (slipping off my shoes to go stocking footed), I’ll put up with the discomfort by wearing thicker socks and counting my Benjamins before the paycheck arrives. I'm a big fan of money. I have a little, but I’d like more
The same goes for hiking and walking. I don’t want to give up my movement or my freedom to explore, so I’ll keep looking to stay on my feet with poles, shoes / boots, and socks.

             I hope you do, too. There are many more open roads to explore!


  1. I wish I could do what you did! I backpacked all over the Colorado Rocky Mountains when I was younger, and I've wanted to go since I was diagnosed with Parkinson's 14 years ago, but I had no one to go along, and I was too unsure of myself. Now, I'm broke from medical expenses, and I would have a lot of opposing voices if I said I wanted to do it.

    1. Right now, I'm trying to get out and enjoy, but it's been a lot of sickness and random issues that have kept me out of the forests. For instance, my allergies are killing me and the meds make me sleepy. I hope you find someone to go out with in order to see the world. (Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, but your comment somehow went to Spam).