With each step, I felt a sharp burning sensation in my heel. This was swiftly followed by a shooting pain in my toes, which seemed to radiate further up my leg with every step. I bit down hard on my tongue. In my delirious state of mind, I figured that if I could cause pain elsewhere in my body it might take my mind off of the debilitating pain in my feet — the very feet that needed to carry me another 50km over the next two and a half days, carrying 16kg on my back.
I was on the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail in South Australia. A 70km, five-day coastal hike, which opened just over a year ago. I was with my friend Joelle, making good on our tradition to do a multi-day hike over Australia Day week each year.
We planned to complete the hike in three and a half days instead of five. The distance wasn’t that long, and we needed to avoid the 35º+ heat that was due at the weekend.
It meant a couple of 20km days but being well versed in full-pack, multi-day hiking, we knew it wouldn’t be a problem. Especially as most of the track is pretty flat.
Is It Time For Me To Quit?
Yet, after less than 24 hours on the trail — and for the first time ever — I was ready to quit.
Read more: Can You Ever Really Fail an Adventure?
My boots, that I’d had for four years, had decided to turn on me. To give up the ghost. To die a slow and painful death. I literally felt their padding disintegrate as the kilometres passed. And, just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the sole on the right boot caved in.
My foot was now at an angle, rolling inwards. I tried to compensate by turning it outwards with every step. Imagine watching a challenged duck (that had just shit itself) attempting to walk up a hill and you’ll get the idea.
From the outside, my boots still looked like the comfy, reliable old friends I’d known and loved for years. We’d trekked through snow in Slovakia together, crossed glaciers in Patagonia, climbed mountains in New Zealand, traipsed through mud in Tasmania, and hiked across sand in Australia.
I thought I could trust them. But they’d turned into merciless, evil, torture devices. They ripped skin from heels, caused blisters on every bit of flesh they came in contact with, and tore toenails from nail beds without a second thought.
I swear I even heard them give an evil laugh as I limped into camp that night.
The last eight kilometres’ conversation had been about wanting to quit. Where could we get phone signal to get me picked up? Perhaps I should walk half-way the next day and take the side track I knew would lead back to the main road? Maybe we could just amputate?
After what felt like an eternity, we made it to camp, where we discovered that we had it all to ourselves. With my evil boots off, I surveyed the damage and quickly decided not to look too closely. I’d deal with it in the morning.
Hang On, Maybe I Can Do This?
As we relaxed in camp, it dawned on us. Where was everyone? We’d seen no-one on the trail that day, and with no-one at camp we knew it was likely that we wouldn’t see anyone on the trail ahead of us either. A trail all to ourselves? How could I possibly go home?
The trail was one of the most beautiful I’d ever been on. Azure oceans and turquoise skies, contrasting against the deep emerald scrub. Plus, we now had pure, 100% solitude which is why we needed this escape in the first place.
Morning came, and my mind was made up. I was staying.
I gaffa taped what I think was once my heel, but was now a giant pussy mess. Then, I gaffa taped each and every toe in the hope it would stop the skin-on-skin friction.
It didn’t work.
The next two days the pain worsened to the point of tears (and I never cry — I’m literally dead inside). I had blisters, shin splints, swollen ankles. Thoughts of leaving the trail were never far from my mind, but I’d missed my chance. Short of pulling the PLB I was there till the bitter end.
Despite the pain though, I no longer wanted to go home. With each burning step I tried to pull my thoughts away from the pain and look around me. To appreciate where I was. Those nights in camp were some of the best I’ve had when out adventuring – having a place like that to yourselves is something seriously special.
But, on day four, I finally gave in.
“Give me your Crocs,” I yelled at Joelle. Something no self-respecting person should ever be forced to say.
I hobbled the rest of the way in the one-size-too-small knock-off Crocs. I figured that the threat of a rolled ankle on the uneven ground, or snake bite, was nothing compared to the hell I’d walked in for the past three days.
They felt like bliss.
I lost seven toenails on that hike and even now, three months later, my feet are still not healed properly. When I got back to Sydney, the boots went in the bin.
But something else disappeared too.
The memory of the pain. The memory of how I hated every single second and every single step. The memory of how I wanted to cut my feet off using nothing but my blue plastic spork. The memory of how I actually had stern words with my boots while Joelle wasn’t looking, hoping that they’d listen and return to being my faithful friends once again.
Instead, all I could think about was how lucky I was.
How we’d had a 70-kilometre playground entirely to ourselves. A playground of perpetually beautiful coastal views, friendly kangaroos, koalas high in the trees, seals adorning the rocks, and stunning bush campgrounds where no clothes were needed.
How I’d got to spend quality time with someone I care about, and push my body to the limits and see exactly what I was made of.
Introducing The Fun Scale
I’d heard of Type 2 Fun years before and had used the phrase previously to describe hikes that I’d found hard. But now I knew what Type 2 Fun really felt like.
If you’re still not sure yourself what Type 2 Fun looks like then take a look at this: What’s Type 2 Fun? A Guide To The Fun Scale
And do you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world. Despite the fact that my beautician charged me full price for a pedicure last week (I still only have three toenails), this trip taught me something….
That when it comes to adventure, it’ll always be worth it.