I have been miserable for most of the past three weeks of hiking.
I find it harder to get up in the morning, harder to get up from a break, harder to leave town after a resupply. I've started to come up with wild ideas, like, "We could get a work-for-stay job in this town and wait out the heat wave." Or, "We could hitchhike into town and then slack-pack the miles that we missed." Or, "We could yellow-blaze to Maine and hike in the cooler weather there and come back to the South when it's a reasonable temperature again."
Part of my problem is related to the heat. All of a sudden, it's summer time. We went from temperatures in the 50s-70s to temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Even in the mountains, under the trees, it is hot. After ten minutes of hiking, the sweat is pouring off my face. I can't even see for the sweat that drips into my eyes and coats my glasses' lenses. It's more like swimming uphill than hiking. My clothes are so wet, they don't even dry before the next morning.
I know, I should have been expecting this. What did I think May-August was going to be like anyway? I went into this knowing that I was going to be unhappy in the heat. What I didn't fully appreciate is that heat is my Kryptonite. Each foot suddenly feels like it weighs 20 pounds. I feel constantly thirsty. My thoughts dwell on whether or not I'm running out of water, getting a hellacious sunburn, or perhaps about to die of exposure. I get dizzy, nauseated, and have a hard time walking in a straight line. Have you ever seen a picture of a dripping wet cat? That's pretty much the expression on my face for ten hours a day.
The second reason, and the real crux of my misery, is that my feet hurt. A lot. No, more than you think. Not only do the balls of my feet ache with every step, but my feet have been getting chewed up with blisters. My blisters have blisters. Some of the blisters have merged with nearby blisters to form monster blisters which I'm pretty sure are plotting to take over the world.
I am so unhappy that I need to change some things about how I'm hiking, or I'm not going to make it through Virginia.
Escaping the heat isn't much of an option, but I have started to notice that John and I have very different hiking styles. When we were just getting going, and the weather was more reasonable, these weren't very apparent. I now know that John is a power-througher. He likes to go, all day, not stopping for water, food, or rest. He likes to get the miles in. I'm not like this at all. I'm a self-coddler. If I don't feel well, I don't want to do anything until I solve whatever is bothering me. No stopping for rest, water, or food, while hauling my sweaty butt up and down mountains for 15-18 miles? My idea of Hell.
My new strategy is not to try and keep up with him anymore. If we're going the same speed, great. If not, we're heading in the same direction; we'll meet up at some point. I'm trying a regular break routine, and so far it's working for me: I hike for an hour, at least an hour, no matter how terrible I feel, and then I can have a ten-minute Real Break (which means I get to take my pack off, sit down, and wipe off a little of the torrent cascading off my eyebrows, nose, and chin). One hour is a lot more tangible and real to me than "I have to do six miles and then I can rest," or "The next shelter we're going to stay at is 15 miles away." Also, because I feel like I earned it, I don't feel guilty or weak for taking a break. I can enjoy my water, a granola bar, and wiggling my toes, and when I get up, I tell myself, "Just one hour, and then you can sit down."
The solution to my foot problem isn't as easy to pinpoint, but I'm hoping that the new shoes and socks I bought in town yesterday will help clear up those blisters. The owner of the outfitters is a past thru-hiker, and he was confident that I had completely wrong socks and shoes, and that even the pain and tendon problems I've been having can be helped just by getting a different size.
My fingers are crossed.