Many people on the Camino mention the charm of having no concerns but that of putting one foot in front of the other. No concerns, that is, as long as both feet and the rest of one’s trekmobile are in good shape.
My right foot had been a concern for me for at least six months prior to this trip. I had developed a mild case of metatarsalgia/Morton’s neuroma. Then I bought a pair of the highest rated hiking boots and went for a break-in walk on the Katy trail. Two miles out, my foot was acting up and by the time I returned to my car, it was exquisitely painful, and I could barely walk. Three podiatrist visits, three reflexology visits, and two orthotics later, the condition was back to mild and I could walk normally with the orthotic and the wonder shoe – Altra (I returned the fancy hiking boots). I was hoping I was ready for the Camino.
Ten days in, I still have mild foot pain & clicking between toes 3 & 4. But, compared to what we have seen on the trail, I have happy toes and sweet feet.
Injuries & other medical concerns are common on the Camino and many pilgrims are obsessed with preventing and treating those concerns so they can continue their journey. We know one man who returned home after 7 days due to swollen feet and numerous people who have taken breaks to heal various hiking-related maladies. Complaints about necks, shoulders, backs, hips, knees, and ankles abound, along with the occasional colds & bedbug bites. But, it’s the feet that get most air time (literally & figuratively).
We regularly pass pilgrims sitting on rocks beside the road or at cafes, changing their socks, massaging their feet, and treating their blisters. Case in point: I met a woman, Molly, in the bathroom last night and was taken aback by her feet. Apparently, prior to starting the Camino she had had her toenails painted blue with the yellow shell symbol painted on the blue. Last night she had only 2 of those blue toenails left, three of her toenails were gone altogether, and one toe was a mess of bloody scabs. One of her travel buddies had a picture of her beautiful toes at day one, a second picture of mangled, bloody, and bandaged toes at day 7, and then a picture of the toes I saw. Molly had lost two days in her Camino progress and seen a doctor for antibiotics when her toes had become infected, but today is on her way again wearing open-toed Teva’s with socks (which appear to be the go-to shoes for toe causualties).
So yes, my right foot hurts by the end of the day, but, in comparison to many others, I have happy toes and sweet feet. So far neither Donna or I have blisters, we have not used compeed (a blister preventative that seemingly ever pilgrim carries), and I have only used Ibuprofen (aka Camino candy) sporadically. It is reassuring that funky toes, feet, ankles, knees, etc. do not appear to be particularly age or fitness-related. One can look ahead on the trail at any given time and see multiple knee braces. A beautiful 20-something member of an ultra-fit couple we met in Orisson (this story later) got laid up for 2 days with a swollen knee. These things can and do happen to anyone – and some say to everyone, eventually.
Donna fell yesterday. She tripped on a loose rock and down she went. She bruised her wrist and bloodied her knee but otherwise sustained no damage. But, she was shocked initially and couldn’t move (held down by packs/poles). I was walking ahead of her at the time and by the time I got to her, a small crowd had gathered: a delightful couple from England (who we later learned are walking their 7th Camino), a man from Denmark who was one of our first roomies on the Camino, and a woman from Sweden we had met the night before. After expressing much care & concern, the crowd moved on. Donna and I proceeded slowly to the next village and stopped at the cafe. There, several people asked how Donna was doing (news travels fast) and a young Englishman got out his first aid kit and helped get Donna’s knee bandaged.
Word to the wise: if you’re feeling neglected and would like some tender care, I know a walk for you. You won’t even have to fake it because you will probably get hurt naturally. Everyone does. And there will be love and care, and on good days, happy toes.