Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Foot injury- Stillness among the Giants

The largest remaining grove of ancient redwoods are around Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Northern California. The Avenue of the Giants is a scenic drive through the park and redwood groves. The trees are so massive and close to the road that you totally feel like they are hugging you.
Ancient coastal redwoods towering up to 350 feet.
Coastal redwoods are the world's tallest trees, and despite my passion for big trees (which gave me my trail name of 'Hemlock') this is the first time I've seen the redwoods.  I hadn't been planning on this visit though. But I am on my fifth week of recovery after getting off the PCT for a stress fracture. Steph suggested this trip because it is one of her favorite places (Thanks Steph!) and because I would be able to get outdoors without needing to walk.
Making peace with the boot.
Stress fractures are an overuse injury caused by doing too much activity, repeatedly, with not enough rest. So now I'm on a mission to learn patience and how to rest. Not at all easy for someone whose happiest time ever was hiking 12-14 hours a day, day after day.  I love to travel, to move, to explore, and to physically push myself.  I get antsy being still. But because I'm off the trail because of this, I'd better figure things out and learn some patience, so I can have a lifetime of healthy backpacking.
Redwoods fracture too.
At the Avenue of the Giants, Steph and I drive to one of the many pullouts along the road. I slowly hobble in my boot to a big tree close to the car, stretch out on my sit pad, and let my toes breath in the air. I touch the fallen leaves, feel the trunk against my spine, listen to the birds and crickets, and settle into the stillness.
It's been years since I've meditated but beneath these redwoods, the practice comes right back to me.  I let go of my longing to venture up the trail or down the cliff to the river. (but at first, oh how I long to go play!). I make peace with not seeing the end of the path, not looking around the next bend for a bigger and more wonderfully gnarled tree, and not turning over rocks in the river. I breathe.  I let all my thoughts go.

What if I can see everything I need to from right here? What if the tree I'm sitting against is just the right one. What if I can enjoy the stream without knowing if there are caddisfly larvae in it? What if its ok for me to just be here where I am?

I can hear traffic of the road and sense encroaching civilization.  But right now the forest is incredibly still, and bursting with life.

I lie sprawled out on the ground gazing upward at the soaring trees, my leg anchored by the heavy boot at a funny angle. Steph and I exclaim how wonderful the light is, and laugh at how child-like we feel goofing off in the woods.
Doubled over in laughter at being sprawled on the ground in my boot looking up at the trees.
I temporarily lost that which I believed defined me and the one thing I could always rely on to make me happy. My darkest fear has been loosing my ability to hike, and now that's happened. It has been like going through a divorce or loss of a loved one. But here in these redwoods, I am able to dig deep and see that the inner peace remains. Then I am truly free. Sure it's a different freedom than the one I so easily find on the trail but this is a freedom that glows within me and that external forces and circumstances can't touch. I will carry this with me when I leave this incredible place.
Picnic shelter in the Women's Grove.
Check out these awesome videos about the redwoods:
Tallest tree found in Redwood National Park (part 1) (part 2)


  1. Oh Joan West! You are such a good writer. It is a true pleasure to follow your blog, and have used it as a sweet resource for my return to hiking. I soloed overnight for the first time this summer with your help and the resources you posted on your blog. So thank you! I'm so glad you made it over to the redwoods. Think of the size of those straps you'd need for the hang! I love those videos too. It's hard to hear you say you are hobbling. I worry about the weight of that boot and hope the other shoe you are wearing has the same heel height as the boot!...and I have to say I can't stop thinking about jansjaunts steel shank boots :) - kind of cool because both legs would have the same shoe on and the same weight, feel and heel height...hmm. Take care and heal up safe!

    1. Way to go on the solo overnight trip! That's such an awesome step to make I sure hope you enjoyed it. It's great to get the feedback that what I wrote helped you. I will never forget the people that supported me in my first solo trip and I'm delighted to complete that circle.

      Haha I can't imagine lugging tree straps big enough for the redwoods around, or trying to get them to stay high enough on the tree while walking around circling the trunk to attach them in place. It would be cool to hang from some of the little redwoods though, and I do hope to return when I'm back to backpacking. Neat area to explore. Weren't the videos incredible, especially how they climbed up so high.

      You are exactly right about the weight of the boot vs my other shoe- it sure makes my hips sore even though I certainly don't walk much at all. The doctor said I only need to be in the boot for another week and a half, but if it turns out that my foot isn't sufficiently healed by then, I'll look into those alternatives. Funny thing you mentioned jansjaunts because I will get to meet her tomorrow so will have a chance to ask about the steel shank boots. :)

      Thanks again for your comment! Really nice to hear from you!

      all the best, Joan