Friends are completing the Adirondack 46 next week, and as luck would have it I have squeezed in enough extra peaks that I can finish with them, I just need to get Rocky Peak Ridge out of the way. That is my goal for today.
I slept in, slowly got ready, and drove to the Giant Mountain trailhead. There were 30 cars lined up along the road. I passed a few parked cars looking for a sweet spot, and found one. As I drove close alongside the car in front of my intended parking spot, I was startled to see a dude in the driver's seat of the car in front of me. It was a relief that he didn't open his door at that moment, I would have crashed into it. I parallel parked behind him and headed toward the trail. By now he was outside the car wearing a towel, probably changing into shorts.
Being that I was alone on a shorter hike than some of our recent death marches, I had it in mind to try and go for speed on this trip. Being in my late 30's (is that possible? I had my midlife crisis at 17 so I'm pretty sure I was never destined to make it this far), I need to warm up before going all-out. Just as I started getting into it and going faster, the dude from the car catches up to me and goes by. Frankly, I'm not accustomed to people passing me when I'm fancying myself going fast, particularly the first person I see, so this came as a pretty awesome surprise. It's clear that the dude is going to help me push it today. I stay with him and eventually pass him. We leapfrog run-walking the rest of the way up to Giant. Lots of good, hilarious comments about barefeet from the sidelines:
"Look, he's barefoot. He's tough!"
"Barefoot, is that the new thing now?"
"There's the man!" (From a girl hiking down with another girl in Vibram 5 Fingers)
Early in the hike from up ahead: "blah blah blah waaah my ankle! blah blah blah". Uh oh, meeting these people in barefeet can sometimes get ugly but luckily not this time..
On the second meeting: "You're *still* barefoot?!"
And from another one: "I still don't know how you do that".
And of course, the best of all, at the top of Giant, the run-walking dude comes up and shakes my hand. He says, "Everybody was asking me the whole way up, are you with the barefoot guy?"
We talked for a bit, and I headed towards Rocky Peak Ridge. It was a steep descent, and I slowed to a normal pace as my feet were feeling the friction. The dude passes me so of course I pick up the pace again. He's really pushing me to find my speed. My feet suffered four separate "toe crackers" as H calls them, on four different toes, a really easy way for a barefooter to break a toe. Allow me to explain. While hiking it is common for the feet to brush up against rocks, sticks, or trail sidewalls, sort of like tripping but without any kind of fall. In shoes recovering is easy so it's a total non-issue, but while barefoot you are tripping over your toe. The body's momentum is getting absorbed by one tiny little toe, so it breaks. Today I suffered toe crackers on four different toes that I would have expected to put me out of commission. However, today I realized that my feet are getting stronger and are actually getting unexpectedly conditioned to handle toe crackers. At one point after a toe cracker, I was feeling the pain. I looked down and saw blood and let out a mental cheer. The blood means that the source of the pain was a cut (which will heal quickly) and not a broken bone.
The wife and I still have yet to do any grocery shopping since returning from our vacation last week. At the top of Rocky Peak Ridge, I eat the only foods I could find at the house: almonds and marshmallows. This is my second hike that I have brought this trail snack on. Along the way, the bag gets shaken, heated, and mashed. By the time I eat the large marshmallows, they are encrusted with whole almonds.
Generally, everyone is gracious and steps aside after you catch up to them, in which case passing is a non-event. One guy with boots and poles was moving at a good clip, but I was intent on chasing down the dude ahead of him, so I wanted to get around him. For 5-10 minutes, he saw me, but did not pause to let me through. I politely kept my distance behind him for a while, but eventually started tailgating. I tailgated for a long time before he finally stepped aside. It turned out that he happened to be tailgating the dude from the car, which explains his determination, as he was intent on joining the unspoken competition. I walked past him, then passed the other guy while he sat down for a quick break.
We are now descending Giant. Thunderstorms have brought lightening, thunder, and pouring rain. The dude passes me, jogging effortlessly down the hill. I keep up halfway down the mountain, but in a single moment my feet transition from invincible to tender. After a certain amount of abuse, the magic juice that makes bare feet tough eventually breaks down or gets used up like fuel. Like a stubborn old nag, they refuse to go on like this any further. Suddenly, I can feel each of 20 pebbles digging into my feet with every footstep. I have no choice to slow to a hobble, quietly whimpering to myself the rest of the way down. Nothing's hurt or injured, it's just that the nerves in the bottom of the feet are screaming "jesus god enough already" so loud that it's impossible to ignore. I make my way to the car, at which point the dude is long gone.
On the drive home there was a fair bit of traffic. I passed an agile muskrat probing out onto 87 repeatedly looking to cross. Clearly he had not yet gone to Safety Town, where I learned to safely cross a busy street. Sadly it was a missed opportunity to pull over and capture the event on video to see how quick of a self-learner the little guy turned out to be. It's probably just as well not to have gotten it on video.