Hiking Helps for the Long Haul
Tips on gear and where to take it.
I don't know why, but both of my ankles have been giving me fits ever since last January. If I wear hiking shoes, my ankles will suddenly give out to the side, almost with a "pop," and when one is "good," the other gives out at the most inopportune times.
That all means that I've had to come up with remedies if I'm gonna keep hiking, and I don't intend to cease that activity.
I'd like to share some of my remedies with you that might also help keep you on the trail, especially when time, age and the geography begin to get tough.
My first "help" was to get rid of all of my cheap footgear and buy a good pair of leather and nylon boots that really do fit my feet. By "fit," I mean that they are not too wide nor narrow, and not too long, and fit my ankles fairly snugly. These boots are eight inches high with steel shanks and arch supports, with a non-aggressive sole that is corduroy in style.
I have found that aggressively lugged soles tend to grab too firmly, and when I would twist to turn, my knees took a pounding. In this case I bought the lightest-weight pair I could find and decided not to spare the cost, so I purchased Danner footwear.
Let me say here that I do own a pair of Wally-World leather boots that are extremely lightweight and comfortable, but they don't offer ankle support to the degree that my thin ankles need. I keep them around for short jaunts with little foot-stress. The old adage, "You get what you pay for," is an understatement when it comes to footwear.
I still like my low-top hikers, though, and once again, I chose to go with somewhat pricey quality, choosing a pair each from Merrill and New Balance. The latter are the lightest and most comfortable that I have ever worn, though they aren't holding up as I'd like them to.
Inside each pair I wear those half-inch-thick gel heel inserts to further cushion my feet. But even that slight rise gives my ankles fits, so how to fix this quandary? I wanted to keep my hikers, but my ankles were objecting strenuously. Then my wife Jeri came up with the solution; she suggested ankle braces!
I promptly bought one-size-fits-all, and by golly, they work! I wear ultra-thin white nylon socks against my skin, then the braces, then a pair of heavy cotton or wool-blend socks, even on the hottest of summer days, and my ankle pain has all but disappeared. Since I started doing this, neither ankle has given out once, and I'm back to hiking five to six miles per outing over some very rough country on uneven ground as well as boulder and fist-sized rocks!
Just the other day, I hiked over the rockiest ground I've encountered in a long time and much of the rocks would roll under my weight. I broke off a six-foot length of dried yucca-stalk and voila, my troubles were over!
Yucca stalks have to be nature's unsung heroes when it comes to hiking staffs — strong beyond belief, lightweight, extremely durable, plentiful and cheap. I always wear a thin pair of leather gloves when grasping the fibrous woody stalk to keep my skin from chafing.
During this past spring gobbler season, there was a particularly steep mountainside that I had to traverse both up and down; it is covered with loose rocks, shale and debris. Many years ago I had cut a staff and left it on an overhanging log on the top of the hill. That staff has continued to keep my footing safe in the pre-dawn light as I negotiate the side. This year was no different as the footing seemed especially treacherous, but I never lost a step with the staff in hand guiding me.
So as a "help," a staff of proper length and used as a third leg will do wonders for your hiking needs, and it is great for hiking into rivers, too!
I've found two materials, besides yucca, to be superior to all others as hiking staffs. One is aluminum, which comes in adjustable lengths; these usually have a wrist band so you won't drop the staff. But I have found aluminum to be somewhat pricey.
The other option is synthetic, as in graphite or fiberglass, and usually the stick is hollow. I have one that is an old mop handle and it works great when wading rivers, since it doesn't get water-logged. I installed a rubber "foot" on the bottom and a nylon strap at the top end, and it is the stick-of-choice when going to water. It won't rot or rust, either!
I've been using hiking sticks for nigh onto 35 years now, and it has been an on- again, off-again proposition, but the older I get, the more I find myself turning to them. I bought Ol' White (my faithful Ford pickup) 23 years ago and that original stick or several others have been in its bed constantly.
Since I'm loosely talking about hiking, I thought I'd mention a coupla trails for you folks who don't know the area yet or are relatively new to Grant County.
One of my favorites is the "Deadman's Canyon" trail: Drive south on the Lordsburg highway past the Tyrone mine turnoff and the tailings mountain on the right, and turn right on the first road locally known as the "Homestead" road (not its proper name). After several miles you will come to the national forest and will drop down into Deadman.
At the bottom, turn left and park at the trailhead. This trail runs for about a mile and a half up to the Continental Divide Trail and is gradual in climb. At the junction of the C-D you can go left and climb rather severely to the summit of Burro Peak, or you can head back down the way you came.
Lots of tall pines make for shady rests and even places for an impromptu picnic. There may be water in pools but probably only if the monsoon season is in full swing. Don't drink from them unless you can purify the water! But they do make for soothing places to soak hot feet.
Another scenic trail is on the Gila River down at the end of the road that bisects the Bird Sanctuary: Drive to the end to the loop and park there and head down-river; it is about a hike of two and a half to three miles to the Middle Box, and you will travel through wide flood plains with tall cottonwoods to get there. You'll see a ton of birdlife, some wildlife and great scenery, but watch out for rattlers hiding in shady places!
If you're really in good shape and adventuresome, try water-hiking the river downstream or upstream. But be careful of the ever-shifting pockets of quicksand and what can be deceptively deep pools of dark green liquid, which are, by the way, great places to take a dip or two!
As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you too!