About a year ago my friend, Kasi, asked me if I wanted to go on a hiking trip with her. “My sisters are organizing a hike about forty miles along the Lower Rogue River from Grants Pass, OR, toward Gold Beach, OR. We would stay in lodges along the way, where they provide all the food. Would you be interested in doing it with me?” Kasi asked me one Sunday at church.
“Sure, it sounds like fun to me!” Was my eager response, not sure if she was actually serious or not. A few weeks later Kasi provided more information about the trip, I paid her the money, and I started training. No way did I want to go on a forty-mile, four-day hike unprepared.
July 14, 2018, we set out on our four-day, forty-mile (which turned out to be more like fifty miles, according to all of our tracking devices) hike along the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Our hiking party included me, Kasi, her two sisters and their husbands, a woman and her boyfriend, (no one in the group knew), who were last minute add-ons due to a last minute cancellation, and two friends of Kasi’s oldest sister, Lisa and Sandy. Kasi was the only one I knew prior to our adventure. Standing at the trailhead, full of a hearty breakfast from Black Bear Diner, my boots laced up, and my pack all cinched down on my back, I felt ready to conquer the hike ahead of us. Three miles into the hike I started feeling some burning on my left heel, it was a blister starting to form. During our stop for lunch at a place called Whiskey Creek I pulled off my boots to inspect my heels. Both of them were forming blister, but they were very small and weren’t really causing a problem, yet. I did the best I could to get bandaids and moleskin on both heels, in hopes of stopping the blisters from getting any worse.
We ate our lunch at Whiskey creek (at that point I could have used a shot of whiskey) and headed on our way back onto the trail. Another mile or so in, on a somewhat steep decent I felt something in my right upper calf/knee area. It felt like a sharp pain, but I did not want to stop or let anyone in our hiking party know I was having some pain (turns out I pulled my calf muscle). I barely knew anyone in the group and I did not want to be any kind of a weak link. Heels on fire, as each step made my blisters get worse, and pain in my right calf I trudged on the remaining five miles or so before our first stop at Black Bear Lodge. When we arrived the lodge they had freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (my favorite) and lemonade waiting. I quickly devoured a couple of cookies and gulped down some lemonade before hobbling off to find our cabin for the night. Once in our cabin I grimaced as I loosened my boots the best I could before I pulled them off. My heels were completely rubbed raw from my boots and the terrain of the day. Sitting on my bed in the cabin I wondered to myself how I was going to make it through the next day, our longest day of hiking at about fourteen miles (turned out to be more like seventeen), with these horrible blisters and my aching calf. Every step from mile three that day was painful. I could not imagine putting those boots back on in the morning and walking another step, let alone fourteen miles.
As evening approached I put on my Keen Newport H2 sandals (I was so grateful I had brought with me, and will now always carry with me in my backpack) careful not to put the heel strap on my foot and headed down to the main lodge for dinner with our group and a group of rafters, who had been floating down the river while we hiked. We sat at the table talking, laughing, and comparing sore spots. I let those sitting closest to me take a look at my heels. Everyone made a grimacing face, and felt bad for my misfortune from the day. Kasi’s oldest sister, Lisa, recommended I put bandaids, moleskin, and tape on my heels for the hike the next day and that I wear my Keen sandals.
“I’m not sure I want to wear my Keens though because the heel strap is right where my blisters are.” I said with some concern.
“Yeah, but at least it will stay in place and not rub your heel anymore. The problem with your boots is that with each step you take they are rubbing your heels.” Lisa explained.
That night I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out in my mind how I was going to get out of the rest of the hike. There was no road access to the lodge, the only way being by raft. There was a rafting group with us at the lodge, but they were full. I knew my only option was to keep hiking the next day, and then the next two after that. Plus, I did not want to give up, I wanted to finish the hike I started. I thought more about what Lisa said about my boots, and by morning I was convinced to give my Keens a shot. I could not even bear the thought of putting my boots back on. The start of day two was a steep almost straight up climb of about an eighth of a mile back to the main trail. Kasi was behind me, asking me several times how my heels were doing. I could not believe it, but they felt great. The morning had brought me a renewed spirit and attitude, and with little pain in my heels or calf, I felt ready to conquer the day.
I felt charged and energized the entire day as we trekked along and ever changing scenery of fields, forests, and rocks along the Rogue River. During a few miles of the day Kasi and I hiked with her sister Lisa’s two friends, Lisa and Sandy. Her friends were the oldest in the group and the least fit, but they were making it along just fine, with great attitudes (they even brought their ukuleles on the trip entertaining us in the evenings playing and singing). During a few spots of the hike there were a couple of very steep areas close to the edge of cliffs. Lisa needed help traversing these areas. So Kasi and I would help her by passing her backpack to each other and then giving her a hand of support as she went over the steeper areas. We all ended up making it to Marial lodge, our next stop. At that lodge they had beer, and we all enjoyed one (some enjoyed a lot more than one) as we looked over the river from the deck of the lodge. I felt such a sense of relief and accomplishment for making it through the day with relatively little pain. That night we devoured another truly amazing dinner and enjoyed each other’s company, and the company of a few other hikers who joined us at the lodge.
Over the next few days we completed our forty (or really about fifty) mile adventure, taking in all the beauty of the area and soaking up the experience. Along the way as one person in the group struggled others would encourage and lift them up to continue on. As we all kept adding blisters to our feet we shared our supplies of bandaids, moleskin, and tape. We shared stories about our lives, bonding as we hiked along the trail. Overall, the trip was an amazing experience that I will always treasure. The beauty of everything we saw left me inspired and renewed. Though I don’t really see anyone from our hike expect for Kasi, I formed bonds that will last a lifetime.
The hike last summer along the Wild and Scenic Rogue River was something of a metaphor for my life as a military wife. It reminded me that I can and have done hard things. There were times during the hike I was pushed to my breaking point, but I found a way to make it through, just like so many times as a military wife. There were many times during deployments that I didn’t think I could make it. I just wanted out, just like I did that first day of the hike. I wasn’t ever in physical pain, like on the hike, but I did have mental and emotional struggles. There were days I felt completely exhausted, but I found ways to push through, just like I did on that hike. I had other military wives, family, and friends around me lifting me up, similar to the ways those on the hike helped me, or the way I helped them on the hike. I made friends and formed bonds along the way just like I did as a military wife. Doing the hard parts of the hike led to experiences and beauty I never would have seen had I not taken the risk, not done the hard things. Similarly doing the hard things as a military wife led me to experiences that have helped shape who I am. Doing the hard things helped me to find strength I never knew I had.
Military life is not easy, there are hard things all the time, much harder than anything I experienced on the hike. Whether its a PCS, a deployment, a KIA, a struggling child, there are many hard things in military life. It is during those hard times we have to dig deep within ourselves to find the strength to go on, to thrive. It is during those hard times we lean on our support system, for the strength we need. When we do hard things we discover more about who we are and find beauty in life that we might never expect. No matter where you are in life, especially you military wives, keep at it, it may not be easy, but we can do hard things.