Plantar fascism


The 10% of readers of this blog who have experienced plantar fasciitis will understand completely.  The other 90% will not.  I know that because I was once part of that 90%, and when Alanna finally underwent surgery for her case many years ago, I was, quite simply, ignorant and consequently unsympathetic to her plight.  Well, higher authorities have now decided to damn my soul … er, sole.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In preparation for this walk, I logged over 3400 miles of training walks, mostly in the DC area, between October 2014 and December 2016.  I learned how to treat most typical ailments, from blisters, to sprains, to stone bruises.  I visited a podiatrist, had my gait assessed and was fitted with a computer-designed set of orthotics.  I pre-purchased 4 pairs of my favorite hiking boots, including one set that was half a size larger (specifically for walking down the back side of the Rockies).  I couldn’t have been more prepared if NASA was overseeing my operation.  I set a personal daily record of 31 miles, and completed many 20+ mile walks.  But then something odd happened around November 2016 (no, not Trump being elected, although that certainly was unusual).  After about 3000 miles of walking, I noticed an odd pain in the sole of my right foot, which was most severe when I started my walk each day.  By the time February came around, I decided to see an orthopedic surgeon in Bend, who diagnosed this as plantar fasciitis (look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls!).  Great! Now what??

“Never fear!” said the orthopod, and he fixed me up with all I would need.  I was given clear instructions on how to stretch and massage the plantar fascia.  I was told to ice my foot once a day.  I was outfitted with a special night splint, used first in the Spanish Inquisition, and little rubber heel pads (those are great for your heels, but they also push your toes into the tip of your shoe, meaning you get a choice … heel pain or toe blisters …wonderful!).  But wait, hiking friends, there’s more.  The good doctor had one last surprise in his bag of tricks: a corticosteroid shot.  This magic elixir would – he assured me – quench all pain for many months, and allow me to run faster and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  “Sounds great, ” thought I.  And the next thing I knew, Dr. Spikeneedle was stirring a syringe full of steroids around my heel, like a painter mixing a fresh gallon of wall paint.  Yow!  But sure enough, within 2-3 days, no more pain.  Until 3 days ago, or roughly 4 weeks into the walk.

David and I finished a 13-mile day and after a 45 minute ride back to the hotel I was hobbled.  My foot felt like someone had driven a railroad spike into it.  Even though I’d been massaging and icing and splinting and ‘Aleve-ing’ for nearly 30 days, my plantar fascia finally caught up with me.

Hence the title;  the tendon in my foot has dictated, with full authoritarian disregard for anything or anyone else, that this walking must pause for now.  By any definition that is fascism: plantar fascism to be exact.

What to do?  Well, it’s obvious.  We’re in the Allegheny mountains, so the first thing I did was buy a jar of moonshine.  No kidding.  IMG_1250

A little white lightnin’ (okay, maybe more than just a little) was a start, but all it really did was fuel the fires of self-pity and denial.  Why me?  Why, after nearly 4000 miles total, and 400 miles into this walk?  What do I do now?  I know, I’ll just gut it out and walk through the pain (another shot is poured).  Oh, hell, let’s just can it and drive home to Oregon and surprise everyone when we get there (another shot is poured).  Maybe I’ll just sleep on it.

So that’s what I did.  Alanna, David, Peg, and I talked about it, and we’ve decided that David will walk for another couple of days before he heads back home to Annapolis (as he had always planned).  Alanna and I will take it easy for two weeks, when we’re supposed to fly from Cleveland back to Oregon, where I have a couple of speeches to give.  Then we’ll return to Cleveland.  That’ll be almost three weeks of recovery for my PF.  If I take care of it in the interim, I might be okay for the rest of the walk.  If it hasn’t recovered by then, well, I’ll just buy a bigger bottle of moonshine and decide what to do then.  Stay tuned.

As American as …

Within twenty miles of each other are two iconic sites, each a testimony to different elements of the American spirit. Both are very close to the walking route we’ve chosen on the GAP, so we took time to visit them.

The first is the memorial to Flight 93, near Shanksville, PA. This, of course, was the United flight that had been hijacked on September 11, 2001, and was on its way to DC – presumably to crash into the Capitol – when the passengers and crew resisted and gave their lives in sacrifice as the plane plummeted to the earth in an area that was an abandoned mine. The land was acquired by the National Park Service, and was made into an extraordinary memorial site. Pictures, of course, don’t do it justice, but here are some, anyway.

The Flight 93 memorial includes this walkway which traces the plane’s flight path

As you can see, the day was cold, grey, and wet. There were only a handful of other visitors, adding to the austere, yet somewhat serene feeling of the place. The visitors’ center was done as tastefully and respectfully as one could hope, given the context. The architecture is stark and stunning.

While every American can remember where they were on September 11, 2001, we each have a very personal and deeply compelling feeling about that day. At that time, I was the Technical Director to the Oceanographer of the Navy, with an office at the Naval Observatory in NW DC. I would typically spend 2 or 3 days at the Pentagon, and was usually taken there by my driver, Luke Adams. On 9/11, Luke and I were on our way toward the Pentagon at about 0845. As we approached the Potomac River we saw a black plume rising from the building. We knew the World Trade Center in New York had already been hit. We turned back toward the Observatory. The next day we learned that two sailors from our command, working at the Naval Ice Center detachment in the Pentagon, had been killed (Petty Officers Flocco and Earhardt). A couple of days later, CAPT Chris Gunderson and I attended a heart-wrenching memorial service at the Pentagon. The combined feelings of grief and camaraderie were like nothing I’d ever felt before. Shortly after that, while the Pentagon was still being cleaned up, I walked through the building to a meeting. I wrote a short essay on that day, and include it here as well. It follows:

I went back to the Pentagon today. I’m usually there a couple of times each week, but I had not been there since 11 SEP, and today’s meeting was something of a necessary catharsis. As some of you know, our command lost two petty officers in the attack. They were, in fact, the first two confirmed Navy dead … both of them young men. They’ll be buried this weekend, with full honors, in their respective home towns in New York and Kentucky.

You’ve all read of the heroics and stalwart professionalism of the people in the Pentagon, military and civilian alike. There’s a more personal side, which I had not fully appreciated until today. You need to know about that as well.

At our meeting a good friend of mine, a Navy Commander, broke down in tears as she remembered her lost sailors (those two young men reported directly to her) – it was obvious she’d spent most of the last week in duress. She described the scene of the attack in detail, her description made even more realistic by the lingering acrid aroma that still permeates the Pentagon – an awful smell, the origins of which one can’t even begin to imagine.

The quiet in the Pentagon was equally striking. Normally a bustling lively place, the dining room was empty. The halls and corridors had only scattered groups of people. Usually at 7:30 AM the building is a madhouse. The section of the building that housed the Navy Command Center is now cordoned off, and the void that was left from the attack creates an eerie darkness perceptible from the long views afforded in the outermost “E-ring”. The central courtyard has been cut in half with wire fencing, and temporary comfort stations have been set up where rescue/recovery workers can grab a cup of coffee. Military police guard many of the intersections inside the building. They all look somber but confident.

But there are some remarkable symbols of the enduring American spirit. As you exit the building you pass a table with patriotic bumper stickers, free for the taking … and people are taking them.   In what was the parking lot beside the west side of the building – where the plane crashed – there’s a fleet of mobile McDonalds and Burger King vans, donating food for the rescue/recovery workers. And atop the Pentagon there’s a steady stream of flags being flown and removed, to be delivered to the families of those who perished in the attack.

So go back to work. Be proud. Think of that Navy Commander fighting off the tears, and remember that our American spirit is still strong.

We kept walking on the GAP, and within a day or two – with nearly freezing temperatures and persistent rain – we made it to Ohiopyle, PA, just a few miles from Fallingwater. This former home of the Kauffmans of Pittsburgh, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. What an incredible place! The “organic” design integrates the home into the rocks and waters of the gorgeous Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands. It’s also a typical Wright design, in that beauty and elegance of form take priority over such elements of functionality as being leakproof. Little pails are strategically placed throughout the home, to catch the drips! Our guide said you can always tell a Wright design by the buckets. Nevertheless, it was a real treat to finally see Fallingwater, after having heard so much about it all of my life.

A couple of days later we treated ourselves to a tour of Wright’s other home in the area, Kentuck Knob (yes, Kentuck).  This home was owned by the Hagans of ice cream and dairy fame.  The home is truly unique in that there are only two right angles in the whole place.  It’s built of Pennsylvania sandstone, Carolina cypress, and Maryland flagstone.  The home sits on a scenic hilltop, and the current owners (from Britain) have sprinkled the property with massive modern sculptures, including one by Claes Oldenburg.  Alanna and I finished the day by visiting the falls on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle.


So, this week has been a unique walk through Americana, albeit not exactly baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie.  The stark juxtaposition of the basest behavior of man (terrorism) with the selfless heroism of typical Americans (United Flight 93), placed only a few miles from emblems of American modern creativity (Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob), has made this week one that I will not soon forget.