Aug 6, 2016

Foot and Soul Damage

Downtown Seattle 1:30AM

My bright silver and yellow Z-lite pad lays starkly juxtaposed against the dirty gray sidewalk near King Street Station, that I now call home.  My pack, lopsided and and lazy, lays a foot away.  The brain, or top cover of the pack, hangs down the back side and and the top chord is loose. My gear is half strewn around me. It's become impossible to find things and I'm so bored that now seems as good a time as any to go through all my crap and organize. All of it is in bad shape, there's no doubt about it.

Karmas foot is cracked and blistered from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

  Nothing in my pack, however, is in worse shape than my feet. In all my years of living, hiking, and punishing my body, I've never had feet feel like this.  Open sores and blisters expand across them in all the key (read worst) spots. My ankles are so chewed up they've begun to swell. Unable to even wear my hiking boots any longer, I've been reduced to sporting a pair of Seattle Seahawks flip flops in order to get around.

....Oh the ignominy

I slowly run my fingers over my arches and toes gently pushing on the pulsing red regions. With each press the blood moves away leaving fingerprint sized white patches.  These little evidences immediately plump back up with a deep red hue. Only the pain and a mild feeling of release remain. I've been doing this for hours. I should never have let them come to this, but given the situation, I think I would have made all the same decisions that brought me here over again if I had the chance. 

Looking to power by Justin Arn from the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had hiked about 10 miles out of the little town of Stehekin when I came across an incredible site called Hemlock Camp, a formerly closed campsite right along side a rushing river that the Pacific Crest Trail hugs for dozens of miles. Two other campers, Tom a 77 year old section hiker, and his daughter, were already set up, but they showed me a place close by I could hang my hat for the evening. 

It's always inspiring to see someone Tom's age out in some deep section of the Pacific Crest Trail. This is not an easy hike, even for the fittest of folk, and imagining trying to section it out with twice the years, and half the mobility I currently enjoy sounds far beyond just daunting.

Tom, however was in high spirits and in fact was finishing one of his final legs.  This time next year, he will have hiked every single mile of the PCT.  That is damned impressive.

Raging River from Karma on the PCT.
Some PCT river fords are harder than others. 

  Of course with that being said there are still obstacles. Mountains to climb and rivers to ford.  In fact the very next morning the  three of us, myself, Tom, and his daughter, had to ford an incredibly fast moving section of rapids just beyond the camp. I did so first, barefoot.  The river portion where I made my crossing, although only thigh deep was so icy cold that it shocked my body into hyperventilation. By the time I had finished inching my way through, everything below my hips was deathly white and it was many long minutes before my feet, having been cut upon the rocks, could actually feel the slivers they had endured.

Beautiful Washington Forest from Karma PCT.

Karma captures image from the PCT.

  Tom, was not so lucky. He had chosen a slightly deeper region to make the crossing and at the critical point, his trekking pole slipped and the river began dragging him away toward an even more rapid and rocky section of the river. Both myself and his daughter, were standing by cautiously during his ford and we jumped into action with just the speed that sort of emergency called for; by which I mean we both leaped into the river. Tom was okay after everything but his trekking pole was unfortunately, irrecoverable.  

  It would be wrong of me to say I saved Tom's life or even really ensured his safety to any great degree, as it was his daughter and his own fortitude that got him out of that situation. I was more helpful however in supplying a trekking pole to finish his hike, by giving him one of my own; an act which ensured both himself and his daughter could continue their voyage.  I thru-hiked a good portion of Yosemite last year with a single trekking pole after mine had broken, and while I've grown quite fond of my black diamonds, it was the right thing to do.
My trail name after all is Karmaforward.   

  The loss of my trusty left side trekking pole wasn't the source of my battered feet however, it was the soaked-solid shoes and socks that resulted from going into the river that second time that was the real culprit. It would have taken all day to truly dry those things out and knowing my food rations, I felt I had no choice but to squeeze them out, hang them a bit and press on through the cascades.

It was that decision that delivered the grief and pain I'm dealing with now in this filthy little street in Downtown Seattle, and have been trying to deal with for over a week in the mountains. Wet socks and shoes are without doubt one of the worst hardships to subject one's feet to. In Washington hiking country moreover, there is no guarantee they will ever dry out. A painful lesson indeed.

Mountains of Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail.

 Sitting on this dirty Seattle street corner, I ponder the cost of that lesson.  After a while I finally lay my head down on my pack.  I've gone ahead and pulled out my sleeping bag, as the streets are cold and I may be able to rest for an hour or two if I can just get warm enough and feel safe from any potential rats that might come scouring this curb. My eyes close and the pain in my feet slowly fades...

Street Art in Seattle Washington. Justin Arn PCT2016


Shadows play before my eyes..

I hear and vaguely visualize sneakers pounding the ground away from me. First they were right in my face now they're around the corner....
I'm so tired..


I startle awake.

Reach for my phone.

My stuff is everywhere,  spread out all over... Where's my phone where's my wallet? the only things that matter,
Or are they? 

Yes, they are!

I make the decision at lighting speed.  I don't even bother to look for them. Instinct and assumption are all I have.  

The figure that was running, whoever he is; he has them. I don't think this, I know it. I shake off my bag in an instant and sprint barefoot for the corner I saw the sneakers head toward...

My foot pain is lost in the moment. I yell in the deepest loudest roar I can muster just as I'm turning the corner 


I briefly see the figure I'm yelling at just as I turn the corner. It is only a moment and he's gone around another corner.  The streets are deserted. It appears to be only he and I sprinting through the elegant and empty little city. 
A madman chasing a madman.

It may just be him, I hope. I'll never catch two of them if it's not. He might not even have taken the phone... If that's the case then I've left it with everything else I own strewn out on the street a block away, free range for any predator at this point.
Grimy streets for Justin to Sleep upon.

No time to think of ulterior possibilities.
Focus on the task.  
I pump my legs furiously and yell again, more bellicose, more raw now...

My yell echoes in the cavernous trenches of downtown Seattle, bouncing off buildings demanding response. 

I turn the next corner and my prey becomes more than a shadow now. I can make features out.
It's a black man, slightly greying hair, dark jeans that are heavily faded, he's wearing a sweatshirt, also dark.  He's halfway to the next corner, but I've begun gaining. 


I see something fly from his right hand. It looks like my wallet.  I don't care about it... I don't have any money, and all of my IDs can be recovered. Nevertheless, I pick it up in mid stride, and keep sprinting with all of my might. 

I have to decide again: Do I keep chasing the man? What if he never took my phone but just my wallet. What if I have now left my phone lying on the street 2 blocks away?
I keep chasing. I'm committed to catching him. My legs and feet instinctively adjust to the street, then the curb, sidewalk, cobblestone, back the the street.


Next corner. He's limping now... He's struggling.. I thrust my heels harder into the pavement... almost got him...
I turn one last corner. The street opens up to a cobblestone courtyard. Tall leafy trees with gnarled bark shoot up around the perimeter. The thief stands panting, facing me but slowly backing up... 


He's still backing up, tears running down his eyes...
The man before me is of medium height, medium build. He's black, and looks to be in his late 40s. He's clearly afraid. I've chased him in my barefeet for 3 city blocks. He's tired and can't breathe, what will I do to him now? 

I roar.  My eyes are wide and bleary with desparation. 

"... I don't have your phone man... I.. I dropped it...I dropped it on the sidewalk back there..." He pants gasping for air..


All the adrenaline has made me a  monosyllabic brute. I just need my phone. It has all of my pictures, thousands and thousands of pictures and ideas I've collected.  All the secrets I've learned are in there. Hiding in its little circuitry. 


I encircle the wheezing thief. He's hunched over and slowly backs away from me keeping constant distance of about 5 feet between me and him. 
"Please Jesus, I don't know why I did that.. I didn't want to do that..."
He starts limping back out of the courtyard and onto the street we were both just running on....
"It's right over there man...Please.."


"It's right there.." he points.  "It's right there man please..."

I look down the sidewalk and see the white underside of my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It starkly contrasts against every filthy line and angle of wet pavement upon which it lays...

"Please man, I know shouldn't have done that. Jesus told me not to do it. You got your phone back, you happy now?!"

I grab my Note 4 and quickly inspect it for functionality. The screen lights up. No cracks.  It's perfectly fine.

The thief stands panting with his back against the concrete wall of a high rise. I'm just a few feet away, and I can see the fear and shame in his eyes.

"Please God, I knew I should not have done it."

I walk up to the him and wrap my arms around his shoulders. I pull him tightly to me and I hold him. He sobs.

"It's okay man," I whisper in his ear. "It's okay. You gave me back my phone so everything's okay..."


Rodderick James Bones is 52 years old, and originally from Chicago, Illinois. He's divorced and blames himself for the failed marraige. He could have been there more. He should have been there more, he'll tell you, For his son. Rodderick lives homeless and indigent on the streets of Seattle and although we didn't discuss it at length I can tell he still dabbles in heroin when he can afford it.

He generally stays at the Bread of Life Mission, but you might find him anywhere in downtown Seattle on any given night. Rodderick writes poetry and has a real gift for delivery when he recites it.
He is a good-natured man. There is nothing about him that is any worse than you or I and in this grand experiment in which we all participate, Rodderick shares, along with all for us, in that special dignity that makes us divine creatures.

  We are more than a speck of carbonic flesh flung upon an unimportant hulking mass of earth. Within each of us is the godhead we so desire to know, or as may be the case, wish to forget. Rodderick James Bones knows these things better than most. His shame is own cross to bear. Just as we bear responsibility for our own trespasses upon our divine nature.
A candle lights our way.  with Karma on the Pacific Crest Trail.

 We spoke for some hours Mr. Bones and I.  By the time I returned with him to my  street-strewn pack, the pain in my feet had returned with such seething vengeance that I found myself utterly immobile. He grabbed some water from a local fountain and helped me tend to the bloody mess of skin and bone that all the running had created.

 I eventually sent him off with my solar charger and a back-country buck knife. Both of which he will sell and use for whatever purposes may suit him.

 I love him because he is my brother and while I harbor no illusions about his desire or ability to reform, I do hope that his onus of guilt grows no further, and that he finds a peace for himself, the most any person could or should want in this world.

A long time ago, I was an angry and vengeful man. I might have even hurt Mr. Bones, if not physically that psychically by berating, patronizing, or belittling him for being weak.  But these things serve no purpose but to damage my own soul, and if I have learned anything in this world it is that forgiveness, true forgiveness, is indeed divine.
Spiritual awakenings on the Pacific creat trail.

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