Climbing is a painful sport. Our toes are constantly snuggled against leather or synthetic boxes that smush our toes. Climbers feel pain the way ballerinas feel pain, not during performance. It before and after. How do we take care of our feet?
Many of us do not. Some of us, like the author of this article, are taking the steps to create a better podiatric experience.
It all started at Princess Nails...a nail salon in a small retail strip in southern Portland.
I was nervous. Anxious. Contemplating what I would say. I walked into the salon. All of a sudden the room became silent and 40 pairs of eyes were staring at me. The only man in a space typically reserved for women, I felt like the darkness of the jungle descended on me. Jaguars waiting to pounce. My sympathetic nervous system went into fight or flight.. now, I am not a small man. I’m 6’2”, 185 lbs and a rock climber. Trying to play it cool, I realized I suddenly had to pee. I cowered in fear. I ran into the bathroom. Contemplating what I would say, I was so anxious I got stuck in the bathroom. I couldn't open the door. It was locked from the inside. Remembering my dignity, I unlocked it and walked out with confidence.
They were ready for me. I was directed towards a sizable massage chair and placed my feet into the warm sizzle of a foot spa. As soon as my feet touched the circulating spa water I immediately KNEW ‘this is the greatest decision I have ever made.’
For those of us that have not attended a nail salon before, the water circulates like a small hot tub, delicately soothing your toes and warming them with the sensation of the oncoming exfoliation.
This is legit.
While the water softens the skin, a color palette of squeeze bottles linger with soft scents during their application. My nailtender, Kim, rubs them on my cuticles, nails, feet.. I have no idea what the hell these colorful squeeze bottles are, what they do. They smell like watermelon and cotton candy bubbilicious of my childhood. Pedicures remind my olfactories of my childhood.
After cutting my cuticles, a daggerlike scalpel is used to scrape out decades of old skin. Climber toes are not for the feint of heart. Kim doesn’t blink twice at the state of my feet. Soft pangs shoot up my leg as Kim digs in, my toes sending me the message of desperation, clinging to life around my nails, but their efforts are futile. Kims diligent and skilled hands cut through my feet like soft butter.
My left toe is far more painful than my right. Digging out the madness of many years of Chacos, dirt, mountains and climbing shoes have turned the corners of my toes into a bucket of black soot. GROSS. I listen to Kim speak quietly to the woman next to her, I can’t hear what she is saying. I can only imagine the extent of their whispered conversation.
“This motherfucker better leave me a big tip.”
She certainly deserves one.
She takes a device that looks like a cheese grater to my foot. This is the moment I have been waiting for.
Recently I attended a music festival to see Run the Jewels, and wore Chacos. Rookie mistake. The mosh pit raged on despite my toes and I was left with dirty, dry and cracked feet. My toes are horrendous. I realize I do not fully understand foot fetishes. A short novel could be written about the horrors that were left on the cheese grater. Kim doesn't bat an eye.
She scrapes my foot with a sanding block. A few finer, more subtle movements exfoliate the legions of doom off the balls of my feet.
Hot parrafin wax in a bag for my feet? Absolutely yes.
She hastily slaps my feet and tells me to shove them in the bag. When I don’t understand she grabs my foot and shoves it in the wax. I am but a soft tree branch, billowing in the winds of her strong hands.
The calf massage is mind-altering delightful. This is the work of kings and queens and everything in between. Tension, knots, fresh blood and circulation, I feel like a new man, unstoppable and redefined. Wrapping my calves in a hot towel afterwards? Divinity magnified.
Godlike. Otherworldly. The sensation reminds me of what Robin Van Persie must have felt after this goal for the Netherlands in the 2014 against Spain in the World Cup.
It is all over too soon. I cannot believe I have never done this before. Being taken care of like that is a rarity.
My feet feel amazing, new, alive in a way I never conceived of before.
I tip her over 30%.
Oh sure, I went climbing the next day. I love my La Sportiva Testarossas! I warmed up on the French’s Dome classic Crankenstein. 55 feet of pump-tastic bliss with marginal rests and great feet the whole way. I showed my friends how to build anchors and rappel, but I'm really loving how much better my toes feel without the excess of dead skin and ingrown nails. In the Testarossas, my toes feel comfy, contained, supported, without the wrenching pain.
And days later, my feet feel even better. The crust is gone, my shorts no longer stick to my big toes when I put them on, and oh are they smooth. I’m ready for the next trip to Princess Nails. I’ll wear my tiara.