GR5: Five Fingers, Collapsing Arches and Leg Injuries


As I mentioned before, we both love wearing the Vibram Five Fingers. And we still do in fact. But there was a real gotcha that I came across whilst on the GR5 which put the whole trip in jeopardy for a few days.

Ten days into the walk, I developed a spasm in my left calf that stopped me in my tracks. I’d worn the Five Fingers for five of the previous days but had stopped using them a few days before as I realised I was bruising my insole.

GR5-Honeymoon-French-Alps-2009-57-smallThe bruise was caused by wearing the Five Fingers since my left arch arch collapses.

My right arch doesn’t collapse anymore – wearing Terrocs and Five Fingers seems to have strengthened it. It certainly used to collapse, I had to get the “Custom Fit” Superfeet insoles ten years ago. When I was re-assessed by a Superfeet Fitter last year (many years of trail-shoes and some time in Terrocs) I found my feet were hardly collapsing at all. So much for the strange idea that “once your arches collapse there’s nothing you can do about it” that I’ve heard and read several times. So much for Conventional Wisdom.

But my left arch still collapses. So as I took a step and my left foot happened to land with a small stone under the arch, I would initially feel nothing (the stone fitting into the arch).

However as soon as I weighted the foot and “stepped through” with my right leg, the arch would collapse, crushing the toe-flexing tendons of my left foot between the stone under the arch and the bones.

Obviously this made them quite painful. In fact, to my surprise, a visible bruise developed after five days of walking in the Five Fingers.
At that point I decided to swap back to the Terrocs for a few days. In fact I wouldn’t return to the Five Fingers for the rest of the trip. Though I carried them since I dearly wanted to go back to them if I felt I could!

However, because the toe flexors were painful the Soleus muscle in the calf tried to avoid moving them by tensing up (purely a sub-conscious reaction).

But of course I was moving them with each step, so the Soleus was trying harder and harder to stop them until eventually it went into spasm.

It was like getting severe cramp in my left calf whenever I tried to weight it.

Luckily, with three days of rest, and holding the leg in the freezing cold outflow from a pipe in a mountain stream for five minutes in every fifteen, it healed enough to allow me to hobble on. (As I mentioned before, the cold treatment caused great concern with many French people, until a pair of French Physiotherapists arrived! Beware the well-meaning advice of those who don’t actually know what they’re talking about… especially in the mountains. I might post a couple of observations on that one day – it’s an interesting area!).

I was also given some anti-inflammatory cream (Srilane idrocilamide) and pain killers by some very kind French hikers in the La Balme hut (one was a doctor so asked me a couple of questions to ensure I wasn’t being given something that might kill me).

None the less, I didn’t take the pain killers since I didn’t want to mask what the leg was telling me and then further aggravate it. I also avoided using the cream until we hit Briançon a couple of weeks later where I was able to check out its contents on the Internet. The Srilane cream appeared to help but since it was generally healing anyway it’s hard to be sure. But at that stage I was confident I wasn’t re-injuring it and just wanted to keep it calm enough to complete the walk.

It then continued to improve as we walked, with only one extra rest-day in the old town in Briançon when it whinged a little, which was certainly no hardship. And by the end of the walk I could do 25+ kilometres (16+ miles) days without feeling a thing. Further proving that it was the above situation causing the problem (i.e. since I’d stopped wearing them – it improved despite continuing to walk on the leg).

Would I wear Five Fingers on a Big Walk again? Absolutely.

I wore them for five days and they were very comfortable, collapsing left-arch issues aside. Importantly, my right foot was fine and LB’s feet were fine whilst she continued to swap between hers and the Terrocs (wearing the Five Fingers for around 30 percent of the trip in total).

The only reason I had a problem was that, after years of wearing “normal” footwear, my left foot is not yet strong enough. Once it is – comfy long distance hiking joy awaits…

As I wear the Five Fingers more I expect that the arch will strengthen and cease collapsing. Meaning that I can wear them, or perhaps the new KSO Treks, on the next Big Walk.

GR5: The Pictures

It’s been a while – but heck, developing this lot took me until some time in November. And then I was waiting until I’d had time to play with AutoPano… then I was busy writing up the diary – but that’s a whole other story. Today – at last – the pictures!

We came back with fewer than we expected. Since we were rather concerned that we’d have to spend days and days just deleting the duds, we deleted many of them in the camera, as we went. Which really paid off. I only came back with 1600 images and LB 900. They’ve been pruned down considerably and then pruned further for different audiences (with different levels of interest) using Picasa’s excellent “Albums” feature that lets you create virtual folders of the images and then upload them, so you don’t end up with multiple copies of each image on your machine. (Note that Picasa is an application – it runs on your machine where you can edit and organise your images – it’s not a web site. But, somewhat confusingly, there is a Picasa web site that it can upload your images to).

One hot tip if on a trip with others – get everyone to synch the clocks on their cameras so that if you want to put the images into one album, they all sit in the right order.

On that note, I’d avoid using any “Time Zone Offset” feature of a digital camera in future and instead just set it directly to local time. Having that feature set on LB’s camera effectively meant all her images were out of kilter with mine since they were time stamped in GMT with a local offset that seems to be ignored by image library software. Edit 25/02/2010: Apparently the timezone is not a standard EXIF field – no wonder it doesn’t work properly!

I further compounded the problem by somehow knocking the date in my camera back by a whole day a few days into the trip!

Luckily both Lightroom and Picasa can change the dates in image files using one image as a base-line and setting every other image relative to it.

Without Lightroom and Picasa it wouldn’t just have been a harder job to polish up the images – it wouldn’t have been possible to create a collection of images that invoke the memories quite as well as they do. They’re both excellent pieces of software.

Picasa is all most people need for photo editing and library. It’s also free. Whereas Lightroom isn’t free and does take some practice to get the full power from it (and what power!), but I discovered something that I simply wouldn’t be without if using Lightroom: The Missing FAQ by Victoria Bampton. So many questions, so well answered.

Once the images were developed…it was time to work on the panoramas…

In the past I’ve used the Autostitch (free) for making panoramas but both Duncan MacArthur and Antoine, who we met along the way, mentioned AutoPano Pro (not free!).

It’s incomparable. It makes creating panoramas incredibly easy. Though I would say that I disagree with the instructions and personally prefer the results I get from developing in Lightroom first before using AutoPano. As does Duncan – who am I to argue!

Of course I got more and more interested and ended up buying the Giga version to get AutoPano Tour and then the KRPano Viewer on top of that (of which – more below).

You’ll notice the images are geotagged; you can see where each one is taken as you view them. As we walked we used a Spot tracker to record our progress. We logged in once during the trip to download the tracks (since they are only saved on the Spot web site for 30 days). Luckily we downloaded them in all the formats available because the following recipe requires a gpx file, though I’m sure you can find converters for the other formats online.

So, here’s my recipe for geotagging a set of images with very little effort:

  • Get GeoSetter (it’s donation-ware, and well worth a donation in my opinion).
  • Navigate to the images in the main view.
  • Select them all (Ctrl+A).
  • Hit Ctrl+G to bring up the “Synchronise with GPS Data Files” dialog.
  • Select “Synchronise with a Directory containing Data Files” and navigate to the directory where you have the GPS track logs.
  • Select “Interpolate regarding Shoot Time with Last or Next Position” to have it take a good guess at where you were.
  • I also set the “Maximum Time Difference Between Take Dates and Track Points” to 10 hours: 36000 to get the best chance of a guessed position even when the image was taken well after I turned off the tracker. I could then edit it later (see below).
  • For “TimeZone” I left it at “Local Windows Settings” and that worked fine. But try it on a copy of some of the images and check to see if the timestamps are okay afterwards (Picasa shows them under the image).
  • Hit “OK” and then save all the changed files (they appear in red until saved, when they turn blue). Note that the JPEG images are not re-compressed – so there’s no loss of quality. Only the EXIF data is updated (I checked this myself with a binary file comparison tool – what can I say – I’m an IT consultant…).
  • I then selected a couple of days’ worth at a time in Picasa and went to “Tools” -> “GeoTag” -> “GeoTag With Google Earth” and scrolled through them all looking for any anomalies to edit.

The whole task took less than two hours, even though I was working it all out from scratch, for nearly a thousand images.

So, enough about how they were created, here are the images from the GR5 Honeymoon:

GR5 Honeymoon Super Fast Forward

And, the panoramas generated from AutoPano Tour (currently packaged as part of AutoPano Giga) and then turned into Flash presentations using KRPano Viewer:

GR5 Honeymoon Panorama Flash Presentations

Currently there are no instructions for AutoPano Tour (they’re writing them!) so in case it helps anyone – here are mine:

  • Make sure it’s Registered (My version keeps un-registering itself – which is annoying)
    • “Register” menu (top-right) will be visible if it’s not registered!
    • Browse to the license file and open it
  • Drag in each panorama and arrange in some sort of logical pattern
  • For each panorama, using the Panorama tab:
    • Set the JPEG quality to 9 (makes a reasonable difference in file size but seems to affect quality very little)
    • If you want better quality output, up the Partial Panorama Width, 5000 seems good
    • Pressing the “Calculate Optimal Size” button makes it the best resolution possible (at the expense of increasing the size of course!)
  • If you want, create hotspots in each image, using the Hotspot Editor (I think this works best if you have doors in the images to move between)
    • Select the image
    • Full screen button (in the Hotspot Editor)
    • Use the right and left arrow icon (far left) to move the editable area and place your hotspot
    • (Right click them and select Delete if you make a mistake)
    • Back on the main window, drag each hotspot to the image you wish to link to
    • Press Ctrl+A to select all so that you can see all the links and check it all flows properly
  • Adjust each image’s Field Of View with the 3D Editor
    • Full screen button (in the 3D Editor)
    • Get the FOV as you want it by clicking and dragging with the mouse and using the mouse-wheel to zoom
    • Right-click -> set as start position
  • Project Properties tab
    • You probably don’t embed all files (it makes a monolithic file to download instead of loading sections on demand)
    • Tick Embed XML
    • Select simpleWithFullScreen.html
    • Select the starting panorama
    • Set the rest of the settings as you like!
  • Export…
  • Upload somewhere!

The friendly dialog box on my site that appears before the panoramas load I wrote myself – the code is easily whipped from my site if you want it! (Though you may have a fun time of it if you’re not fairly familiar with JavaScript/JQuery…).