Archive for October, 2010

A week or so ago there was a nice story on “Global News” in Canada. You can see it here. (Sorry, I was not able to embed the video. Also, I’m afraid there is an ad you have to sit through first.) A bit of a fluff piece and filler, but I thought both of the people interviewed (Barefoot Moe and Dale Blacker) did a very nice job talking about some of the issues that concern people.

One nice thing about the interview is that, at the end, Dale did manage to get the reporter to try walking around the city street a bit. I really think that lends an air of authenticity; it shows that going barefoot is not that big a deal and that anybody can do it.

Quite a few years back, I was in a story about barefoot hiking, along with fellow blogger Greg Morgan. For the life of us, we could not get the reporter to hike along with us barefoot. He said that he was game, but that the folks in his office told him he shouldn’t “for insurance reasons.” We all know that that is just bunk, but we could not sway him. Nonetheless, a pretty nice story came out of it, which you can see here.

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Location, Location, Location

I’ve written a few times about the 1903 story of Victor Smith, the New Jersey boy who wanted to be able to go to school barefoot. In this entry, we got the story of his father specially asking the Newark School Board for permission. And, in this followup story, we saw that that permission was granted.

But what a difference location can make. We know that throughout the south during that period, there were barefoot schoolchildren all over the place. The big issues for those schools was just getting a schoolhouse built and supplied, not whether their students wore shoes or not.

Location also makes a difference in how the Victor Smith situation was perceived. In a place like New Jersey, a barefooted schoolchild was a big deal. But even in another big city like Chicago, not so much.

All this is just a long lead-in to another story I found about Victor Smith. This story was in the November 7, 1903 Chicago Eagle, page 4. They (somewhat cleverly) titled their news snippets from all over as “Eaglets”, and here is what they say:

A New Jersey board of education has recently decided that a boy may go to school without any shoes on if he desires. The school trustees in many a small district would be more astounded at having any one doubt the right of a boy to go barefoot than was the board in the New Jersey city at the request that this youngster might not be compelled to wear shoes.

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The Barefoot Book on MSNBC

Daniel Howell, author of The Barefoot Book, was on the Dylan Ratigan show on MSNBC on October 19. As to be expected, Daniel did a great job.

I thought Ratigan rather over-hyped it, and really tried to go for the sensational. However, Daniel kept his cool throughout. When Ratigan asked about those “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs, it was great that Daniel, right off the bat, called them “unwelcoming.” Because that is what they are. And then Daniel went on to discuss how the signs were a remnant of anti-hippie sentiment.

Another point that was interesting was how there is some evidence that walking around in the dirt may raise serotonin levels, thus improving our mood.

The last question was rather amusing (and many of us barefooters have gotten the same or similar question): “What does your mother think about this?” As he says, those around us get used to it.

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There is a great write-up from John Yohe at John’s Barefoot Running Blog on his running the Detroit Marathon barefooted. I really don’t know how he managed to reproduce his thoughts from the time, but it is a great read.

Here are a few snippets, but go read the whole thing.

He starts out:

I’m exhausted already. I had to get up at four o’clock in order to drive from Jackson to be here in Detroit at six. The race is at seven, and already parking is congested. But I fine a good spot, close to the finish for a quick get away. The one time I decided to actually get a hotel room the night before, planning way ahead so as to ensure getting a room, the hotel goes out of business a month before. Ok, well, that’ll save me a hundred buck, but man, seeing as how I was nervous the night before, I’m not running on much sleep.

A few comments about the runners around him:

And oh yes, the comments on my feet are happening all the time. More gasps. More, “That guy doesn’t have any shoes!’ said from ten feet behind me. I wish people would at least acknowledge that I can hear them. But, I do have to say that I might have been wrong about me being the first most people have heard about barefoot running. I’m getting lots of “Good job barefoot runner!” comments as well, meaning that people know the phrase “barefoot runner,” meaning that the idea, the concept now exists in the mainstream, as a ‘meme,’ meaning that, if people know the term, it may be coming into more widespread acceptance. That’s my theory anyways.

More comments (I guess I enjoy these the most):

A guy passes me on the left. “Man, you are crazy.”

I nod and say, “Thanks.”

He laughs and goes on.

I pass two women and get the gasps, but one says, “Wow, that’s stupid.”

Ok, I can’t not say anything. I turn around and say, “Thanks, I can hear you.”

Their eyes go wide. The one who spoke says, “I love you and respect you, I just wouldn’t do it myself.”

I wave. “Fair enough.” But as I’m pulling away, I hear her say, “They say that only fifteen percent of people are able to do that.”

Wtf? Whatever lady. Keep living a life of excuses.

And how did he do at the end?

Well, go read it.

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Out and About

In a comment to Fall Hikes, Ben asks

[D]o you also walk barefoot in your daily life? I have done so for the past month but the reaction I get, especially now it is getting winter here, are not so positive. Any thoughts on that?

I’m going to pull it up here as a full entry since I think it is an interesting question.

Yes. Aside from the time I inline skate (I haven’t figured out how to do that barefoot), I probably wear footwear about 5-10 hours a year (yes, that’s “year”). In this older entry, Resisting Social Pressure, I talked a bit about how going barefoot strengthens the soul (along with the sole — HA!). But after a while it also gets easier with the public, too.

Yes, as you start going to new places like stores, you might have problems. Of course, don’t forget to carry with you the letter from your state’s Health Department, available here from the Society for Barefoot Living, that demonstrates no health code requiring shoes. But what I have found happens is that, for the stores you frequent regularly, they very quickly “adopt” you. They recognize you. You are their barefooted customer. They’ll greet you (moreso than when you used to enter shod).

So, I’ve ended up giving a lot of business to places that are friendly to me, and none to those who have given me problems. And they are positive experiences.

Regarding winter, about all I get is curiosity. Folks want to know if I put on shoes for the winter. The answer is no, and my ready response: “If I don’t need gloves, I don’t need shoes.” I certainly don’t put on gloves walking from my car in a parking lot into a store, so why would I need shoes? Yes, the ground conducts cold better than the air, but I have pretty thick soles that provide more insulation.

It can provide some interesting reactions though (and don’t consider these negative, but savor them). Last winter I exited a PetSmart and deliberately walked through a melting snowdrift (maybe 6 inches deep) for about 6 feet (felt like ice cream). Behind me I heard this audible gasp. I just grinned to myself.

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Fall Hikes

This is the time of year when many park districts and State Park system put on organized hikes to view the fall foliage. If you like barefoot hiking, these are wonderful opportunities not only to do a very nice hike, but also to be a bit of an ambassador of bare feet. Just showing other people that it is possible to do these hikes can help open up some minds.

I did two such hikes last weekend; the group size was around 30 people. Today I did another one, with a groups size of around 100 people. Many folks didn’t say much, but nonetheless quite a few were bold enough to ask questions, and I was able to give them a feel for the experience. There were two lines in particular that I used a fair bit, and they seemed to be able to relate to them.

The first one was

Just like any other part of the body, when you use them, the feet strengthen up.

The second one was

We go into the woods to see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the smells, and then we turn off our sense of touch.

And from there I could talk about the joy of moss or pine needles or hemlock needles or fallen leaves. They got it.

Things were a bit different this year than last year. Quite a few folks knew about barefoot running, so I didn’t seem quite as odd as I have in years past). Many of them had heard about or actually read Born to Run. I even talked to one guy who was going to run in the Columbus Marathon tomorrow who said he did a bit of barefoot training. There were also quite a few people who had seen Dual Survival, so they were up on the idea of hiking barefoot. I had nice discussions with them about it.

One other thing that always happens on these hikes: there are inevitably some older folks (well, older than me, but these days that is harder and harder to do) who will tell me that, as a kid, their shoes came off the last day of school and stayed off until the first day of school in the fall. They ran around barefoot all summer long and didn’t have any problems. But then they’d say, “But I could never do that now.” Why not? Just like any other part of the body, when you use them, the feet strengthen up. Even if you are older.

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A few days ago we read the 1903 story of the Jersey City schoolboy who asked permission to attend school there barefoot. There was a followup story that appeared in the Sept. 20, 1903 New York Times. Here it is


Boy Friends Do Not Go to Class Rooms That Way Yet; But They All Drop Their Shoes at Play-time Now — Problems of Attire for School Officials.

CITY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SNYDER was not so rudely shocked as many may have supposed, when, at a recent meeting of the Jersey City Board of Education, he heard read Mr. Smith’s letter asking permission to send his ten-year-old boy, Victor, to school without either shoes or stockings. Mr. Snyder had gone to school barefooted and barelegged himself. But that was in a country district. The sight of the farmer’s boy trudging to the little white building on the knoll with his books under his arm and his sun-burned extremities unclad is not an unusual one. Even when parents with aristocratic notions in their rural surroundings refuse to countenance such a departure from the conventionalities, the more mischievous scions of their flocks were wont to keep their feet covered only until the parental eye was removed from them, and then they hid their gaiters under the bushes for a day of rollicking, barefoot freedom.

Even into the great city schools under Mr. Snyder’s supervision a barefooted urchin sometimes crawls. But conditions are different in the city. There it is not “the thing,” of course. But it happens once in a while. Superintendent Snyder has known of such cases. But the absence of shoes in city schools is always set down to poverty. Little Barefoot becomes an object of commiseration and sympathy the moment he puts in an appearance, and there is a mystic Masonry in the schools that finds coverings for the exposed feet and gets them to the child with a delicacy of method that robs the mercy of the sting and humiliation of a charity. It does not stop at shoes, either — this little touch of humanity. It goes to everything a child needs, but has not, to keep in countenance with classmates. No organization exists to extend these graceful helps to the needy, but it works just as effectually and much more unobtrusively.

Neither Mr. Smith nor his boy comes, however, within this category. Mr. Smith is a comfortably situated gentleman. It is easy to see, from his bearing toward his child, that he is also a considerate father. He has the means and the disposition to provide his son with all he thinks the boy should have. Up to three months ago, the family had lived in New York. For a few months before the close of the schools for vacation the boy had attended one in Manhattan.

“He wore shoes.” Mr. Smith explained, “because I suppose they would have turned him away if he hadn’t.”

At the beginning of the Summer the family moved to a neat detached cottage on West Side Avenue, Jersey City. It is an unusually comfortable little home in the Bergen section, well appointed, “neat as a pin,” with a wholesome family atmosphere all over it. The Smiths had scarcely settled before the father told the boy that he might toss his shoes into the attic and romp barefooted to his heart’s content. That was a liberty the boy was not likely to neglect long. Off went the shoes! It is so long since he last saw them that he forgets what they look like — whether they are low-quarters or high-quarters, or even quarters of any stature.

A barefooted boy, who was not also a ragamuffin — a barefooted boy with clean, bright face, and the picture of neatness from the crown of his head to the hems of his knee breeches — was a novelty in the locality. It was not long before all the nice little boys around him wanted to go barefooted, too. There were particularly impressed by the ease with which little Victor could guide the buckboard on which they all coasted the hillside with his bare feet. He could grasp the guiding axle with his toes as firmly as they could with their fingers. They could not do that with their shoes on — and so off went their shoes, too, till now there are so many bare feet around that the locality has come to be know as “Barefoot Hill.”

The boy became so rugged and healthy and hardy without his shoes that his father became quite captivated by the idea of keeping him shoeless. He recalled the incident of a beautiful Countess — a relative of Dom Pedro — whom he had once met, unslippered, at a like entertainment he attended. She had beautiful feet, of course, and of course, too, she had to set them off, as her sisters did their beautiful hands, with rings and jewels. So he became quite a convert to the barefoot idea, and regretted the approach of the school season, when he must put shoes on Victor’s feet to keep him in line with those he would meet in the classrooms — or keep him home.

Perhaps he might arrange it with the school authorities, he thought. He first bought a pair of shoes for the lad — many sizes too big — and held them for an emergency, and then sent his letter to the Board of Education to ask if it might be as he desired. The board members stood aghast at the unusual suggestion. It was one thing to close the eyes to the case of a little fellow whom poverty drove to school without shoes. It was quite another thing to commission one who could afford them to make so public an appearance without them. Perhaps the boy would be shamed by shoes all around him into wearing them himself. But then perhaps the idea would so “take” among the others that they would all want to discard their leathers, and Jersey City might become a city of barefooted schools. So it was quite a serious proposition, as the Jersey City educators saw it. But there was no rule against it, and they decided at the end to take the risk.

So Victor went to the school on Duncan Avenue, and has been there a week. The boys make less sport of him than even he expected. Indeed, they rather envy him. They only wish that they could take off their shoes, too! But the week has gone, and they all have their shoes on yet. Thus, the dire forebodings with which the board extended its consent to the innovation seem doomed to come to nothing!

The incident has, however, aroused a general discussion as to the regulations — written regulations — concerning the garb of school pupils. The School Superintendents have to deal with the problem in every conceivable phase, almost every hour of the day. The rules in the rule books are very general and unspecific. They merely exact neatness and cleanliness. An instance is recalled where a boy was once sent home from a Newark school for a change of clothing. He was not an agreeable companion to those around him, and it was discovered that his clothing had been sewn on him by his mother. He slept in them and worked in them and studied in them. At the beginning of the Summer the boys were disposed to throw off their jackets. Grimed undershirts were neither sweet nor pretty, and a stop had to be put to that. Superintendent Snyder intimates that he had been called upon recently to rule on even so delicate a question as whether the hair of a certain little Miss was not done up in such a way as to exclude her from the recitation room. But he declined to go into particulars.

A year or two ago a fierce public agitation was aroused in Jersey City by the act of a teacher who sent a little girl home for better clothing. It was resented everywhere as an insult to the class who could not do better. In Newark, Mr. Gilbert, when he was Superintendent there, attempted to lay down regulations as to commencement garbs. So that the rich might not outshine the poor he wanted plain gowns only. The interference raised such a has since thought it prudent to repeat it.

I like the part about how his friends then started playing barefoot. It is infectious.

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Bare feet are not a panacea. Like any other part of the body, they can be overworked. While going barefooted offers relief from many of the inflictions of shoes, sometimes shoes are tools (just as many articles of clothing are tools) that can extend our capabilities. But I prefer that the choice between the two be a balancing, and a conscious choice.

That said, you may be guessing (correctly) that I am a bit footsore at the moment. On Thursday I did a 12-mile hike. This is farther than I managed to hike during the entire month of September. So, I was a bit out of shape, and my feet were definitely out of shape.

I actually had no problem during the hike. I was down at Lake Hope State Park. There are a bunch of trails just north of the lake. These have a bit of scree, and with the recent lack of rain, the ground is fairly hard, so the trails can be a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, as I said, I really didn’t have much problem. I think part of that is that the body, while in use, builds up endorphins during use, and it is only after they have faded away that one feels the aftereffects.

Which I did.

On Friday I was footsore. You will usually see references to “footsore” in Civil War reminiscences, since many of the Confederate forces (and some Union ones) were barefoot and did long marches so. But I’ve also seen references to shod soldiers getting footsore, too. (And I’ve read a lot about shod soldiers getting blisters from their shoes, something that happens quite rarely to the barefooted). I still had no problem getting around; it is just that if I tried to walk on a more knobby surface, I had to take it slowly and easily.

On Saturday and Sunday, though, the Columbus Metroparks System was putting on a few guided hikes at Clear Creek Metro Park. So I was a bit worried if I might be able to handle those hikes.

I need not have worried. By Saturday morning, my soles were still just a bit tender, so I took a dose of ibuprofen. And that was that. The hike started for a short bit on a gravel road. I made sure to walk on the less gravelly parts, and only got zinged once or twice. After that, the hike (a fairly short 2 miles) was off-trail on forest detritus, mostly leaves. And it was wonderful.

Sunday’s hike was similar, though it was on a regular path. By now there was just a minor reminder of being footsore. Again, there were patches of dry and hard soil, and pebbles. Again, I started the hike with some ibuprofen (just in case), but once I got into it, the endorphins kicked in again, and I was comfortable. Again, it was a wonderful hike.

It’s not too surprising that being footsore cannot last too long. For any of our remote ancestors, anyone who was really hobbled by long walks would not have survived very long to produce ancestors. And while it has been a while since (at least) my ancestors did such long-distance barefoot traveling, that capability still resides within us.

There is a famous passage in about the adaptability of feet in a scientific paper by Samuel Shulman, “Survey in China and India of Feet that have Never Worn Shoes,” The Journal of the National Association of Chiropodists (1949):

One hundred and eighteen of those interviewed were rickshaw coolies. Because these men spend very long hours each day on cobblestone or other hard roads pulling their passengers at a run it was of particular interest to survey them. If anything, their feet were more perfect than the others. All of them, however, gave a history of much pain and swelling of the foot and ankle during the first few days of work as a rickshaw puller. But after a rest of two days or a week’s more work on their feet, the pain and swelling passed away and never returned again. There is no occupation more strenuous for the feet than trotting a rickshaw on hard pavement for many hours each day yet these men do it without pain or pathology.

Yup. It takes just a bit to build one’s feet back up. And now I’m off to play some barefoot tennis, footsore no more.

[Update: Tennis went just fine, but that was on a smooth hardcourt surface. What still bothers me is my driveway, which is old asphalt with quite a bit of gravel sticking up. I still feel that and have to walk gingerly. It still feels a lot better than putting on shoes.]

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A Barefoot Schoolboy

These days practically all schools require shoes. That’s just the way it is, and I suspect it is that way just because . . . that’s just the way it has been.

A lot of that is just cultural. Here’s a story from the September 12, 1903 New York Times about a father petitioning the school to let his son attend his Jersey City school barefoot. Just the thought was enough to make the news . . . in New York City. Meanwhile, in rural districts all over America, large numbers of children were attending school barefoot without their school districts batting an eye.

Anyways, here’s the story:


Father of Boy Who Was Never Shod Asks That Son Attend School Barefooted.

September 12, 1903

Victor Smith of 641 West Side Avenue, Jersey City, has made application by letter to the Board of Education for permission for his son to attend school in his bare feet. Mr. Smith said the boy had gone barefooted Winter and Summer all his life. He asked that the boy be allowed at least to go shoeless to school until cold weather sets in. The matter was referred with power to Dr. Murray E. Ramsey, who is a member of the board.

Dr. Ramsey said yesterday that he would see the boy and his father before giving a decision. Personally he thought it might be a good thing for boys to go barefoot, provided they kept their feet clean at all times, but he feared that if one boy were given the privilege asked for other boys might want the same favor.

Mr. Smith, who is connected with a New York morning newspaper, when seen at his home, said that his boy had gone without socks and shoes all his life.

“He can walk on tacks,” said Mr. Smith, “and even broken glass does not cut his feet. He coasts down hill and uses his bare feet as other boys use their shoes. He can sleep out doors in any kind of weather, and has never had a cold or a day’s illness.”

Oh, and look at the possible horrible implications if they let the boy go barefoot to school: other boys may want to do so too. Horrors!

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Tiger — not barefoot

In “Restoring Tiger Woods”, I pointed to a story about how Tiger’s new coach had him practicing his swing barefoot. There was some speculation, here, that he would actually play barefoot in the Ryder Cup in Wales, with the speculation saying:

In a press conference on Friday, regarding his preparation of the Ryder Cup that is taking place at the twenty-ten course at the Celtic Manor, Wales in October, Tiger Woods revealed that, that he was going to go barefoot on the field to remain in his form. Yes, this is kind of strange but this is the whole truth.

It was not to be (and to tell you the truth, I never saw any other article saying that). And it is actually not too surprising. First of all, the weather there has been rather cold (and, at times, wet). Those who don’t regularly go barefoot (and there is no indication that Tiger does) often think they will get very cold feet, and they are often right because of the lack of circulation resulting from wearing shoes all the time. Secondly, Tiger is under a lot of scrutiny as it is. It takes quite a bit of inner confidence to go barefoot in situations in which other folks expect shoes. What with all his troubles, it would seem doubtful that he would want to add that stress.

On the other hand, I do wonder about this technique of practicing the swing barefoot but then not playing barefoot. I would think that one would want to perform in exactly the same fashion that one practiced, because of muscle memory and the subtle mental aspects of training the body to repeat the same thing exactly the same over and over. For instance, I just can’t see a basketball player practicing free throws with 5 pound weights on his wrists (to strengthen his shot), and then shooting without the weights during the game. The lack of weight would throw off the entire shot.

So maybe the barefoot practice might help a bit. But I would also think it would get his brain used to feeling certain feedback sensations as part of the swing, and when he was shod he wouldn’t get those sensations. Wouldn’t the diminish the effect of the training?

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