I have acquired fat feet. And they feel pretty good.
Let me explain.
“Fat feet” are something that new barefooters will often get. It seems to be part of the body’s response in order to build up new tissue as it gets accustomed to the “new” use the feet are being put to.
However, this has been an awful winter for me as regards to doing much barefoot hiking at all. Living in Ohio, we kept getting hit with those winter storms and the extreme cold. I’m only good for short distances outside when it is below freezing, and that definitely means no long hikes.
So my soles did not get that extended-hike time.
On top of that, as I wrote about in The Essence of Humanity, my wife’s and my dog, Tess, was dying, and I was not about to leave her alone for the time it would take to go on a hike. She had bladder cancer, but the main symptom near the end, aside from having to pee all of the time, what that it seemed as if she had problems with her spinal nerves. So maybe there was a metastasized growth there.
A few weeks ago she could no longer squat to pee. Then she started having problems getting her feet under her, and would end up walking on the tops of her toes because she could not lift them enough to get her pads onto the ground. So I started carrying her just about everywhere. And then she couldn’t even poo standing up.
The thing is, her front end still seemed pretty good. She still was totally responsive and did not seem all that uncomfortable. She snarfed down her food (though she was getting pickier about what she’d eat).
But it was clear she was declining rather rapidly.
Then last Tuesday evening, she wouldn’t eat dinner.
On Wednesday, she just lay on the floor panting. I spent most of the day just lying next to her, petting her and trying to comfort her while I waited for my wife and kids to became available so we could take Tess to the vet’s.
Late Wednesday afternoon we put her out of her misery. It was clearly time.
Back to “Fat feet”.
There was one more item that led to my having soles not really hiking-ready.
I’ve played a lot of tennis over the winter. It’s good exercise. But I was playing 2-4 hours a week on a hard surface.
Now, of course playing tennis barefoot is good for the feet. It keeps the bones and tendons and ligaments strong, and it also gives the skin of the soles good lateral strength.
However, it tends to wear away skin, what with all the stopping and starting and changing directions. When I’m hiking a lot, that doesn’t really matter, since the stimulus from hiking builds up new sole rather quickly. But without me doing any hiking, I was wearing down sole more quickly than I was adding it.
My soles were starting to get a bit tender.
With Tess gone, I didn’t have to stick around, so last Friday I went out and did a 6½-mile hike. This was the longest hike I had done since last October.
It was almost like being a newbie barefooter. (It was also an interesting reminder of what things are like when starting out.) So, any new barefoot hikers can read this to find out what you’ll feel.
The trail started out on grass, which of course is no challenge at all. But then it changed to dirt with some stones mixed in. At this point one’s eyes become important—you are using them to pick your footfalls to avoid the sharp stones.
Even then, after a while you’re starting to become aware of maybe a bit of discomfort. However, at this point the endorphins kick in. Runners will recognize this as the “runner’s high”. Your body starts putting out endorphins, which are nature’s painkillers, so after a short time, your feet are completely comfortable again.
[Note: I just never stop when I am hiking. But if you do stop, the endorphins tend to clear themselves from your bloodstream. That’s one reason it’s so hard to get started again after a rest, whether barefoot or not. But if your feet are slightly out of shape for barefooting, you’ll definitely feel them again after a rest, until you body has had a chance to throw some new endorphins into your bloodstream.]
The hike went fine. It was a lot of fun, and I had the whole park to myself. The fact that the weather was somewhere between a light rain and a drizzle may have had something to do with that. (It also provided mood for a mourning hike.)
OK, now I’m really going to talk about “fat feet”. I promise.
The next morning when I got up, it felt like I had fat feet at my soles. They didn’t hurt . . . they just felt a little . . . fat. I’m pretty sure that was my body’s response to the stimulus I’d given my soles the day before.
My body said, “Hey, if you’re going to keep doing that, I need to kick it into gear and build up some new tissue.” So there were extra fluids down there delivering construction material.
And to me it just felt slightly “fat”.
Talking to plenty of other barefooters, they’ve all remarked that the same thing happens to them. It’s a great feeling, because you know your feet are responding the best way they know how to the increased usage.
And in the end, that means you can hike longer and more comfortably even more than you could before.
So, if you work your feet more, see if you don’t get fat feet yourself. And enjoy the feeling, knowing what it is doing.