I know it’s been a long time since I last wrote here. I’m afraid the Muses have left me. However, I do want to at least do a summary wrap-up post with some observations about the interaction between my last trip Out West and barefootedness.
If you read all the entries, you’ll know that there were times that I donned footwear (even though I had really, really hoped not to resort to it). Here are some observations and realizations I acquired through that experience.
The first thing I noticed was that my local hiking really hadn’t prepared me (or more specifically, my feet) for the kind of hiking I was doing. In the month before my son and I headed out, I’d done just 5 hikes, of between 6 and 10 miles each. They were all decent hikes—there just weren’t enough of them. Not only that, even when they went over some rather tough terrain that made my feet just a bit tender the next day, I didn’t go hiking for quite a while, which gave the tenderness a chance to go away. On top of that, before I left I was playing a fair bit of tennis; that tends to wear down any additional skin that builds up from hiking over rough terrain.
On the other hand, on the trip out west (reminder: the Badlands, Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, and Great Basin National Park) I was hiking practically every day. The only respites for insufficiently prepared feet were driving days. My soles simply had not built up enough before I headed out. It takes constant use, and of the right sort, for them to respond properly.
It was interesting to see, though, what my soles did after I got home. When walking on the normal surfaces in and around my home, they felt positively cushy compared to how they had felt before taking the trip. After all that daily hiking I had extra padding attached to the bottoms of my feet, except that this padding kept giving me constant feedback from the ground, unlike the kind of padding that sits inside footwear.
The skin on my soles had really responded to the near-daily hiking and had built up a lot. In fact, as far as I can tell, it continued to add extra callus (though I’d rather call it sole-leather, because it was not hard or crusty like most people think of callus) for at least 2 weeks after I got back and resumed my “normal” routine.
One funny thing that happened after I got back was (while restoring a cast iron stove), I managed to step on a piece of wire from the wire brush I was using. I didn’t even know it was there as I walked around on it until later in the day when I was absent-mindedly rubbing my sole. Then I felt the wire with my fingers.
You can see both the wire and the thickness of the skin on my heel. When I pulled out the wire I measured how far it had gone in: 4 millimeters. Now that is some really nice cushioning.
Anyways, it was in Yellowstone that I first put on some footwear (my Teva Zilch sandals). Occasionally. The campground we stayed at unsurprisingly had a gravel loop to get to the campsites, and the parking pad for our campsite was also gravel.
Now, I can normally handle a fair bit of gravel. However, hiking around Yellowstone was also a bit of a challenge. Here’s another picture from when we ascended Specimen Ridge and saw the petrified forest up there.
You can see all the chippy rhyolite in the foreground. Enough of that and insufficiently-prepared soles get tender.
This is also an excuse to insert a photo I’d managed to omit when I wrote about the petrified forest. My son is sitting on a petrified tree that had fallen over before petrifying. That portion on the left of him (his right) is the root structure. Here’s a close-up of that.
You can see the curve as the roots spread out. You could also still see the individual tree rings. Awesome.
On our descent, we headed down along that grassy area, and I was again able to be barefoot. There was a fine line between being able to be barefoot and resorting to being shod.
But back to the first time I put on footwear at the campsite. This was the first time I’d had footwear on in a long time. And it was mind-blowing (not in a good way).
We’ve talked before about how going barefoot increases one’s mindfulness. We’re back in touch with Nature. Our bodies are being used the way they were evigned to work.
[I’ve coined the word “evign” here. It is so easy to get intellectually lazy and say that the foot was “designed” to work a certain way, except that it wasn’t. What happened is that evolution selected among various foot configurations to come up with the “best” (or maybe I should say “most-mostly adequate”) solution for a walking biped with our evolutionary background and in the sort of environment (African plains) we developed in. So I’ve combined the word “evolve” and “design” to encompass all that.]
When barefoot things are aligned the way they are supposed to be. The nerve endings are providing feedback the way that the body was evigned to accept and act most properly upon. This works its way up the joints so that they accept the stresses that they were evigned to handle.
Another part of mindfulness when barefoot is our nearly subconscious foot placement. We have a certain awareness of where we put our feet and our minds are constantly evaluating each step that we make for appropriateness. Our minds are working the way they were evigned to move us around, like two perfect gears perfectly meshing.
And as soon as I put on those sandals, that mindfulness was gone.
It wasn’t an “unmindfulness”, an absence of mindfulness. It was a “dismindfulness”. It was a discordant and disconnected unmindfulness. It was the ability to just tromp around without caring where I walked (or whether I ought to walk there) or how I placed my feet or what might be under my. It disconnected me from my roots and I really felt it. It was a discordant connection to my surroundings that was actually rather disorienting. It disconnected me from caring.
I found it profound, in a disturbing sort of way.
It was not only a separation from Nature, it was a separation from our nature.
The sad thing about it is, the longer I wore the sandals, the less it bothered me (until I went barefoot again and renewed my connections).
By the end of our time in Yellowstone my feet were beginning to come around with new sole growth, so by the time we went to Craters of the Moon I was able to walk on sharp, lava-tube lava without too much difficulty (and the smooth pahoehoe was a delight).
Things were also fine for going barefoot at Great Basin National Park, except for climbing around and up Mt. Wheeler. That had a whole different challenge that my feet had not yet adapted to.
There were a lot a limestone chunks. The big stuff was fine; the little stuff was fine. It was the medium stuff, between ½ an inch and 2 inches that my feet were not up to dealing with.
At this point, when I needed footwear I had switched to moccasins. You may recall that was because the sandals had rubbed my toes raw (another bad feature of footwear). My decision to go with sandals first was so that my feet would not be totally enclosed.
However, when I switched to moccasins I had another revelation. The hard sole of the sandal was much worse, in regards to dismindfulness, than the feeling of full enclosure from the moccasin. It was an evign issue again.
In the moccasins the soles of my feet and the internal structures of my feet were able to move around and flex the way they were evigned to do. They gave me a much better feel for what I was walking on. That’s not to say, though, that they were anywhere close to the feeling and feedback of going barefoot. They were just better than the sandals.
And they also still not as good as going barefoot in terms of mindfulness and being connected to Nature. There was still dismindfulness present.
But at that point I had to make the choice of figuring out what would, at that point, keep me most connected to Nature. Yes, pain (or at least strong discomfort) is a part of nature. But it is a different kind of discomfort than the sort of discomfort one gets from climbing a mountain, where one is stretching one’s horizons and testing the limits of one’s body and endurance. In a more religious sense, I had to decide which would connect me better with Providence. When I weighed the pain of not wearing the moccasins against the level of dismindfulness caused by them, there was no contest as to which increased my connectedness (particularly since I was climbing an awesome mountain).
I wore the moccasins (with the hope that I’d be able to go back some day with fresher feet and do it fully mindful).
I’d also like to say just a few words about the sorts of joint and back pains I get when wearing footwear. Again, the sandals were worse than the moccasins. Again, I had to make choices about allocating discomfort. But the heady rush of places like Yellowstone and Great Basin helps alleviate pain. We are willing to put up with exhaustion or pain to hike into places few other people have gone to. So I put up with joint pain to do those hikes; and I put up with more joint pain from wearing footwear because that was better than the pain I would have gotten because my soles were not sufficiently prepared.
I should also add that, on those natural, irregular surfaces, I did not get the sort of joint pain I get when I am forced to wear footwear on flat surfaces like sidewalks or inside buildings. Even with footwear on, on natural undulating surfaces one has choices about how to place a foot and what placement angle works best for one’s joints. Those options are severely limited on purely flat surfaces.
Let me finish with a picture of part of my back yard. But it is a “shod” picture of my back yard. I call it “shod” because its range of perception is limited, the way shoes limit our range of perception. And it is “shod” because it is fuzzy and lacks focus, the way that the feeling we get from our soles while wearing shoes is fuzzy and lacks focus.
All of this is about things that the terminally shod simply do not understand. They walk around “seeing” that sort of picture (but with their feet) and never really realize what else is out there.