Lately I’ve been doing a fair bit of walking (I really can’t call it “hiking” in good conscience) at another local Metro Park, Blacklick Woods. It’s not particularly challenging in the usual sense: it’s quite flat, unlike the trails about an hour away in southeastern Ohio.
But it is challenging in a different way.
The main trail there is 4 miles of gravel. It’s not horribly nasty, large-chunk chipped limestone, but a finer gravel that you can ride a bicycle on (and people do). But it is still excellent exercise for the feet. It’s a challenge, but it’s not an unreachable goal.
Aside from laziness (I haven’t felt like driving farther to, let’s say, Hocking Hill, and this park is pretty close to my home), I’m also doing this trying to better condition my soles to rougher terrain. I was a bit disappointed last year when I went to Yellowstone (and other western locations) that I had to resort, on occasion, to footwear.
The thing is, it takes a lot of effort to duplicate the day-after-day hikes that one does on such a vacation.
Well, I’ll be heading out west again later this summer, and I’d like to try to get my feet a bit more ready for the experience, so that I can really enjoy it. Hence, the walks along this particular trail at Blacklick Woods.
I’ve been managing to go there maybe 2-3 times a week, sometimes a few days in a row. And it is a challenge. There are parts of the trail where there is an even finer gravel along the edge, but then as you move towards the middle, it gets quite a bit coarser. So I choose what seems to work for me at the time. But by the end of the walk (again, 4 miles over various grades of gravel), my feet are feeling it. I get that Fat Feet feeling.
I’d been progressing, but it seemed to go pretty slowly. One day I even managed to run about 1½ miles of the path.
You can get a feel for what the trail looks like and how the gravel is spread.
Well, I hadn’t been there for about a week and a half until today. Foot injury. I’d managed to step on an oddly situated sharp rock and tore up a flap of skin on my arch. I could walk around on flat surfaces like sidewalks or parking lots or stores with it just fine but I wanted to be careful with the scab so that it healed up as quickly as possible. (And at my age, everything heals more slowly, too.)
So anyways, I went to Blacklick Woods again.
And it seems as if they’d groomed to trails to remove most of the rough gravel. My feet loved it. I tried avoiding the fine gravel on the edges to give my feet more stimulation, but even the stuff in the middle was, dare I say it, almost delightful to walk on.
Of course, they hadn’t groomed the gravel. Here’s a picture from today. Looks pretty much the same.
(Notice that I am not walking on the easy stuff on the side.)
That week and a half of relative inactivity didn’t stop my soles from continuing to build up and adapt. As far as I can tell, it keeps happening after weeks of inactivity.
I also noticed it after I returned from my Yellowstone trip last year (though, of course, I wasn’t deliberately walking on gravel after I got back). But I did notice that even walking around the house or down the driveway felt particularly cushy.
It is quite interesting to see, and feel, just how much feet can and do adapt to their environment. They build up nicely just like any other part of the body that is firmly exercised.
And I am hoping that pays off for me later this summer.