Thursday, September 23, 2010

Freehiking Barefoot

It's something I've long wanted to try. While walking the wooded paths of Cedar Trails in Ohio, I've often been struck with the thought of removing my shoes and hiking barefoot, but one look at the many twigs, leaves, dirt, plants and who knows what else, the thought soon passed.

Not today. The trail was very dry from extreme lack of rain, and I was by myself for a little afternoon exercise. With temperatures soaring to the mid-nineties, I was very appreciative of being able to be nude and let what little breeze there was keep me somewhat cool.

Now the paths here at Cedar Trails are very clear, wide and well maintained. The trailmaster, who unfortunately recently had to relinquish his membership for personal reasons earlier in the season, had the goal of making the couple of miles of paths suitable for barefoot hiking. His efforts are clear to see, but the dry weather has caused the trees to shed many branches and leaves, making it very noisy underfoot.

So when the barefoot idea struck me at the very beginning of the walk up the perimeter path to the meteor crater overlook and the horse meadow, I decided to carry my shoes along with my small fanny pack in case my feet could not withstand the path surface.

Now I'm not necessarily recommending this to anyone, but I was somewhat surprised and pleased that my feet held up quite well. I made it all the way up to the horse meadow, whereby I decided to leave my shoes and fanny pack at the side of the trail and proceed without them. I was naked as the day I was born.

The perimeter path at Cedar Trails, meteor crater to the left.
It was a glorious feeling, being completely nude in nature, and all alone. My pace was somewhat slower than usual due the fact that I kept my eyes downward to avoid any obvious obstacles. I was pretty certain that I would not escape without some cut or abrasion.

I think we don't give enough credit to our feet, which are quite capable of functioning on nearly every type of surface. The sensation of being able to feel each and every leaf, twig and texture of dirt was remarkable and added immensely to the hiking experience.

Now I thought I was pretty special with my barefoot hike, but it turns out that it's really quite popular, as evidenced by a New York Times article here.
The hikers of the barefoot world tramp not only through mud and dust, but also over rocks, tree roots and the frosty ground of autumn (though they usually draw the line at snow). Yet although they may bring to mind tales of fakirs or extreme-sports enthusiasts, barefoot hikers are neither ascetics nor thrill seekers. Almost universally, they say they go shoeless for a sense of communion with the earth and for the sheer pleasure of feeling more of the world with their feet.
I completely agree. The barefoot hike will now become part of my regular routines here at Cedar Trails.

I made it all the way back to the bottom of the trail, still barefoot. I examined the soles of each foot, and other than a little dirt, there was no damage. A little tender, perhaps, but hours later writing this post I don't feel any the worse for wear.

Still, there is some caution to take if the urge to hike barefoot strikes you. At Cedar Trails, which is all private property, the chances of finding a nail or broken glass on the trail are slim to none, but on public trails it can be hazardous. Even so, I'm hooked, and cannot wait to experience hiking shoe-free once again.

4 comments:

Jim P said...

I usually always wear something on my feet for protection and hygenic reasons. I currently have a pair of moccasins that resemble those worn by American Indians in many movies that are almost like being barefoot.

Mike said...

I am sold on the Vibram Five Finger shoes (vibramfivefingers.com). They have a thin kevlar sole, individual toe spaces, and a minimal cloth upper. It is as close as you can get to barefoot, while still having underfoot protection. Wear with or without special socks. You really do feel the ground, but you can walk over amazingly sharp rocks and sticks with no pain or injury.

solarity said...

I stepped on a yellow jacket when I was four years old. Never going barefoot outdoors again. But I know what you mean about the body knowing what's around it. Walking in the woods at a long-ago resort, I encountered a thicket of holly (with added random blackberry bushes.) Wearing clothes, I know I would have caught myself many times going through it. Without clothes, I slid through without a scratch.

Blogger in the Buff said...

I think walking barefoot is great, at least once you build up the caluses on your feet. When I was younger I went everywhere barefoot, now I'm a tenderfoot. Keep on hiking, no matter what you wear or don't wear on your feet.