Last week I went hiking with a friend who has an incurable disease. One of those diseases that you know is coming because it visits you on occasion to remind you that it will completely handicap you at some point in the future. He is a fairly healthy dude, surfs daily, eats a good diet, smokes ganja for pain and has a good outlook for someone without a huge support system.
He has ranted about hiking barefoot for a long time but I’d never tried it. He says it’s Nature’s acupressure and that it stimulates the nerve endings. (There is a book out somewhere about a guy who has been running barefoot for years – I’d like to read it but my friends from Nike do not encourage me…obviously.) Anyway, last week I finally did it, I took off my shoes.
I’m not sure what I was worried about. Was it that I might step on a bee? Cut my delicate toes on a rock? Harden my fairly soft heels? Look funny, feel funny, basically making myself vulnerable to…what? It’s silly what we get stuck in our heads isn’t it? Sure we passed a lot of people who probably said to themselves quietly, “Damn hippies.” One such couple my friend encouraged loudly to take off their shoes. They smiled and accelerated their stride.
After our hike my feet stung a bit but I have to admit that my issues with sciatica seemed less. Wishful thinking? Psychosomatic? Possibly. Whatever it was, I felt great…as though I had done something wildly exotic. For Los Angeles, even for Topanga, it was.
This morning as I drove to my trailhead I thought about my lovely Nike’s resting on the back seat. They are deliciously comfortable. Similar to my beloved (no longer in production) Presto’s that Nike made years ago. Running shoes have come a long way and I will admit to really enjoying them on my extremely long monkey toes, but as I parked the truck I decided I would go shoeless.
There were not many cars in the lot, a few groups of hikers lingered at a trailhead, geared up for a long walk, dressed appropriately in man-made materials that “wick” the sweat from your body, protect you from the sun and give you a real grip and padding for your feet; all in earth tones too. The runners on the trail usually have more day-glo colors in their attire and tend to wear less. I, on the contrary wore one of my outfits that took very little thought but was not egregious in any way. Earth tones, cotton, old-fashioned linen and God‘s little gift, my bare feet. Oh yes, and I did this ALONE.
I prepared myself by slowly walking up a gentle grade of lush grass that is oft used for picnics. I told myself that I was preparing my feet by washing them in the morning dew, getting them used to the earth, alerting them to the unknown up ahead. I reached the trail and began my hike. This hike isn’t strenuous, the beginning is up hill but not bad. The “loop” is a good 45 minute walk if done somewhat briskly. On hot days it can be difficult and a hat is always recommended but one is never far (perhaps a mile) from the starting off point. Unless of course one decides to take the other trails that meet this one. The Santa Monica Mountains have a grand mixture of trails that can take one a long distance if desired.
As I passed the odd runner I noticed them looking at my naked feet but nobody said a thing. In fact, only one person responded to my “good morning”. I didn’t care. I listened to Gil Fronsdal discuss our attachments to emotion, and tried to be present. I tried to not think about my feet but they were talking to me non-stop. They were not screaming in pain, they were just alerting me to the new experience. At one point something stuck into my pinky toe but I leaned down, plucked out a dried foxtail and moved forward; no blood. Occasionally I glanced down to see that my feet were slowly turning a nice brown from the dust that covered them. I felt the pebbles beneath my arches, the soft dirt was extremely comforting and in some ways I wanted it to continue but I knew that extending my hike would prove traumatic if I overdid it.
The pebbles acted like acupressure, the dirt like a mud mask. It was odd but nice.
As I reached the green expanse where I had started, I began to get excited thinking that the coolness of the lawn would be like a foot bath soothing my dirty feet. Indeed it was just like that. I walked slowly down to my truck letting the wet blades wash the earth and possible horse manure away; enjoying the cool rinse of Nature’s free foot massage.
At my truck I took a towel and removed the excess grass, wiggled my toes, and giddy with excitement drove to the market. Not a bad way to start the day.