Bare feet are not a panacea. Like any other part of the body, they can be overworked. While going barefooted offers relief from many of the inflictions of shoes, sometimes shoes are tools (just as many articles of clothing are tools) that can extend our capabilities. But I prefer that the choice between the two be a balancing, and a conscious choice.

That said, you may be guessing (correctly) that I am a bit footsore at the moment. On Thursday I did a 12-mile hike. This is farther than I managed to hike during the entire month of September. So, I was a bit out of shape, and my feet were definitely out of shape.

I actually had no problem during the hike. I was down at Lake Hope State Park. There are a bunch of trails just north of the lake. These have a bit of scree, and with the recent lack of rain, the ground is fairly hard, so the trails can be a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, as I said, I really didn’t have much problem. I think part of that is that the body, while in use, builds up endorphins during use, and it is only after they have faded away that one feels the aftereffects.

Which I did.

On Friday I was footsore. You will usually see references to “footsore” in Civil War reminiscences, since many of the Confederate forces (and some Union ones) were barefoot and did long marches so. But I’ve also seen references to shod soldiers getting footsore, too. (And I’ve read a lot about shod soldiers getting blisters from their shoes, something that happens quite rarely to the barefooted). I still had no problem getting around; it is just that if I tried to walk on a more knobby surface, I had to take it slowly and easily.

On Saturday and Sunday, though, the Columbus Metroparks System was putting on a few guided hikes at Clear Creek Metro Park. So I was a bit worried if I might be able to handle those hikes.

I need not have worried. By Saturday morning, my soles were still just a bit tender, so I took a dose of ibuprofen. And that was that. The hike started for a short bit on a gravel road. I made sure to walk on the less gravelly parts, and only got zinged once or twice. After that, the hike (a fairly short 2 miles) was off-trail on forest detritus, mostly leaves. And it was wonderful.

Sunday’s hike was similar, though it was on a regular path. By now there was just a minor reminder of being footsore. Again, there were patches of dry and hard soil, and pebbles. Again, I started the hike with some ibuprofen (just in case), but once I got into it, the endorphins kicked in again, and I was comfortable. Again, it was a wonderful hike.

It’s not too surprising that being footsore cannot last too long. For any of our remote ancestors, anyone who was really hobbled by long walks would not have survived very long to produce ancestors. And while it has been a while since (at least) my ancestors did such long-distance barefoot traveling, that capability still resides within us.

There is a famous passage in about the adaptability of feet in a scientific paper by Samuel Shulman, “Survey in China and India of Feet that have Never Worn Shoes,” The Journal of the National Association of Chiropodists (1949):

One hundred and eighteen of those interviewed were rickshaw coolies. Because these men spend very long hours each day on cobblestone or other hard roads pulling their passengers at a run it was of particular interest to survey them. If anything, their feet were more perfect than the others. All of them, however, gave a history of much pain and swelling of the foot and ankle during the first few days of work as a rickshaw puller. But after a rest of two days or a week’s more work on their feet, the pain and swelling passed away and never returned again. There is no occupation more strenuous for the feet than trotting a rickshaw on hard pavement for many hours each day yet these men do it without pain or pathology.

Yup. It takes just a bit to build one’s feet back up. And now I’m off to play some barefoot tennis, footsore no more.

[Update: Tennis went just fine, but that was on a smooth hardcourt surface. What still bothers me is my driveway, which is old asphalt with quite a bit of gravel sticking up. I still feel that and have to walk gingerly. It still feels a lot better than putting on shoes.]


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