Archive for the ‘Anecdotes’ Category

Freaking People Out

December 12, 2010

Here in the Columbus area, the past week has been pretty cold, with highs in the low to mid-20s. Yesterday we had a break, with it going up to around 45. I took advantage of the weather to break out of some cabin fever, and I headed down to Hocking Hills for a bit of a hike.

It’s really pretty this time of year, with really large icicles hanging down at the waterfalls and wherever else water drips (a lot of places). There was about a ¼ of an inch of snow on the ground, but that really didn’t concern me.

Barefoot hiking, just by itself, is a lot of fun. All the textures and the opportunity to feel all the foot parts working in harmony is quite nice. But I have to admit that today was fun for another reason: freaking people out.

The temperature when I started was about 35°; I found it pretty comfortable. There were both snowy areas and areas that had been cleared by other people’s footsteps. The route I started out with did not have too many people, and the few I passed did not even seem to notice the state of my feet. The first folks I met were up along Rose Lake; it appeared to be a Boy Scout Troop with leaders. The leader did notice me, and had nothing but words of admiration. I kind of gave him the standard “CIVD” spiel, which he really got. In the end, though, I finished with one of my standard lines: “It looks more impressive than it really is.” And that is true; I was just walking along quite comfortably.

My next real encounter with people was quite a bit later, after I had turned around at a fire tower, and returned to Cedar Falls. There, I talked to the leader of a different Boy Scout Troop (this time I asked). We ended up talking for about 10 minutes before he even noticed my lack of footwear (the boys all assured him that they had noticed immediately). Again, I had a chance to educate a bit.

And here you can see me at Cedar Falls (you can see that much of the waterfall pool was frozen over from the previous week of cold weather):

An Icy Cedar Falls

Farther down I talked to another group. One of the members of the group was more interested just in the fact that I was hiking barefoot (as opposed to temperature), and there I gave another of my standard lines:

We go into the woods to see the sights, smell the smells, and hear the sounds, and then we turn off our sense of touch.

He actually sounded like he might like to try it some time (maybe warmer weather, though). Yay!

At another location on my way back, a woman noticed me and suddenly said, “You’re barefoot!” “Well, yes. Yes I am.” And then she caught me speechless, saying, “That looks comfortable.” “Well, yes. Yes it is.”

Overall, I was out about 3 hours (including the time stopped to talk to people), and I hiked a bit over 7½ miles.

Oh, and I also had a bit of fun imagining freaking out some other people, those who hadn’t actually seen me. This is how:

Snow Print

Out and About

October 18, 2010

In a comment to Fall Hikes, Ben asks

[D]o you also walk barefoot in your daily life? I have done so for the past month but the reaction I get, especially now it is getting winter here, are not so positive. Any thoughts on that?

I’m going to pull it up here as a full entry since I think it is an interesting question.

Yes. Aside from the time I inline skate (I haven’t figured out how to do that barefoot), I probably wear footwear about 5-10 hours a year (yes, that’s “year”). In this older entry, Resisting Social Pressure, I talked a bit about how going barefoot strengthens the soul (along with the sole — HA!). But after a while it also gets easier with the public, too.

Yes, as you start going to new places like stores, you might have problems. Of course, don’t forget to carry with you the letter from your state’s Health Department, available here from the Society for Barefoot Living, that demonstrates no health code requiring shoes. But what I have found happens is that, for the stores you frequent regularly, they very quickly “adopt” you. They recognize you. You are their barefooted customer. They’ll greet you (moreso than when you used to enter shod).

So, I’ve ended up giving a lot of business to places that are friendly to me, and none to those who have given me problems. And they are positive experiences.

Regarding winter, about all I get is curiosity. Folks want to know if I put on shoes for the winter. The answer is no, and my ready response: “If I don’t need gloves, I don’t need shoes.” I certainly don’t put on gloves walking from my car in a parking lot into a store, so why would I need shoes? Yes, the ground conducts cold better than the air, but I have pretty thick soles that provide more insulation.

It can provide some interesting reactions though (and don’t consider these negative, but savor them). Last winter I exited a PetSmart and deliberately walked through a melting snowdrift (maybe 6 inches deep) for about 6 feet (felt like ice cream). Behind me I heard this audible gasp. I just grinned to myself.

Barefoot Sandals

September 25, 2010

Barefoot sandals are a way that barefooters sometimes use to look like they are shod while still maintaining sole-to-ground contact. In other words, they are used to try to foil the shoe police. For me, at least, that contact with the ground is what provides me with the main sensory input that keeps my proprioception working. It is also the thing that allows me to walk in a way that does not hurt my feet and knees and back (a benefit many other barefooters have also realized).

Barefoot sandals can also be used as jewelry or decoration for the feet.

Most barefoot sandals that you can buy are aimed more at women. You can see some women’s vendors and styles here, here, and here. (Note: this is not any particular endorsement of these particular sites; they are just some of the first that came up on Google.) There is also a page on barefoot sandals that lists quite a few vendors on the website of the Barefoot Hikers of PA (NJ-DE-MD). There aren’t a whole lot available for men, though I did find this site. You’ll note that most of these are really aimed more at decoration that as fooling personnel at a store or restaurant who are intent on keeping out a barefooter (usually for misguided and mythical reasons).

Way back when I just made my own. It’s fairly easy to do. If you’d like to try to make some of your own, here they are, and the general idea for their construction.

bf sandal 1

Thin leather with knotted thong ties

This one is made from leather, cut with scissors. The loop under the second toe is just a thin strip (thong) held on by those knots you see. The strap across the top a two short thongs. They are held together with a loop and knot arrangement (small loop on one side; knot on the other; pull the knot through the loop and it stays).

bf sandal 2

Thin leather with some velcro

This one is also leather, with a slightly different attachment arrangement, and a slightly different look. Same arrangement under the toe. This time, however, the large strip is the cross-strip, while the thong runs back towards the toe. The thong is knotted on both end. The cross-strip, however, is attached with velco. You can see the construction in the next photo.

bf sandal 2 detail

View of the velcro attachment points

Here you can see the toe-loop on the right. You can also see where the velcro is attached. Of course, sizing (and placement of the velcro) is done while it is on your foot.

bf sandal 3

Nylon straps

Here is a more masculine one. This is made from backpacking straps (available at any outdoor store). It is bigger and bulkier, with the intent to do a better job of fooling anybody who looks at it. That broader patch across the toes is kind of trying to hide the fact that the attachment is a loop under the second toe (and not a single piece between the big and 2nd toes. Doesn’t succeed all that well, in my opinion. The loop under the toe is just a piece of shoelace. The cross-piece is stitched on one side, and held on with velcro on the other.

bf sandal 4

Braided (Knitting Knobby)

This is the one I think I like the best. It goes easily into a pocket without getting tangled up like the others, and is easiest to put on (big loop behind the ankle, little loop under the toe).

This was made with a knitting knobby. Well, actually, I made my own knitting knobby (with a board and nails) that would take a thicker piece of string, and produced a wider product at the end. I see that there is something call a knitting tower that is similar to what I did.

The toe-loop is a piece of elastic string tied at the same place the big loop is tied together. This really does go down between the big and 2nd toes, and then is looped over the 3rd toe. This has more of the look of a flip-flop (and thereby might fool others better).

Despite making all these, I find I rarely (I mean really rarely) wear them. If I am going into a place I’ve never been in before, I will not wear them. That is because, if I do wear them and have no problems, I’ll never know if I could have just gone barefoot and had no problems. They are not worth carrying in my pocket in case I am challenged. If I am challenged when barefoot, and stop to put them on, they will see me putting them on, realize that they are not real sandals, and then they will probably still throw me out. Finally, for places that do throw me out for going barefoot, my usual policy is not to got there again. If they don’t want me, why should I give them my money when there are other places who welcome me barefoot? So, as I said, I very rarely wear them.

There is one kind of situation in which I will use (and have used) them, though. That is for a place that has thrown me out that I really, really need to enter (and they are often a monopoly of some sort). One was the Franklin County Law Library. I had used this library (research for my lawsuit) many times barefoot when suddenly they put up a sign (passed by their board of trustees and everything). So I put these on to go in. Interestingly, I got some books and was sitting down looking at them (kind of hiding in the rear of the room among the carrels) when I saw the librarian coming towards me to check me out. The barefoot sandals must have passed muster, because she looked at my feet (rather carefully) as she went by, and then continued on without hassling me. Now, maybe I fooled her. Or maybe she thought the shoe rule was stupid but was still required to enforce it, and while she recognized the barefoot sandals as not real shoes, that gave her the excuse she needed not to enforce the rule any further. Either way, it worked sufficiently. I’ve done this before at the Columbus Metropolitan Library (the one I lost my suit against) twice. Once I had to accompany my son there to get something, and once they were the only source I could use to get a copy of a newspaper article about the Youngstown barefoot lawsuit from the 1960s. That Youngstown barefooter won.

I’m still a little leery about using them in places I’ve been thrown out of. If they really pursued it, they could probably arrest me for criminal trespass, and that I ought to know that a shoe rule means that such barefoot sandals are not adequate. Even if they ban “bare feet”, a prosecutor could argue that I am just being pedantic, and that a reasonable person knows what is required (a sole).

Finally, one more reason I very rarely wear them: I can feel them on my feet. Yes, my soles are still free, but I still feel the barefoot sandal on top. And it just doesn’t feel “bare.”

An Interview with Cody Lundin

September 20, 2010

The Living Barefoot site has done a wonderful interview with Cody Lundin (of recent Dual Survivor fame) that I think everybody will enjoy. It was a bit different than many of the interviews he has done about the show simply because he is being asked the questions (that address the interests) of real barefooters.

It is Episode 19 of their Living Barefoot Show.

What he talks about will be pretty familiar with a wide range of barefooters. For one thing, he talks about whether he goes barefoot all of the time. His answer is basically, “Don’t be a jackass.” There are times he will wear shoes, such as when he is out on a date, or when he is with others who he does not want to be embarrassed if challenged. On the other hand (or is that “on the other foot”?), sometimes he’s just not in the mood to put up with being restricted. So in those instances, he’ll challenge things. I find I do something similar myself. This discussion is around the 6:00 mark.

He also mentions that he carries sandals in a fanny pack when conducting his survival course. This only makes good sense. As he puts it, he is out there responsible for his clients’ safety. If one of them gets hurt, he needs to be able to run to get help, and in that situation, sandals are the tools to get the job done.

I have done something similar. The physical environment around here in Central Ohio is much more benign than the Arizona that Cody lives in. When I go hiking by myself, I no longer carry any sort of backup footwear (unless it is winter). I am quite familiar with the possible dangers I might run into (walk over), and none of them would really be solved by backup footwear. (In wintertime, my concern is more that if I broke a leg or did something else that prevented me from walking, I would not want to freeze my feet—that would prevent future barefooting. So then I carry a pair of moccasins, and if I really need to I could stuff them with leaves as the Native Americans used to do.)

However, when I was leading Boy Scouts on a hike, I did carry a pair of moccasins even in the summer. Again, as for with Cody, I had a heightened responsibility. I actually did use them one time, not for an emergency, but just because some of the Scouts needed to be somewhere at a given time. So a few of us dashed ahead to get them home. In that case, I could go a lot faster in the moccasins.

One other comment: early on in the interview (around 4:10) Cody mentions that the Natives in Arizona wore moccasins or sandals. That is probably true, but they also did go barefoot, too, depending on conditions. Here is a picture from The National Archives of some Mojave in Arizona:

Mojave Braves

Two Mohave braves dressed in loincloths; full- length, standing, western Arizona.

No footwear in sight.

Sneaking up on deer

July 8, 2010

In the last entry, I mentioned one of my hikes. I was at Great Seal State Park near Chillicothe, Ohio, so named because the mountains (ok, they’re really hills) appear on the Great Seal of the State of Ohio.

During the hike, on two separate occasions, I startled a deer. In each case I was about 30-50 feet of the deer. They never heard me coming. I really wasn’t paying that much attention, so the first I saw (or really heard) them was when they snorted in panic and took off, though one of them went about 20 feet, stopped and watched me a bit, and then took off again.

This happens to me regularly. Bare feet are just so much quieter than shoes. Part of that, no doubt, is that when you are barefoot you have to pay a bit more attention to the placement of your feet on the trail surface. When wearing hiking boots, you can just clodhop along, oblivious to what is going on below your waist. And it shows.
The other part is that your feet are made of, how do I put this?, more eco-friendly materials. They are not rigid and hard; they do not assault the earth. They mold themselves around it, and thereby stay much more silent.

Bare feet are even more quiet on gravel. One time I was on a guided hike at Clear Creek Metro Park, and the initial part of the trail took us a long a gravel road for a bit. Everybody else, in their boots, were crunch, crunch, crunching along, making a big racket. Barefoot, from me one could hear an occasional sound as one of the stones shifted a bit under my weight.

Go barefoot! Minimize noise pollution!

Bare Feet and Kids from Long Ago

January 4, 2010

In addition to shoes really not being very good for kids’ feet, there is also a very long tradition of kids going barefoot. Additionally, kids can often go barefoot in places that adults are frowned upon if they do it. It’s as if at a certain age, a cute kid’s foot turns into . . . um . . . something unreasonable(?).

I do a lot of hiking, including various guided hikes at various local or state parks, usually in southeastern Ohio, which is right on the edge of Appalachia. On these hikes, invariably, an older couple, in their early- to mid-seventies, will say to me, “You know, when we were kids, we would go barefoot all summer long. And we used to be able to run on gravel without even thinking about it.” And then they conclude with, “But I could never do that today.”

Well, they probably could. It would just take a bit of conditioning.

But a lot of kids really did go barefoot all summer long (or even longer) and they did just fine doing so. Some kids even went to school barefoot, as can be seen from some historical photos. Here’s one (via the Ohio Historical Society) from a Greene County, Ohio school (near Dayton, Ohio), taken around 1910:

Greene County Schoolyard, 1910

Quite a few barefoot kids can be see in the schoolyard. The Ohio Historical Society has a few other similar photos at another school, here, and here.

I’ve Got CIVD

December 30, 2009

[This blog is now defunct. You can also read this article at my own blog, Ahcuah, along with a bunch of new and (I think) interesting articles.]

No, it’s not some obscure sexual disease. It’s a human physiological response that allows us, in many cases, to go out barefoot for longer and in colder temperatures than we might have thought possible.

CIVD stands for “Cold-Induced Vasodilation”, and it describes what the body does when your extremities get cold. What happens is that, when exposed to cold, the body restricts blood flow to your extremities. However, if your body core temperature is maintained (that is, you are otherwise dressed warmly), your body, after a bit of time, will send extra blood to those extremities to warm them back up. It dilates (opens) the blood vessels, hence the term “vasodilation”. This automatic response is of course very important to the Inuit, who need to be able to, for instance, thread hooks for fishing in pretty extreme conditions.

It takes about 8-10 minutes for this warming to happen. The body then cycles this cooling/warming. After a while in the warm state, it will restrict the vessels again and your extremities will get cold again. My guess is that the body is testing to see if core body temperature really can be maintained. But then, after a bit, vasodilation occurs again, and the extremities warm up again. This cycle can happen a few times before a steady-state is arrived at.

This response can be conditioned. Practicing in the cold can speed up the vasodilation response. You can see that in this graph:

Onset of CIVD

from “Effect of chronic local cold exposure on finger temperature responses”. The control shows that, in unconditioned people, it can take 10 minutes for vasodilation to occur. However, for this particular person, training (or conditioning) reduced that to 2 minutes, and the (in this case) finger never got as cold as for the unconditioned control.

It turns out, however, that some people do respond better to conditioning that others. This graph shows pretty much the best-case scenario. Some people showed only a minimal response to conditioning.

So, how does this apply to barefooters? Well, it means that, in reasonably chilly temperatures, we may be able to do more than we think. If we are not conditioned, our feet may get cold before that magic 10 minutes and we may give up just before the body is about to rewarm them. By being aware of this physiological reaction, we may be able to take advantage of it to enjoy going barefooted longer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we must make sure we keep our core body temperature warm. There’s an old saying, “If you feet are cold, put on a hat.” It’s a myth that “ 40 to 45 percent of body heat” is lost through the head, but, as usual, even the debunkings need to be more carefully examined. Yes, if you are stark naked then no, you will not lose 40 to 45 percent of body heat through your head. But if you are well-bundled up, and only your head is uncovered, of course you will be losing most of your heat there. Adding a hat could tip the balance between being cold and being warm. So, once again, if you are barefooting in the cold, do make sure to bundle yourself up well. Members of the Society for Barefoot Living have found that ankle warmers do a nice job of helping keep blood warm all the way down to the ankle so that it can do a good job keeping the feet warm.

I was recently on a barefoot hike in which I was able to observe CIVD directly. The temperature was about 30° (-1C). There was about an inch of snow on the ground, but its thickness varied depending on which part of the trail I was walking on. Some of it had had enough other people walk on it to have removed the snow while other parts had the full one inch.

(Side note: walking in snow is often colder than just walking on cold ground. On cold ground, I have fairly thick soles that do a good job of insulating my feet from that cold. However, it seems that getting snow on top of my feet, and particularly on top of my toes, is what really chills them down quickly.)

My CIVD response seemed to take a while to kick in, even though my core body temperature was just fine, since my trails took me up and down some hills. At about the 6-minute mark my feet were definitely feeling cold. But at the 8-minute mark, the CIVD kicked in and my feet suddenly felt perfectly comfortable. By 26 minutes, though, they were feeling cold again (that’s the cycling). At 30 minutes they were toasty again, and they remained just fine for the next half hour they stayed that way, even when I was getting snow on top of them.

I did want to make sure that it wasn’t the case that my feet had gone numb, fooling me into thinking they were warm. To test that, I looked for a twig, shut my eyes, and then tried to feel for the twig with just my feet. I found it fine, and was able to pick it up with my toes. Good check.

Finally, another word of warning. Be aware of what you are doing, and do not stretch beyond your limits. If you foolishly go out in zero degree weather and wait 10 minutes for CIVD to kick in, you will have frozen your feet long before it has a chance to. Worse than that, if you damage your feet that way, you won’t be able to enjoy regular barefooting, and you’ll never be able to train your feet to enjoy cooler temperatures.

Also, in a comment to the previous entry, Barefoot Josh warned about cold and wet conditions. Even wet conditions alone can be a bit of a challenge, because your feet absorb the water and get soft. When soft, they don’t protect as well against much of anything. Adding cold on top of that (when your skin is less pliable) just aggravates things. Again, while limits can be pushed, don’t push so hard you fall off a cliff.

So, yeah, I’ve got CIVD. And so do you.

Oz Revisited

December 20, 2009

As an addendum to the last entry, I’ve thought of another way of expressing what is going on there when wearing shoes:

Your feet have independent front and rear suspensions.

The front axle is at the ball of your foot, ahead of the arch; the rear axle is at your heel.

When you put on shoes, your feet no longer have that independent action. Instead, they are really more like a toy car, with a single axle that runs from side to side in the front and another in the rear. The tires are locked onto each axle and have no independent action. The front and rear axles are also pretty much locked together. If a real car was still designed that way, it, too, would show all sorts of weird tire wear. Shoes do the same thing, and we see it in the wear on the soles.

That’s not how feet are supposed to work. They really do have independent front and rear suspensions that can compensate for all sorts of terrain, and peculiarities of our bodies.

As an example, about 5 years ago, I was forced to wear shoes in a building (I had to go there, and they had a rule). While there, I turned, my foot caught in the carpeting (because of the footwear), and I shattered a bunch of cartilage in my knee. After a bunch of expensive MRIs and rehab, it’s (mostly) usable again.

However, since that time, I have extra-thick callus near my big toe, and only on that one side. My foot is compensating for the fact that my knee has those problems, and that foot can do it because of its independent suspension. When I am forced to wear shoes, I find that it really bothers my knee, because my shod feet can no longer compensate. That’s what the independent suspension is good for.

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