Friday, 20 July 2012

Gruelling hike

Well Mr. barefoot-is-the-worst-thing-you-can-do Podiatrist, you can go screw yourself.  I just finished the toughest barefoot hike to date. 7 hours of really tough terrain. It was awful right from the start with sparsely laid oversized man-made gravel on the approach road and then carried on as I cut across the mountainside, with sharp rock detritus and eventually onto to a foot wide shingle-strewn drovers path up to Col Porcel (Pass of the Pigs). I continue to be gob-smacked at just how easy it actually is. You look at it before hand and think that it’s going to be impossible, but apart from the last hour over the outsized gravel on the road everything was fine. Literally just as easy as doing it in tennis shoes. I’m also surprised that after hiking for so long (three hours up, two hours down and a couple of hours cutting across the mountain side on the goat paths) my feet, though sore after the final stretch of gravel, were still supple and undamaged. No cuts, no scrapes, just a wiped out blister from the last hike. Not wishing to gross out my only reader I won’t post a photo but my soles are smooth and look like they’ve just been used in the house. They’re not even particularly dirty. Amazing. The soreness disappeared after a bath and a bit of moisturising cream and this morning, the day after, they feel just fine. A little sore on the balls of my feet perhaps, but considering how painful my feet always were after these hikes done with shoes on, a bit of soreness, especially considering the punishment my feet have been subjected to, is a good exchange. They’re now healthy looking, tanned and pretty muscular and with arches that flex wonderfully and pads though not particularly thick are evidently tough enough to do their job.
Still no back pain, my calves are getting bigger and stronger, no neck pain, or problems with knees or hips. Actually I’ve not got any better with my back since the initial miraculous improvement two years ago, and I’ve developed  a persistent ache in my pelvis which comes on when I sit for more than five minutes. However, hiking barefoot eliminates that too. I’m not sure what caused it in the first place but I think probably longboarding as it gets worse the more I longboard and gets better the more I hike.
I continue to meet really cool people who, though surprised by my barefeet, express only envy and the desire to try it too. One guy I met yesterday, a rugged workman working on the refuge reacted like it was the most normal thing in the world. These encounters restore my faith in humanity a bit. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Off we go again

Well now the weather has improved  I have dumped the shoes (except for purposes of decorum on essential trips to the village) so maybe finally I can start getting my back back into shape. I'm taking it slowly again, 1000 paces on the gravel a day for a week or so which is only about 12 minutes so no hardship. It's amazing just how quickly the body adapts to barefooting and how slowly it adapts back to shoes again.
The snow is melting high up too so  hopefully I can start hiking again soon. I can't wait, really this winter has footwise and backwise been a nightmare.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Starting Again

So it’s still winter but there are some really warm days as usual. Time to start thinking about getting my feet back into barefooting shape. I took a test walk today and decided, as a result, that starting from scratch again is the best and safest option. Boring but there it is, I’ll just have to put up with it. So this evening as a start I did just 500 paces on the gravel in the courtyard. It’s easier to count paces than time myself as it gives me a total for the day which I can do in stints when I have time. I’m aiming. like last time, to do at least 1500 paces per day on the gravel. Last time it took ten days or so to get into shape so I’m aiming for that again.The last barefoot trip was back in October so my feet have had three months to get out of shape again. This winter I’m working outside building yet more stone walls and boots have been necessary to avoid huge lumps of rock from demolishing my toes. I don’t have any work boots so I use one of my two pairs of walking boots. This has contributed to some pretty sore feet at the end of the day. To make matters worse our house is not really warm enough in the winter to go comfortably  barefoot indoors so the old tootsies have not been getting much of an airing. Then anyway it’s winter so wherever I go it has to be shod, especially hiking of course, so the old complaints are coming back. If I had any doubts (which I didn’t) as to the cause of all my troubles, I certainly don’t now. No shoes, no pain, shoes on and the pain comes back. I’m starting to get cramps in my feet again, I have a touch of plantar fascitis again which, though tolerably mild is still annoying considering how quickly it went after starting to go barefoot. My legs are stiffer and less flexible, my knee and hip which have given me hell in the past are starting to twinge again. I’ve gone back to being very wary of kneeling down in case knee or hip pops out like they used to. My pelvis feels out of line too and I have the hiking headaches back again and stiff neck and backaches too. Of course I could cure all this again with orthotics but believe me  give me back ache and or hip pain any day over plantar fascitis and as the orthotics accentuated the fascitis I’m never going down that road again. As the cause of everything else is most definitely the shoes I’ll just have to put up with the pain/discomfort  until I can ditch the shoes again. Now I know about barefoot hiking this year I can get an early start and should be able to start hiking barefoot again by mid march when the temperatures are a little warmer. There’s a hope that I can be well into barefootness by next October and may be able to get through the winter partly barefoot too. I mean, eight months of barefooting should see some improvement considering the radical improvement in only three months of 2010.The only problem I have is washing. I am not a shower person, hate the things. I am a bath person - me time in the bath having a good long soak with a good book and a G&T is essential to the mental well-being necessary to face  a four year old and a one year old with the necessary patience. However I’ve noticed that a daily bath softens my feet tremendously. So I have to find a balance between paces on the gravel, or frequency of walks and foot softening from lengthy baths. Tough life innit?

The Story So Far

So I started barefooting at the end of last July and not really knowing how it was going to turn out just stuck my experiences in my normal blog. But it’s all turned out rather more surprising than I expected and so impressed with the stunning results have I been that I’ve become something of a barefoot bore. So I thought that as it’s not something that appeals to everyone, it might be a better idea to put the barefoot stuff in a separate blog. This also gives me a clean record of my progress to check back on and smile at and, who knows, might also prove to be of interest to anyone else out there considering ditching their shoes  and giving it a go. So here it is. I copied the barefoot blogs from my other blog and pasted them below with the correct dates and will now take it from here.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Barefoot up an Icy Mt. Vandalino

There are two mountains behind our house, one called Vandalino, which is sort of like home as it’s the mountain I have visited most of all and another called Vantacul which I have tried,at least 6 times to get to from Vandalino along the ridge but each time something happens to turn me back. The first time I arrived too late to make a safe attempt, the second and third times I got driven away by lightning, the fourth time there were too many snakes for my liking, the fifth time someone who will not be mentioned, forgot his boots and then there was this time. Could it be that I am not meant to ascend?  This time both Balders and I are recovering from something similar to flu so feeling pretty grotty generally. We got to the top of Vandalino alright and even got two thirds of the way along the ridge to a few hundred yards short of the start of the climb up to the summit of Vantacul but neither of us felt like it so we turned back again and settled for lunch on Vandalino.For me that’s it. After six tries east to west the next time I will try an overnighter west to east and creep up on it unawares just after dawn and from the side.The weather was brilliant though if somewhat chilly with a cool wind and snow on the top. Just what you need for a sore throat and tickly cough. Courtesy message - For all those sick to death of me writing about barefooting you might as well skip the next few paragraphs.I’ve been listening to a series of barefooting podcasts recently and one of these featured a guy in Canada who barefoots at all winter temperatures except on melting snow. This sort of stuff fascinates me. I love hearing about people who so completely challenge the accepted views of things, whatever the field.  I can’t say I’d ever go as far as he has but have enormous respect for someone that can and does. So, just to settle any doubts I may have had about barefooting, I did two hours and 600m height gain up the stony track to the Vandalino shieling on frozen ground replete with patchy snow, barefoot. And as if to confirm what I  heard on the podcast my feet yet again amazed me. OK the first 100 yards were somewhat chilly I will confess but as soon as my tootsies warmed up and as long as I didn’t stop there was no problem. I wore some footless socks to keep my ankles warm and a shemagh to keep my neck warm and blow me if I wasn’t hot after a while. My feet weren’t as warm as the last frosty trip but comfortably cool. Even walking over the patches of snow was not as cold as I had imagined and certainly not painful in any way. And the sensations were fantastic. I’ve never really had a much experience of walking on thick frosted grass and it’s ‘tis a  most fun and tickly thing to do. Of course not having even a tiny masochistic bone in my body when I got to the serious snow I put my shoes on because that was definitely cold. The donning of shoes was interesting because I felt some discomfort when my feet started warming up, a sort of burning sensation. But once they were warm they were fine, just a little more sensitive than usual due to the roughness of the terrain. I find it OK starting off in shoes of course because that’s what I’m used to  but starting off barefoot and then putting shoes on is a real killer. In fact the  remaining 400m or so up to the top were somewhat uncomfortable and rather ungainly – it’s totally instinctive to go from a normal shod gait to barefoot gait but quite uncomfortable to do the reverse. But the views were well worth it. We could see Turin in all its glory and even as far as the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn.Something that I have seen many times but that has never registered before today is that we are almost completely surrounded by mountains. I measured the mountainless space with my compass and amazingly there are 330° of mountains and only 30° devoid of them. A bit of nifty brickwork and we could dam the lot and have a huge artificial boating lake

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Barefoot to the Souiran Pass

What an amazing day, well amazing half day really. One of those days when the Gods or whatever decide that it’s your turn and just pile it on. A day to buy a scratch card.Now it’s autumn of course there’s no rush to get up to go hiking as it’s pitch black till late so this morning I woke naturally, no alarm, had a leisurely breakfast watching a black squirrel stealing our walnuts from the trees in front of the house and as the car is at the mechanics set off on my little old scooter up for an easy hike. Skipping directly to the return for a moment, though I’m sad that the dog can’t come I’m really happy to go walking by scooter partly because of the icy-thighed exhilaration  of  a freezing ride up to my usual parking spot, which is I must say a magnificent parking spot in its own right, partly because of the descent, over half an hour of 50kph freewheel but mostly because you can go from peace and tranquillity of our house (kids are at grandma’s) through the early morning bustle of the village waking up and up into perfect peace and solitude and quiet  in less than 2,000 seconds and the same in reverse coming down which if possible is even more of a marked contrast after five hours of not seeing anyone. Amazing. The  enjoyment I get at living in this place is never ending. And today the air was so warm that, though of course I shouldn’t even have thought of it, me being a responsible citizen etc., I removed my helmet too just once again to get that  feeling of the wind in your hair that we all once enjoyed before the nanny state stuck its bloody oar in. Anyway today I thought I‘d do the Mount Servin-Souiran Pass-Crevlira Sheiling route anti clockwise (what a daredevil I am) as  where I had originally intended to go got snowed on yesterday. It is one of my favourite walks and the nearest.  I was really happy to discover that despite the frost and three or four millimeter thick ice on the spring basins barefooting was still possible. Up until now I’ve really only barefooted in high mountain environments but this circular walk  has a mixture of everything except trees. I’ve probably said this before somewhere but splashing through icy water in your bare feet and feeling it warm is perhaps the oddest sensation I’ve had this year. It’s very true that the main thing preventing people going barefoot is their heads and sometimes the fates step in help you make the right decision. Just after Crevlira I stopped to take off my jacket  and looking at the terrain ahead to put my shoes back on for a while. Pulling my jacket over my head I took a step backward and put my foot in a fantastically malodorous and squidgy boar wallow.  Anyone who is familiar with board wallows will certainly agree that it has to be the stinkiest most unpleasant thing outside of industrial chemistry. It really is foul. The next water was quite a way on so not wishing to contaminate the insides of my shoes with boar pee and mud (or worse) I carried on in my birthday shoes up what seemed like the start of a tricky section of the path which was just lose stone and sheep droppings. I’m really glad I didn’t put the shoes on. I thought I’d be finding the usual sharp stones embedded in the 5 cm layer of sheep shit and thistles everywhere else but as it turns out it was amazingly comfy. In fact the whole trip, start to finish was a sensation explosion for the feet and not an ouch moment at all. The four hour circular walk starts off along a perfectly level dirt road which is a great foot warmer in itself. By the time you start climbing your feet at supple and that acute sensitivity you have just after your shoes come off has gone. Just before the boar wallow I came across a little adder. Only about 5 inches long it pottered off in no hurry, sluggish with the cold and like the adder my camera was a little too sluggish so only got a photo of it’s tail. The wonderful thing about this walk is that the route up is shorter than the route back. The outwards bound path is more of less straight but the return path follows the ridge line which is crooked. There were boar diggings everywhere. Quite unnerving as you pass through the rhododendron thickets expecting any moment an explosion of evil pig gristle in your direction.. On the top of the hill overlooking the pass I was for the second time this year engulfed in a fluttering mass of birds, mistle thrushes I think but they moved so fast it was difficult to tell. Then looking above them an eagle was overhead maybe explaining the thrush rush. In close succession a buzzard appeared low over head, two white saddled falcons battled it out mid air and a handful of the ubiquitous ravens ducking and diving did what I keep telling everyone they do but which they refuse to do in front of witnesses which is fly upside down. Peace to airbourne chaos to peace again in two minutes. So taking that as an indication to stop I did so. I’m all for heavy hiking, and destination walking etc. but sometimes (usually) ambling is much much better. So I just sat on the top of one of the outcrops and listened to Vinyl cafĂ© on the MP3 listening to Dave and Morley  get to grips with Arthur the dog and gazing over the mountains chomping on hot sausage and bread sticks washed down with a thermos full of scalding tea. As it turned out I could have left the hot tea in favour of water as the temperature from freezing was soon 33°C in the sun.But despite the relaxing walk I was back home by quarter to two leaving enough time to get on with some work and light the furnace in readiness for the evening autumnal temperature drop

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Probably the last barefoot update before winter (huge sighs from everyone)

[I’ve just seen I have a couple more blog followers (great word that isn’t it?). Welcome!! Thanks for looking in. I still can’t believe I have 13 people looking at this blog but I’m happy you do. It gets a bit boring writing to myself.]
Well I stopped gravel walking a while back It served its purpose at the beginning to toughen the feet enough to enable me to actually walk somewhere but now I have discovered that it’s much more efficient just getting out and doing it. The longer the walk, the more varied the terrain the better my feet seem to cope after the initial foot toughening it’s a lot more about technique than robustness of foot. Of course the  more leathery you foot the  more comfortable it will be to walk on rougher terrain and further I suppose but with the cold weather coming in I’ll have to wait until next year to find that out. Toe mobility after an initial improvement has now stabilized and  though I can move them further and easier manually I still can’t get them to move independently. No more than I expected though. I can however splay my toes far more than I ever could and the whole foot is more mobile but all this came within the first couple of weeks. There has been no further noticeable improvement since then but no cramps either which is nice. The fascitis seems to have more or less gone but has been replaced by a lot of tension in the ankle which goes away after a couple of barefoot steps like with fascitis. I’m not sure what it is, anklitis?. I’ve also been having problems with shoes rubbing and walking barefoot all the time in the house on perfectly flat tiles is not very positive and I think that maybe shoes in the house might be better. But all round I’m very content with my progress barefooting in the mountains as all the problems only seem to come alternating shoes with barefoot as pain comes back as soon as my shoes go on. It’s going to be a long winter. I’m going back to boots on the next walk to see if maybe it’s the trail shoes to cause the problem with the ankle as they are exactly ankle height.. I’ve been concentrating on the practical side of things over the last month forgetting everything else. My walk and scramble up to Manzol (see video below) brought me to a realization that it’s deliciously comfortable going barefoot. Your whole body releases tension. Even my lungs seemed to work better. Apart from the lack of weight on your feet your whole body feels more solid on the ground. Solid but light. Balance improves, less tension in the neck and shoulders and choosing where to put your feet becomes a real meditation  Usually I walk for the views or to go somewhere of course but going  barefoot adds in  the pleasure and joy of just walking for walking’s sake. I’ve found that with shoes two trekking poles are useful, but barefoot it’s better to either have none at all or just one (for the snakes and as a slight aid to balance). If you have two poles you rely a lot on them too much especially on what seems to my brain to be uncomfortable stretches. This causes you to tense up because you think it should hurt and then it does hurt. No poles or just one I found that this enables you to stay relaxed because no weight is being taken on the pole. In fact nothing on my trip up Manzol hurt at all. Because my back is also more flexible, well feels more flexible anyway, I discovered the lost joys of using my hands. When I was younger I used my hands all the time going up hill sometimes to the point of being almost quadrupedal and it was nice to albeit minimally, rediscover that feeling. One odd thing the first few steps barefoot are quite uncomfortable. Then you walk a while and the further you go the more relaxed your foot and the more  comfortable it is. I put this down to tension. It all seems to boil down to having the mental fortitude to relax even you’re your brain is telling you not to. That is seeming to come with practice. Then there are two  other aspects of barefooting I like, the aesthetic part of it and the tactile part.  Something of the hippy obviously still remains and there’s something about grubby dusty barefeet that makes me smile.  I know it might only be imagination  but the whole body seems to shift it’s baricenter lower making even tall people seem more stocky and rooted. It sort of restores the natural harmony that shoes remove. I don’t find shoes attractive but the appearance of tanned, dusty feet is very pleasing t my eye.In addition to this walking barefoot gives you marvellous sensations; cold hot, damp, dry, rough smooth etc. You notice the ground on many other levels you are not used to noticing it on. Even to the extent of noticing the plant and animal life more It’s a bit like walking along with a magnifying glass rather than binoculars. Little mysteries that you would never have noticed pop into your attention, like the path covered with prickly raspberry stalks but no raspberry bushes in sight. Or just how many colours of slug are there? Or my surprise at how the type of rock and the colour of the dust you are walking on changes so often. It’s all a great experience but one that with the arrival of autumn will shortly be coming to an end until next year. Pity

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Lunch with the Ibex family

A spiffing good day what?! One of those days that makes you at peace with the world, well briefly anyway and underlines that it really is good to be alive.Due to a mix up with Balders I went up to the top of Mount Manzol again. The weather was good and windy when I left at 05.30 and there was not a cloud in the sky all day. So this time I started from the Barbara refuge at 1,700m with no shoes and walked to the top of Manzol (2,933m) for a measly linear total of 5 or 6 km but a respectable height gain of 1,177m, all barefoot, so if anybody says it can’t be done, it can and very comfortably too thank you. And it took me only a quarter of an hour more barefoot than shod. It still surprises me how easy and relaxing it is. Interesting that I didn’t have a trace of my usual headache which occurs over 2000m which makes me wonder if perhaps barefoot could perhaps be a cure. Time will tell. [Image]Wildlife-wise it started out a bit disappointing. I usually see a chamois or deer or marmots or something but this time nothing, not even any birds. But then once I reached the pass there were choughs and ravens wheeling and even a wall creeper creeping up a wall, as is their wont. I would have taken a photo but was somewhat preoccupied with hoisting myself up a bit of rock at the time so my second sighting in our valleys since 1985 went unrecorded. But anyway, sidling round a rock only a few meters from the top there were 6 mountain ibex lounging around right under the summit. I gingerly walked round them to avoid moving them on but they stayed put so I needn’t have bothered. Thus I had the unique (for me) and immensely enjoyable experience of having lunch on the top of a mountain only 67 metres short of the 3000m mark, totally alone (didn’t see a soul all day) barefoot and surrounded by Mountain Ibex, (well on one side anyway). That lunch was only a boiled egg and tomato-and-cheese crackers did not detract one bit from the enjoyment. The puddingy whiff of ibex glands rounded the whole lunch off right nicely. Wilda plonked herself down in the stone wind break someone had generously contrived to make and went to sleep leaving me in literally total silence.[Image]I was very pleased with my little dog today, she passed all tests with flying colours. She doesn’t come to heel but, though I didn’t teach her, does come to toe and whenever there are farm animals about she comes straight to toe and keeps well away from them. She’d never seen ibex before and although she was curious, she was a bit wary and kept so close I nearly stepped on her a couple of times. But no aggravation whatsoever. Marmots of course are a different matter. She’ll run miles to get a sniff of a marmot. Thankfully they live in burrows. I’m not at all worried about the marmots, I’m worried about Wilda’s nose. Marmots have big teeth and claws and  are well able to  defend themselves against inquisitive dogs as I have seen in the past. Another thing she does here at home and in the mountains too is crap off the path. At a certain point she wended her way down until she was almost out of sight and I was just about to call her when I saw her dropping her drawers as it were. Considerate animal.[Image]I spent an hour and a half on the top in the company of the ibex, the choughs and amazingly numerous butterflies before attempting the descent, this time with shoes.I must say though I did come to a conclusion and it’s useless trying to convince myself of the contrary - I do not like scrambling. Well lets say that I do not like scrambling down. Up is no problem, I’ll go anywhere up, but down or across is another matter. The descent from the top is a nightmare of scree and rocky outcrops combining both down and across in vast quantities and I was not at my ease. Ibex rock bombers didn’t help matters either and it was only the kungfu-like sixth sense that all woozles have enabling them to feel the proximity of the rocks as they bounced down the scree that averted a disaster. I did though find barefoot scrambling better then shod scrambling. Maybe something to do with the more direct contact with the rock and scree and the fact that you can bend your toes to get a better grip. [Image]Last time I had to lower myself with my rucksack straps down a bit of rock so this time decided to avoid that route and find another. Trouble is the ibex had paths all over so finding the right one, if there was a right one, proved to be impossible in fact I was up and down like a whore’s drawers for an hour and a half, half an hour more than the ascent (I can already hear Baldrick’s giggled across the ether) and was very glad to get back to the pass. So next time I do it I’m taking a leaf out of Ariadne’s  book and I’m going to chalk everywhere in alphabetical or numerical order

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Barefoot to the Gianna Pass

Well as Baldrick is  carving out a new set of pipes (probably from some old boxes bits of string and wire) the weekly jaunt was in the excellent company of Mrs. Baldrick. We went up to the Gianna Pass which is a lovely trip of about 10 kilometers there and back and 756m height gain.There were a few wild campers on the river plain before starting to climb up and there was such an air of peace that I would have loved to sneeze in it. The first part of the climb is in woodland. There’s something really seething about wending your way up through open larch woods early in the morning and it makes the usually hard initial slog very pleasant.. Fortunately  climbing and eastern slope there was no sun until we were well under way but even when it came summer’s back has obviously been broken and it wasn’t that hot. The wind was pretty much constant too.It’s a popular trip during the summer and in fact we met quite a few people, Brits, New Zealanders, Belgians, French and Italians of course all enjoying the excellent weather and the most spectacular views. Though, as usual, everyone is very friendly and chatty I’ll be happy when August comes to an end and I get the mountains back to myself again.I did 375 m in height and about 4 km barefoot.  It was mostly large grain scree which meant added concentration. Crossing a boulder field I stood on a seemingly solid rock which rolled over spiking my heel so my first barefoot accident. I was pleasantly surprised that the only problem I had was with the cold. The ground was freezing until the sun got on it. This morning my feet are a bit sore and like last time I’ll be giving barefoot a rest for a couple of days. People are still interested and curious but not at all critical which I’m grateful for. I had my photo taken of my feet by a party of Belgians though, but everyone smiling nicely so no real problem there but it was still a bit embarrassing. Next August I might have to work out some form of covering; barefoot underneath covered on the top sort of thing so people  don’t notice. At the moment it’s a novelty but knowing me it’ll soon start to annoy me. Mind you after the end of august there won’t be anyone to see anyway.[Image]I’ve started to notice that starting out in shoes I have very little pain but after 5 minutes with no shoes I have no pain at all. The pain comes putting my shoes back on which I did coming down as the stones were too sharp to brake on safely. Literally 3 minutes after my shoes go on, my ankle starts hurting. Next time I’m going to go in boots and see if it’s perhaps just this pair of shoes that causes the ankle problem . Fascitis doesn’t seem to be that painfull today, probably covered by the general soreness of the foot. I get the feeling that the soreness is coming from the fact that the foot is not used to moving, a bit like how your muscles hurt after a day hefting a chain-saw about

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Barefoot Progress Report

Sunday the 8th  of August to Friday the 13th of August. After my mountain walk my feet were a little sore on the soles so this week I thought it wise to take things quietly and I reduced gravel walking to a measly 500 paces a day and missed out two days completely. I have found that using the 4x4’ square of deep gravel at the bottom of the steps going up to the balcony is more effective than patchy gravel in the courtyard so I pace on that instead. It’s more boring but worth it and I don’t burn my feet on the hot gravel. I’m still going barefoot all the time though. I can now walk across the gravel in the courtyard with no problem. It takes a couple of paces for my feet to get used to it but once they are relaxed (the most vital thing of all) I have no problem and stones that last week would have caused pain I hardly notice now. I took the kids out for a walk to see the cows, so a couple of kilometers along the gravel road, and down the tarmac and found that rough tarmac is a pretty good toughening medium. As from today, I’m going back to 1500-2000 paces a day in preparation for my next long hike and if I can find a good tarmac hill to climb away from prying eyes I’ll try that.I seemed to have gained much more from the hike to the Dar Moine Pass than gravel pounding. Probably because of the different surfaces and inclines. The feet were massaged much more on the irregular terrain. For a couple of days after the hike my foot stiffened up considerably. Though uncomfortable it was no worse than when I pounded six hours of gravel road in boots last year. I’m not actually doing any stretching exercises either as I wanted to wait until this week before I start them which meant that all the new tension brought about by this new freedom and mobility stayed in the foot. Apart from a bit of respite when I first started with new orthotics, today, (Saturday) was the first time in  well over two years that I woke up to no pain at all from my fascitis and no pain at all in my ankle. What I do have though is itchy feet right under the  pad behind my toes. Impossible to scratch but grinding my foot into gravel giveth wondrous relief. I think this might be a sign of the soles drying out so I’m going back to massaging cream in which I started last week but gave up on out of laziness. I thought of asking Baldrick to make me up some of the special cream he uses for the leather on his pipes (he’s an Uillean  pipemaker).which I seem to remember was a mix of beeswax and olive oil. BALDERS!!! HELO-OOOO! I tried to splay my toes today to see how this compares to right at the start and the result is quite startling. The toes on the left foot which I could hardly move at all are getting more flexible and I can actually move my little toe separately which I’ve not been able to do since I was  child. The other toes I can splay a little more than before but the underlying movement is there; the muscles seem to be developing and I sort of ‘feel’ like I could move them more even if I can’t  in reality. As an aside, I got a visit from Steph last week. She’s doing the same with her horse’s feet as I am with mine and going without shoes.  She’s getting more stick than I am though because that’s seriously weird. I mean, horses with no shoes, indeed!!. Chatting over the processes and results she’s experiencing with her horse there’s quite a lot of similarity especially regarding gait and posture and the care one takes when walking to my own experiences to date. The problem in the minds of the people seems to be more about what seems to be taken as an affront to accepted, inherited and unquestioned procedures or one of simply challenging orthodoxy rather than any knowledge or experience on the subject a bit like I’m experiencing. I also found out that two friends who I haven’t seen for a while (both hill farmers) have barefoot as their normal condition. This might actually get me off my bum and up to visit them

Sunday, 8 August 2010

First Serious Barefoot Hike

I have now done 12 days of foot toughening. So today I walked from the Barbara refuge (1,750m) to the Dar Moine pass (2,700m) for a total distance up and down of  11.5 km, 7.5 km of this and 650 m height difference barefoot.I would have walked right up starting from the refuge but that’s cow country and the suspected presence of bits of metal and glass and other nasties put me off somewhat. So I waited until I got well into the natural. It was freezing cold and my feet were soon numbish with cold but not so uncomfortable that I had to put my shoes back on. Walking across the first stream, the water actually felt warmer than the ground. It will sound like a bit of an exaggeration after only 10 days of foot toughening but the walk was really comfortable. No pain on the soles, no pain in the ankles (unusual) no pain from my fascitis either. It only took a few hundred meters for my feet to realize where they were and then they were all bouncy and happy like a dog with a stick. The further I went the better they felt. [Image]The changes in temperature and soil types are amazing to feel on your feet. Maybe that’s why kids like going barefoot so much. I only stubbed my toe twice each time simply because, not used to watching every step, I looked around me. The things you need for this lark at my stage of development are total concentration, relaxation (if you tense up it hurts and you start to stagger) and a slow pace. Until almost the top the going was just like walking in tennis shoes. The last part was on mica and needle sharp. The worst was some really soft mica earth with mica slices in. No cuts or punctures though and I think that with another few weeks of toughening would take away the pricking sensation completely. I examined my soles when I got back and no cuts, grazes or punctures. Amazing. I stopped barefooting though after 7.5 km because going down hill is of course harder than going up as you have to brake. My soles were beginning to hurt a bit which broke concentration and tensed me up so I thought it wise to revert to shoes.[Image]Going up the only pain was in my middle toe on my left foot. I think this was because of the splaying effect. In fact when I got to the top I tried to splay my feet and found that from no splay at all on the left foot I could quite happily have slid a pound coin between them.The pain started in general when I put my shoes back on. Maybe because I overdid it barefoot (although it didn’t feel like it)  but my ankle, knee and hip started playing up.I slipped and stumbled far more in shoes simply because I wasn’t concentrating on placing my feet.Near the top there is a stream delta about an inch deep in water and walking through this  had my feet tingling beautifully. A new sensation for me a bit like if somebody had taped marshmallows to your soles. In fact the whole walk was rainbow of new sensations.This evening my feet are a bit sore, no way could I walk on gravel now but I gave the tootsies a wash and massaged some cream in and hopefully tomorrow they’re back to normal. There is a lake near the top  which has to be the neatest place for a wild camp - 2,650m, three and a half hours away from anything, perfect views over hundreds of miles, water on tap, shelter from the wind if necessary. Perfect. I spent a good hour and a half there hunting round for signs of prehistory but didn’t find any signs of anything not even modern except the path of course and two rusty cans  exposed as the lake dries up. I could have been in any moment in time I suppose. It was a really odd sensation. When the wind dropped, total silence, totally still,  no movement at all, totally alone even the dog stretched out and basked, sleeping in the sun wasn’t making a noise. [Image]But it was Saturday in the first week in august and predictably there were quite a lot of late starters who began to arrive in dribs and drabs. So after spending 2 hours between the top and the lake in total solitude I headed off down. I’d been told to expect comments when going barefoot but surprisingly nobody had anything negative to say. Curiosity was the main thing. A couple in clunky, leather 4-season walking boots, check shirts and…. wait for it…. red socks were the most surprised but ended up saying that had they been 10 years younger they might have tried too. This gives me hope so perhaps I don’t need to be so furtive about it in the future. The first few people I saw I stood to the side of the track to let them pass and hid my feet in the long grass.This morning feet seem perfectly OK if a little stiff which is only to be expected

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Barefoot diary

So I don't bore the pants of everyone I thought I post a weekly diary rather than a daily one about my barefoot fascitis cure (says he hopefully) so that you can skip the whole lot in one go.
Tuesday 27th July
 took shoes off all day and did a couple of times up and down the courtyard on the gravel and that was about all I could manage. Painful to say the least. More than pain though it was more the sensitivity of my feet that I found uncomfortable. I thought, being an experimental animal, that I would film my progress. So I did the first sequence today. I’ll do others every few days or if I feel there has been some progress. Just so I can keep an accurate record I thought I count my paces. 
Wednesday 28th July did 500 paces. The same as yesterday and 500 at one go was about all I could have managed. 
Thursday 29th july 500 paces 
Friday 30th july 1000 paces. After a thousand paces my soles felt pleasantly numb. Like someone had  stuck a layer of something over them. On thick gravel it’s not uncomfortable but on patchy gravel it hurts.
Saturday 31st  july  1000 paces
Sunday 1st august 1000 paces + trip to bridge. I did two lots of 500 and felt so comfortable that I went down to the bridge and back again on mostly rough gravel sharp stones of all sizes. Not that comfortable going down but coming up hill was nice.
Monday 2nd august 1500 paces. I measured the width and length of my feet and filmed myself trying, vainbly, to wiggle my toes. The right foot is more flexible than the left if flexible is a word I can use in reference to my feet. I can’t wobble any of my toes individually except the big toes. It will be interesting to see if barefooting makes any difference to toe flexibility. Logically it should. 
Tuesday 3rd august 1500 paces before lunch. Only three stones that hurt a bit otherwise quite a comfortable walk. At the moment if I sit still for a long time my fascitis foot stiffens up much more than with shoes but, contrasting this once I start walking out on the gravel   have no pain at all. Zilch. Which is encouraging. This morning though I did have some trouble with my left knee but maybe this was due to kneeling down on cold wet ground at work (I’m underpinning a cow byre wall at the moment). As I write my soles are buzzing slightly which is unusual and a lovely sensation. I have read a couple of times of the analogy between taking your shoes off and taking earmuffs off. You hear the sound the ground is making really loudly. Well today the sensation is a foot verson of that ringbuzzing you get in your ears after a rock concert. I’d really like to get up into the mountains to vary the terrain and extend the time a bit but the thunder cloud build-up meant me postponing it till a future date. Instead I went up to our spring water-pipe  which is about  a 2000 pace round trip on gravel and loose stones and chippings. Not really any problems to speak of which surprises me after such a short time.When I got back I could feel my heel though.Apart from the barefoot training thingy I haven’t had shoes on since last Tuesday. I put them on today when  I went to get sand from the builder’s merchants and it’s quite incredible how soft they felt. Almost worth going barefoot for a while just to enjoy the sensation of shoes..I don’t know if this is just coincidence or not but I can almost touch my toes. I haven’t been able to do this for years and I haven’t done any exercise at all to make this possible .The whole leg feels less tense. If it’s not raining tomorrow I’m going up my favourite mountain barefoot. Well,  as far as possible  anyway without doing any damage

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Barefoot woozle


I’ve just discovered a whole new world. This actually happens quite a lot. Since, as a 5th former, you were allowed to at school I  have always walked in tennis shoes. Of course since I’ve been traipsing up and down mountains I have always had a pair of boots too for walking but boots were not as technical as they are now and were ultra light, ultra soft and flexible. Wonderfully, wonderfully flexible. None of this heel support crap. I had the same lightweight pair for 20 years and wouldn’t have changed them for the world. But 20 years is a long time and even though I only ever used them for really punishing terrain preferring the usual American eagle or All Star trainers for most walks, they began to fall apart. The last few years of course I had wet feet permanently due to the huge holes in the boots but I never minded wet feet. Flexibility was the thing I was more interested in. But then boots took a turn for the worse and ‘fashion’ and ‘design’ crept in. and finding lightweight ultraflexible, padding-free boots became a problem. So I had to buy more rigid boots. For back problems I went to the podiatrist who set me up with some corrective insoles Bloody uncomfortable but they worked an absolute miracle on my back and literally after years of back pain it all went in a week and has never retuned but, working as I do here every day on steep slopes  and walking in hard rigid boots with these horrendous insoles I developed plantar fascitis. The podiatrist said it was due to my walking in tennis shoes for years and suggested padded walking boots which I bought and am very happy with but they are like walking on stilts and anyway the fascitis didn’t go away. I’ve always hated boots because they raise you up and I always feel precarious in them and with these insoles in it was positively dangerous. So for every day walking I wore the insoles but took them out for walking long distances. And the fascitis got worse.So the podiatrist suggested trail shoes (quite an about face there then). Which I bought and though the fascitis did initially get quite a lot better my whole ankle has been so stiff since I developed this condition that whatever I wear seems to be risky on rough terrain. Then I read a blog about someone who runs on Dartmoor barefoot. Now THAT is my type of thing. That sounds like something I can get into. Not the running of course, I couldn’t run for a bus let alone up a hill. But the barefoot bit just strikes me as, well, me. How better to get closer to the earth than walking up mountains barefoot. So I started to look into what the barefooters were saying about posture and gait and foot placement and it all makes a lot of sense. Instead of slamming down your heel as you do in shoes going barefoot apparently you place your ball first. So, I thought, maybe taking the strain off the heel might actually help my fascitis. I gave up using the insoles a month ago anyway and though the podiatrist said that barefoot walking is the worst possible thing I could do I’m going to give it a go anyway and see if there’s any improvement. If the worse comes to the worst he’s going to earn more money out of the experiment anyway. So I’ve been reading up on it and the whole thing quite convinces me. I’ve always believed that shoes were a bad thing but that’s not something you go about telling everyone ‘cos they think you’re mad. I often went barefoot when I was doing the hippy bit. Famously, I once walked from Paris to Calais barefoot as I had my shoes and passport stolen on the Paris metro. As I recall the first two days were as bit uncomfortable but after that it wasn’t too bad. So barefoot is not totally alien to me So I read up on the first steps to take (I mean , I’m not twenty anymore) and walking on gravel seems to be a good starting point. It just so happens that of course the courtyard is gravel so I’ve decided to give the whole thing a go, it is after all summer. Of course, as usual the supporters of barefoot walking and running cite millions of reasons why you should go barefoot and how bad for you shoes are etc. There’s never any balance to these debates. I don’t tend to believe the barefooters any more than my podiatrist. Everybody pulls in water to their mills as it were. But my head tells me it’s a good thing to do. So I reckon, well a couple of the sites I looked at reckon that 5-10 minutes a day should suffice to start to toughen up ones feet. So for the last two days I have been doing that, up and down the courtyard ten minutes a day. The first day was  bit tricky and my feet were really sensitive the second day I noticed what they mean by placing the ball first, it comes totally naturally. The third day, today, I also noticed how inviting it is to correct posture, placing the balls of your feet first sort of makes it easy to throw your weight backwards and relaxing instead of tensing up, which you do simply because of the idea of walking on gravel, makes the whole thing even easier. Quite amazing. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this or how long I’ll be able to keep it up but trying won’t hurt and might actually be beneficial. So I thought I’d film the progress over a period of time. If it works there’s a record of it, if it doesn’t nothing lost anyway.