Once the disbelief settles, people often ask me why I started wandering around in the woods without shoes on. While there’s no simple answer, it is probably rooted in my deep hatred of shoes – especially sneakers. I have always found them cumbersome and have never been able to shake the feeling that I am some variant of Godzilla in a standard pair of Nike cross trainers. Insult is added to injury, too, because my feet are disproportionate to my frame.
A trip to the mall a few years back ended with me picking up a pair of minimalist running shoes on a whim. They were on deep discount, and came in a shade of cerulean normally reserved for the crayon box. Weighing about six ounces a piece, they weighed less together than any one of my other shoes. And when I put them on, I was in heaven.
I kicked around in those shoes for nearly a year, occasionally joking that I would soon lose them and trek out in the wild with nothing on my feet at all. Mostly, it was tongue in cheek, and made people roll their eyes. They were hung up on how quickly I was going to get injured in minimalist shoes . The though of going barefoot only equated to some sort of injury where I lost both of my feet and hopefully learned my lesson.
And then one summer morning, it happened. I was coming down from an early summit, flowing against the current of hikers making their way to the top. One of them wore no shoes. I watched as he took the trail without screeching in pain, or leaving bloodied prints in his wake. I wanted desperately to ask him about it, but kept quiet.
It became my mission to hike barefoot. The next weekend, I went out and tackled Storm King – my favorite local trek – and made it about half way up the mountain before putting my shoes back on. My feet were tired, sore, and felt like they had been used in a way they hadn’t ever been before. After that, it was only a matter of time before I was hiking up all the local trails with no shoes and a new sense of freedom.
I absolutely love it now when people stop me on the trail and ask about my lack of boots. It’s been one of the best conversation starters I’ve found. I’ve even converted some of my hiking friends to do the same. Try it yourself and tell me how it is!