Contra Costa Times, December 3, 1995, p. 1A
"We're normal people except we don't like to wear shoes." Maggie Scott
East Bay group believes getting down to Earth is good for both sole and soulby Joe Garofoli
To this group of hikers, the warning called from further up the trail meant more than it would to most folks.
That's because they're all barefoot. And proud of it.
Burn your REI catalog: This gaggle of Mount Diablo hikers is partaking in the latest outdoor trend: Barefoot hiking. It's cheap (no shoes or socks required). It's challenging. (Rocks! Dung! Briars!) It's environmentally friendly (less boot-scraping on muddy hiking trails). Heck, it's even a little rebellious. (It spits in the face of our "no shoes, no service" ideals.)
And our little nook of the East Bay is a national hotbed.
Earlier this year Concord's Mike Berrow hosted the second Dirty Soles Festival here, which drew a couple of handfuls of folks from the East Coast for a weekend of shoeless frolicking.
Berrow's East Bay Barefoot Hikers have their own Web site, and every hiker is familiar with the movement's bible: Richard Frazine's "The Barefoot Hiker," (Ten Speed Press, $7.95).
"We're normal people except we don't like to wear shoes," says 40-year-old Maggie Scott, a quilter who lives in Concord.
It's a shoe thingAnswering the obvious "why" question isn't that simple.
For some, like Scott, it's a shoe thing. Figures she's been shod for about an hour since April and 30 minutes of that time she was visiting her sister's newborn in the hospital. She has taught classes barefoot at Penn State University, worked on cars barefoot, and refuses to wear shoes in restaurants. She says any store with a "shoes required by state law" sign is pulling your, uh, leg.
She may be right. Pete La Chapelle, deputy county council for Alameda County, says he can't find a California law requiring people to wear shoes. However, he says, private businesses have a lot of latitude in keeping barefooters out. And, if the unshod try to claim they are being discriminated against?
"I don't think that people going barefoot are a constitutionally protected class of people," La Chapelle says.
No matter, barefoot hikers have little time for restaurant dining. There are more sensual pleasures to seek. Dan Stern of Oakland says hiking barefoot "gives me a good spiritual connection with the Earth. I can feel the Earth's energy pulling up through my feet."
Stern even claims that hiking barefoot has improved his vision, at least while he's doing it. He thinks that the bones in his feet are in a more natural alignment then, and possibly through some sort of acupressure effect, this has affected his eyesight. Until he heard about the club, he was barefoot hiking in the quiet calm of his neighborhood every morning.
A lonely existence"You can really freak out dogs," Stern says. "They don't hear you coming because you're not wearing shoes, and it startles them when you come up near them."
Like Stern, club founder Berrow had a solo barefooter for 15 years until he founded the club this year. It was a lonely existence. When he would see other hikers approaching, he would bound off the trail into the high grass so they wouldn't see his bare feet.
But his attitude changed after hearing about Frazine's work through a cyberspace chat room for people interested in barefoot topics. (Yes, there's room for everybody on the Internet.) Now, walking with barefooted comrades along a dusty trail up Mount Diablo, he describes the changing terrain under his toes:
The hot dust that's been sunbaked all day. The prickly thistles. When the dirt gets churned up with dew, "it feels like chocolate cake." His feet are so sensitive now that the small rocks that hurt tenderfeet "feel like a massage" to Berrow. Other hikers claim their feet aren't tougher, they're actually more sensitive. They can pick out individual blades or grass and the shape of tiny pebbles.
Barefoot hiking in the snow isn't for Berrow, though. In "The Barefoot Hiker," Frazine describes how to make "barefoot gaiters" that cover the top of the foot while leaving the sole and toes free to enjoy melting snow on a warm day. Frazine told the Times from his Connecticut home that he will wander out in the snow only for a few hundred yards at a time.
Berrow, a systems specialist for Wells Fargo Bank, strays from the guru at other points. While Frazine encourages people not to bring shoes on a trip, Berrow usually tucks a pair of moccasins in his backpack. He might take them out if it's a new trail or if "you just have a bad feet day."
Injuries are rareBeing a barefoot hiker isn't easy for these brave pioneers. Shod hikers often stare or ask silly questions like, "Do your feet bleed?" (Never, say barefooters. Injuries are rare.)
A 40-year-old Contra Costa woman who would only identify herself as Vivian says that when she kicked off her shoes during a singles group hike in the Sierra, fellow hikers forced her to get re-shod. Barbara Stockton, who drove down from Glen Ellen for the hike, says her 13-year-old son wasn't allowed to go barefoot on a school field trip. "Maybe it would be different if I had gone along too."
"I don't even like going barefoot at home," Stockton says. "I don't like the hardness of a floor. But this is a sensation that I really like. Have you ever done something that feels so right?"
As the hikers finished their 3 1/4 mile hike, 10-year-old Gillian Berrow had foot-shaped cookies waiting for them. Green jimmie-sprinkled ones were for grass-stained feet, brown-sprinkled ones were for muddy feet. And what did Gillian, who did the whole hike barefoot, want for her birthday last week?
ON YOUR TOES
Some barefoot hiking tips from East Bay Barefoot Hikers founder Mike Berrow:
Berrow says the shade trails, soft dirt and pine needles of Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills west of Moraga make it a good beginner's trail. Briones Regional Park in Martinez has "interesting textures" for barefooters, he says.
- Step straight down. Dragging your feet will only increase your chance of injury.
- On lumpy ground, put most of your weight on the front part of your foot.
- Pick your spots. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead.
- Beginners often look stiff and awkward during the first part of their first hike. Don't worry, Berrow says; that usually disappears after they get comfortable.
Richard Frazine says barefoot hiking for two or three miles two or three times a week for two weeks should be enough to condition hikers for most any trail. That regimen, of course, varies as much as the kinds of footprints.
HOW TO REACH THEMThe East Bay Barefoot hikers usually schedule a hike once every two weeks. For more information, contact Mike Berrow at 925-680-1048. It's free to join.
Their Web page can be reached at: http://www.unshod.org/ebbfhike/
Back to the Barefoot Hikers home page