Stepping in the mud and muck, grass and gravel, has these nature enthusiasts extolling the virtues of going shoeless
When a group of 13 barefoot hikers got bottlenecked at a muddy pass on the Emporia State University nature trail recently, Linda Jones reminded them why they were there.
“Just trek on through,” she hollered from the back. “Mud feels good between your toes.”
Founded in 1996 by Peter Rupprecht, the Emporia Barefoot Hikers Club has attracted more than 100 bare-soled souls interested in feeling the mud, grass and, yes, even pebbles beneath their feet. Most hikes average seven to eight participants, a couple of whom are always first-timers.
The first-timers are easy to spot. They stay on the grass as long as possible and walk gingerly across the pebbles. Some even carry shoes as an emergency plan.
Regulars, on the other, well, foot, walk easily across all terrains.
When people habitually wear shoes, Rupprecht said their feet become soft and tender, unaccustomed to various textures. By walking for half an hour, three to four times per week, people can recondition and sensitize their feet to the point that barefoot walking is preferable to wearing shoes.
He compared the discomfort first-timers feel to the sudden shock of bright light after a good night’s sleep. Initially, people squint because their eyes aren’t accustomed to the brightness. It doesn’t take long, however, before they can open their eyes fully and enjoy the sights.
“Wearing shoes is like wearing blinders,” Rupprecht said, adding that they don’t allow people to experience nature fully and prevent the foot muscles from working the way they were intended.
A pastor at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Emporia, Rupprecht said another advantage of barefoot hiking is the spiritual component it provides. In addition to allowing people to experience nature fully with all of their senses, walking barefoot teaches respect for nature.
If everyone walked barefoot, he said, they probably would think twice before throwing glass on the ground.
He also said he believes that God intended people to walk barefoot.
|TEN RULES FOR BAREFOOT HIKING• 1. Always step straight down. Never allow your bare feet to kick, shuffle or drag along the ground.
• 2. Always watch the path ahead of you.
• 3. Try to keep your weight on the balls of your feet and not on your heels.
• 4. Never forget you are going barefoot. Always devote part of your attention to the soles of your bare feet.
• 5. Try to walk barefoot on as many different surfaces as possible to sensitize your bare soles.
• 6. Be especially careful when you can’t see the ground itself because of grass, leaves and snow. Step lightly and be prepared to retract a step if you don’t like the feel of what you are stepping on.
• 7. Be especially careful at stiles and fences. Stubs of former metal fence posts just protruding through the ground are very dangerous.
• 8. Try walking in snow but only if it is no more than an inch or so deep and melting.
• 9. You can walk barefoot on dry ground in freezing weather but never past the point where your feet become numb and never for more than one or two miles.
• 10. Take care of your feet. Remove any small thorns after each hike, and rub your feet each day with oil, lotion or lanolin — especially in winter.
SOURCE: “The Barefoot Hiker,” by Richard Frazine
“Your feet have as many nerve endings as your hand,” Rupprecht said. “You are depriving a sensory organ when you wear shoes.”
A common question among first-timers is whether it is safe to walk barefoot in the winter. Rupprecht’s answer is yes, as long as a few simple precautions are followed.
For starters, keep moving so the core body temperature stays warm.
“If your feet get cold,” he said, “wear a hat.” That prevents body heat from escaping through the head.
And watch your toes. Red toes indicate circulation. White toes mean that frostbite is setting in.
Other questions, or misconceptions, are answered by Rupprecht before they are asked.
One enduring myth, he said, is that driving barefoot is illegal.
Lt. John Sidwell, of the Topeka Police Department, said the only time drivers are required to wear shoes is when they are on a motorcycle.
He said he often kicks his sandals off, stores them close by and drives barefoot during long trips. Sidwell keeps his sandals in a spot where there is no chance of them coming loose and getting lodged under the brake or acceleration pedal. He strongly recommends the safety precaution for all barefoot drivers.
To dispel another popular myth, Rupprecht carries with him a copy of a letter from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which states going barefoot isn’t a health code violation.
While he said each business has the right to refuse service to anyone not wearing shoes or shirts, he takes issue with anyone who says it is because of the health code.
One point he wanted to make clear is that avoiding shoes as often as possible contributes to healthier feet. Callouses, bunions and corns often are caused by poor fitting shoes. Athlete’s foot, a condition which flourishes in dark, moist environments, can’t grow as easily on bare feet.
“And bare feet don’t stink,” Rupprecht said.
Jones, the hiker, said she enjoys another benefit of walking barefoot.
“We need to slow down,” she said. “Everybody runs like crazy.”
Barefoot hiking forces people to slow down and watch where they step.
Once you slow down, she said, you remember how good it feels.
Kasha Stoll can be reached at (785) 295-1270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Ariticle Here
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