In honor of the Spring Barefoot Fling in Pennsylvania this past weekend (which I unfortunately could not attend), I decided to do several barefoot hikes and walks on my own here in northern California. Driving through the San Francisco peninsula Coast Range on the way to a consulting job on Saturday, I didn't let the weather dampen my resolve.
Heavy rain fell straight down through the branches of the ancient redwoods in the narrow canyon. The twisting road became one-lane in places; I had the driver's side window down to listen for the horn of approaching cars from the other direction. The only sounds were rain hitting the roof, and a rushing sound from the stream on the right. A small gravel parking lot appeared. There was a sign marking a trail head.
I parked, pulled on my shoulder pack, and slipped into my poncho. Left the shoes in the car of course. Took out my walking staff, and stepped down a wet gravel path to a wooden footbridge across the rushing creek. The rain was falling so hard there was about a quarter inch of cool water on the smooth boards of the bridge. On the trail, deep pools had formed among the redwood needles and small, soft cones. The trail was soft enough to walk on heel-first. In places, there were stretches of deep, saturated mud. In other areas, the mud was hard enough to leave perfect bare footprints. Some downhill sections were so slick I was glad I had my staff, although my right arm was getting soaked.
I paused to look across a low split-rail fence at a small field of large-leaf clover. Raindrops were causing random clover leaves to dance at different times all across the field. Lots of healthy ferns were growing all around. Looking up, the redwood trunks seemed to meet at the zenith. Although it was almost noon, the glen was dark and cool. I noticed my blue jeans were getting wet at the bottom, and rolled them up almost to my knees. The cool air was rich with pine scent. I delicately brushed my toes across a log covered with furry moss.
Another hiker was coming back down the trail. We greeted each other, but he didn't ask The Question. I crossed another wooden footbridge, and paused in the middle to watch the rushing water. The trail ahead was closed for repair, so I turned around and headed back towards the car.
A side trail went uphill in a series of switchbacks and steps made out of railroad cross ties. I hiked uphill for a few minutes. The soft mud was several inches thick, and squished easily between my toes. There was water and mud rushing down, and as I looked back downhill, I realized I was probably causing some damage by walking on such unstable ground, so I turned back.
The wet trail was too good to leave just yet, so I turned left and walked to the end of the flat trail again, then back. Paused at one of the deep pools in the needle-covered trail to wash off the mud, then padded across the wooden bridge and gravel trail back to the car. My soles must be getting tougher from all the recent barefooting, because, for the first time, the wet gravel had an almost pleasant roughness.
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