The recent rains have summoned “spring” on the trails–the first blades of new growth are here, after 8+ months of mostly dry days. Although the air temps have been chilly (sub-60s F), I decided I better not complain this week: much of the U.S. is dealing with below zero! And snow . . . something that just doesn’t happen here in coastal Southern California. There is no way to state this without sounding like bragging (and one of my nephews who lived several years in Belgium was having fun on Facebook today taunting his friends there with tales of how it was “almost” too cold to wear shorts in So Cal today).
But we suffer in other ways, I guess. . . only I just can’t think of any at the moment . . . what a day of cloud and sky and leaf color:
There’s even a few late-blooming flowers still livening up the trails near Irvine Park:
Others were out enjoying the day also:
My barefoot running was a little less than fabulous today; recent knee pain (same knee, nine years of this) and a visit to the physical therapist this morning has me wondering when the heck I will ever
be able to run and run and run for more than an hour or so (my goal for 2014 is 50k; I’ve signed up for my first ultra-marathon in June, so the “injury clock” is ticking . . . )
But, a recent post by super-runner-blogger Patricia Bowmer helped put things in perspective. Her post-ultramarathon knee pain/swelling has her completely unable to run, and she writes eloquently about the angst this causes a runner. At least I can trot along for an hour or so before my knee starts complaining. And it’s just so much fun to be ambling barefoot through our beautiful Orange County wildlands, that even if I’m not getting much of an endorphin rush, the birds and leaves and breeze make up for it.
Happy Barefoot Trails!
The rainy season began here in Southern California this week . . . creating some fun mud opportunities on our local trails. I grabbed my little camera and set off on a “mud-safari”; the video is posted here on YouTube.
Here’s some images that didn’t make it into the movie:
This blog has three focuses (foci?): Barefoot. Wandering. Writing.
A recent surfeit of foot-free posts has prompted this flurry of unclad toe photos from my mid-November wandering–scroll no further if you are not inspired by (lots and lots) of bootless adventure images.
One more caveat: at this end of this post I will wax splenetic about how people treat trails. You were warned.
Even in wackily warm So Cal (daytime temps in the 80s and 90s all week) autumn happens; it’s nice to scrunch and snuggle in sycamore and cotton leaf-fall. Here is the first of way-too-many “barefoot selfie” photos.
DIATRIBE TIME: (If you are reading this, I’d bet you’re not one of the people who made the following messes, but thanks for letting me vent. Is it selfish of me to want people to clean up after themselves on the trail? Or selfish of them to expect someone else to pick up their plastic crap? If you have read this far, I know that you know that we know the answer. The question then remains: how to get folks to Leave No Trace? )
Here’s a poem I wrote a while back after a particularly bad trail trash day:
Anecdote of the Trash
“I placed a jar in Tennessee . . .
it made a slovenly wilderness
surround that hill.” “
On another shoeless escapade
I run into what some slovenly
blockhead has chucked: unbright styrofoam.
I tiptoe off-trail through the fallen
star thistle that stabs my undertoes;
bending stiff I pick up golden-arch-marked
In my small pack it joins its crappy cousins:
plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps,
all tossed separately from their shredded
blue (plastic of course) bottled-water labels.
Then there’s everyone’s favorite throw-away:
plastic foil packet tops—those miracles
of instant energy snatched from your pocket.
(Who cares about a little litter when
you need your electrolytes and sucrose
to fuel your fun. You’ll never hear me cuss
’cause your ears are busy with your playlist shuffle.)
Outlasting all are rocks: pleasing creatures who
create harmonious mosaics on the trail.
They rub my toes the right way, and with such
gravelly voices murmur puzzling stories
of seafloor sediment, tectonic thrust,
erosion into fragments—stuff of us—
the trails are littered with our kin, our ancestors
and our destination: so much dust.
Twice lately on evening runs I’ve come across small herds of mule deer consisting of a multi-point buck, several does, a fawn or two. Orange County deer are not a nuisance like I’ve heard about in other areas; in fact, they are rare enough that seeing them always feels like a gift. Here’s a (too far away) photo from the ridge above the Quail Hill loop off of Shady Canyon Drive in Irvine. My pocket camera just does not have the power to do much beyond provide a blurry outline.
With Daylight Savings Time behind us, it’s pretty tough to find time after work to hit the trails. But–when I do–it’s always worth the drive to the edge of town. Here’s Irvine Park at sunset–the sycamore leaves glow and fall, and crunching them underfoot releases a most lovely musty perfume.
The evening light also transforms prickly pear and its tuna fruit into a brilliant contrast of spheres and spines.
The recent deer encounters inspired the poem below. (This photo only shows two creatures; there was a whole family that wandered by along the ridge-top.)
Still / Quail Hill
At the day’s drop-off, the brink of evening,
ridge silhouettes beyond the parking lot
evaded capture by my tiny camera—
so I dropped that memory weapon and just soaked
in yesterday’s slow fading graze parade:
a buck, four does, a fawn, the easing light.
I had to watch the YouTube video of Stephen Jepson's story more than once. He's in his early 70s and has a great zeal for life. The video shows him hopping across rocks barefoot, walking a slack rope, riding his elliptical bike, climbing a vertical ladder supported by guide wires, and throwing knives.
Stephen Jepson is a learning theorist, inventor, athlete, artist, and a kid at heart who has turned his property into a playground.
“God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there” comes from a poem titled “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke.
I think of this line every now and then when I’m stepping quick and soft over rocky sections of trail. Early on I learned (via research and then experience) that a sort of paradox exists when trail running with no shoes on: sometimes it’s easier to get through a rocky section by going faster, not slower.
Sections that take too much mental effort to walk through slowly, picking my way through bebbles and billows of stone (I meant to write “pebbles” but then liked the new typo-word, “bebble” even better) somehow became magical moments of focus when I trot across with high and light footfalls.
Again, paradoxically, I don’t aim my eyes directly down where my feet are, but ahead, where they will soon land. And, somehow, foot-or-toe-sized flat landings flicker into being on and between the stones, and my gaze stays up-trail, and soon I am across the jumble and smiling at what just happened.
There are many helpful posts that goes into more detail on “form” and barefoot running, such as this excellent introduction by barefoot running guru KenBob Saxton.
Barefoot Ted has similar good advice: he also recommends a playful approach–similar to jazz improvisation, as blogger Clynton notes in his fine review of a learning session with Barefoot Ted.
Another barefoot running principle that Clynton reported: how running should be “joy with no pain.” That’s what I get from trail running, even over rough terrain.
Disclaimer: There are still occasional moments of surprise when my rock-radar malfunctions and I get a poke from something sharp. But that goes away pretty quick.
Oh yeah . . . and there was that one time when I jammed a root sliver in my under-toe cleavage and had to have it removed at urgent care. But that was three years ago. And it healed super fast due to the amazing circulation my bare feet have developed. Even the occasional toe-meets-rock flesh wound (like this one at Anza Borrego Desert State Park) heals quickly (and makes for a good story/photo . . . )
But the debilitating pain, a lifetime of chronic run-stopping injuries that have come from moving unaware of my poor technique—those days are over. (Especially thanks to Pilates/body/movement awareness instruction over the course of the last year.)
And while I still manage to come up with weird pains, like my recent cuboid (foot) bone displacement , that may curtail my running for a couple of weeks—it’s only until I find time for an appointment with my physical therapy doctor, Derrick Sueki. That amazing-genius-healer knows how to work both diagnostic miracles and cures. (Who knew there was something called the “cuboid whip?”)
But I’m running faster and stronger, and smiling more, than ever before . . . over terrain that may not be quite as shattered as this talus slope trail at Saddlebag Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada . . .
but still contains plenty of rocky sections.
God bless the Ground! It’s so much fun to feel . . . and share with other dust-loving critters, like this cool alligator lizard that paused long enough for me to paparazzi around a bit.
These beautiful creatures can grow to over a foot long and can live 10-15 years—unless invited to lunch by a snake or swooped up by a red-tailed hawk . . . or . . . crushed by a mountain bike tire.
Like many of their lizard cousins, alligator lizards can escape a predator by detaching their tail. This defense doesn’t work so well against a mountain bike, as I was graphically reminded of on a recent twilight run.
What was twitching and flipping around in the middle of the trail at the bottom of the popular Chutes mountain bike single-track near Irvine Park?
At first I thought it might be a snake in the trail, but as I got closer, I discovered—the broken tail of an alligator lizard. (The already-stiff body lay about six feet away.)
With mixed feelings, I pulled out my camera and recorded the disconcerting disembodied dance.
. . . . and, later, mixed the footage into a short YouTube video, complete with beatnik voice-over.
Let’s share the trails safely with our scaly friends!
“God bless the Ground! I shall [hike, bike, run] softly there . . .
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