The past five years of our annual late winter visit to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, I have been able (blessed! ecstatic!) to spend the weekend camping without shoes.
That’s right: barefoot. In the desert.
And I’m extra-pleased when my grandkids join me in wandering shoelessly around camp and up the Palm Canyon trail. They are smart kids who know when to put their shoes on to keep it fun. No pressure from Grammy, just do what you need to be able to run and climb and have a good time in this beautiful place.
My siblings (we are all grandparents now . . . yikes) still give me a bit of a hard time about it, but I’m the youngest, and have always been subject to this birth-order-inspired ribbing. As the years passed, though, I began to realize the joke’s on them: Yeah, I’m the youngest. Pick on me all you want, ’cause we may all be old now, but I’M STILL THE YOUNGEST.
OK. That’s out of my system.
It’s actually a great legacy our folks left: they first took us camping here in 1962, and this many years later, four of the seven of us were able to return and reminisce in a place that is much older than we are.
Speaking of having seven siblings camping here: our mother loves to tell the story of time (somewhere in the 1960s) the park ranger came by our campsite, counted heads, and solemnly proclaimed that the campground regulations called for no more than eight people per site . . . eliciting this response from Mom: “Which one should I send home, the youngest or the oldest?”
So every year those of us who are able to sneak away from our busy So Cal lives make the windy drive down Montezuma Grade to the Palm Canyon Group Campground (since there are way more than nine of us these days).
We were fortunate enough to witness both wildflowers and gentle rain this weekend; here’s a few images to encourage others to visit one of Southern California’s most beautiful and barefoot-friendly places–the trails are so well-traveled my toes have never been punctured by a single cactus spine (well, almost never: there was that hike to Hellhole Canyon several years ago . . . but we weren’t really on a trail at the time my sole found a fallen cholla cactus branch.)
I’ve been blogging away here at Barefoot Wandering and Writing for a few years, aiming for a post a week, not always hitting that goal, but also aiming to not feel too much pressure. As I mentioned four or five times to mountain bikers today who felt compelled to comment on my shoe-less-ness, I run barefoot because it’s fun, and I want this blog to be more pleasure than pain as well.
I just scrolled waaayyyy down to find my first WordPress post . . . dated 8/28/10. Then I remembered that I had a Blogspot blog for a short time before that . . . and did a search to find that first post. It was actually from my “pre-barefoot” days . . . but one month later, the record of my barefoot journey begins. Here’s a quote from the end of that piece:
“So far I’ve been out 14 times (yep. I’m counting) in mud and streams and dust and sand and lots of rocks. It’s all challenging fun. Gravel does get old fastest. Mud is squishy cool. Aged piles of horse poop are like golden-bleached pillows. Leaping good times.”
It’s all challenging fun.
That’s why I do it . . . and that’s what today was like, a chilly (low 60s is a chilly winter day here in So Cal), wild-flower-filled romp up and down Barham Ridge for an hour.
After 10+ years of excruciating, run-stopping left knee pain that I’ve thrown all kinds of money at to find a fix, I feel incredibly blessed (and very grateful to my “physio team” of Dr. Derrick Sueki at Knight Physical Therapy as well as Darcia Dexter, Movement Educator) to be able to run with ease for an hour or more up and down steep, sometimes-rocky hills with a smile on my face and nothing on my feet.
Why do I do this? Because the wildlands of Orange County are places of amazing biodiversity, and barefoot trail running gets me out there to appreciate them. My little camera does its best to record a fraction of the beauty I witness, and I spend a bit of time every week or so to lay it all out on this blog, hoping others wander this way and feel inspired to love and appreciate this place or their own local wildlands.
That’s it, too: I want my running and writing to inspire others. (I just re-skimmed an excellent article on Writing-World.com titled “To Blog or Not to Blog.” Like all the other pieces on this helpful web site, it contained much useful information, but there was nothing here about “inspiration” as a reason to blog.)
What got me thinking about this is I just remembered one of today’s mountain biker comments . . . as I scooted to the side of the Chutes Trail to avoid the hurtling mass of man and aluminum tubing headed my way, I heard a voice say, “You’re OK.” (This I assumed referred to the fact that I was far enough off the trail to avoid collision.) Then he continued, “That’s pretty inspiring.” (And this I assumed was a reference to the fact that I was barefoot–and not to the length of my awesomely ratty gray granny braid.)
So here’s a batch of what I hope are inspiring images from my latest runs:
It’s wildflower time in Orange County’s wild foothills! Today I went for a wander in Limestone Canyon, doing my duty as an Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteer on an “open access day” — those few times a year these ecologically sensitive trails are opened to the public. From my vantage point on the Sandtrap Trail, I had a good view of the hundreds of folks headed for “The Sinks,” billed as the “Grand Canyon of Orange County.” Having visited the Grand Canyon a few times, I can safely say it’s not even close; however, it is a fabulous destination for nature lovers who want a nice destination on a sunny February morning.
Here are a bunch more photos from this most pleasant morning:
Lots to be thankful for . . . a sunny (mostly) barefoot morning, enjoying wildflowers in Limestone Canyon!
If it’s January, it must be 70+ degrees (F). Time to enjoy the sun-warmed clay trails in my local Orange County wild lands:
On a brilliant day, clouds only make the blue more intense.
In amongst the non-native grasses, tucked in and around the native shrubs, the wildflowers are beginning to appear:
Santiago Creek has a bit of refreshingly chilly water right now; after big winter storms this placid trickle rages dangerously, and there’s no getting across for days or weeks. That’s weather we haven’t had for years and years.
On my recent run, I discovered newly dug trail “improvements” that are not that at all if you’re a slow moving biped or quadriped.
Meanwhile, back in the city . . .
Howard McMinn manzanita, you are one handsome plant!
Welcome February . . . what kind of wildflowers await?
As I mentioned in a recent post, Jan. 2015 marks five years since I hesitantly took off my sandals and tried to navigate a smooth clay local loop with my feet feeling the ground.
This shoeless half-decade has had its ups and downs (literally! I love to run hills!), as I get super bummed when my body uses pain (knee, calf, ankle, foot, hip, lower back . . . quite the list) to get my attention and remind me there are issues that still need dealing with . . . nope, losing my shoes did not turn me into a running machine.
However, with the help of some creative-thinking-super-skilled physical therapists, I have been able to keep enjoying trails both near and far (from Irvine Regional Park at the edge of my hometown of Orange, CA, USA, to Wallowa County, OR, to the Grand Canyon).
Each time I hike and run in God’s creation, I try to be consciously grateful for the fact that, in spite of having over half a century of miles on my odometer (is it time to rotate the tires yet?), I feel pretty dang good for a gray-haired granny.
Which brought me to today–just back from a four-day native plant conservation conference (four days of learning! yay! four days of sitting! boo!), I could not wait to get out on my favorite local trail and visit my favorite local native plants in the hills outside of Irvine Park. A couple hours (and plenty of photos) later, I was surprised to notice a bit of raw feel zizzing up my nervous system to my brain. “Hey, silly! You haven’t run this far for months, and the trails are nothin’ but exposed rock bits after last weeks lovely rains. Take it easy next time.”
“Oops,” was all I could reply to myself as I eased my feet into a warm bath of tea-tree-oil infused water. “Guess I got just a bit carried away by the lovely 70-degree January afternoon. I’ll try to run a little more responsibly next time, and maybe take 100 photos instead of only 50.”
After re-living the enchantment of the run as I cropped and culled images, I chose way too many to end this post with . . . see below . . . and as far as the sore soles go . . . it’s a good reminder that “use it or lose it” applies to barefoot skills, just like to our brain health.
Happy Trails! I am looking forward to some good miles in 2015 . . . time to get outside and enjoy both running and native plants!
Back in January 2010, I attended a bird behavior (if you have to ask . . . you won’t understand) event early one chilly morning at O’Neil Park. (I’ve told this story in these pages before, but it’s been a while . . . .) I noticed two young men wearing something unusual on their feet: nothing.
After making a few joking asides to one of my fellow bird-friends (“Where’s their shoes? Don’t they know it’s the middle of winter?”) I started wondering what would make otherwise intelligent-seeming (they were interested in bird behavior too, for cryin’ out loud) people traipse around the wild hills of Orange County . . . barefoot.
This blog became the record of my wondering (and much researching), which turned into barefoot wandering, which has now become a middle-age obsession (but a good one! like flossing once–oops, twice–a day!).
So you’d think my teeth would be immune to rot, and my running would be injury-free.
I just had root canal #2, and my physical therapy costs me way more than a new pair of Newtons each month.
Why do I keep doing it then?
(Well, I’m flossing ’cause I’m highly susceptible to internet health info, and I read online a couple of years ago that there was some kind of link between sketchy oral hygiene and dementia.)
(Come to think of it, I really like parentheses, too).
And I keep shoelessly heading for the outskirts of my hometown of Orange, CA, to lope along the paths of coyotes and mule deer (I love to mingle my tracks with theirs), because I’m 55 years old, a grandma of five, graying and shrinking and wrinkling even as I write this, but the running has never been more fun.
To be out on the trail with nothing between me and God’s honest dirt (and the rocks that will someday become it, and the scat that testifies to the presence of so many wild friends) . . . I’ve been trying to find words to describe this feeling for five years here (as well as via a few guest posts on the generous Barefoot Beginner).
It’s a new year.
Nothing new about that insight. But today–after almost three weeks homebound with a nasty winter flu bug–I was able to stop coughing long enough to drive myself to the trailhead at Irvine Park. The chilly weird weather (snow-plows needed in the Santa Ana Mountains!) of last week had subsided, and 70-degrees-and-sunshine warmed my bones and my heart.
All my trail-side tree-compadres had survived the windstorm, and the sages were plumping and pungent in response to December’s rains. Rolled river rocks and damp packed clay greeted my feet–which had been worried about how they would be received after such an absence–and bird-calls rang like bells throughout the almost-lush underbrush. (Or it could have been my clogged left ear mis-hearing their song; even after ten days of antibiotics my inner ear still feels like the sewer pipe at the Italian restaurant whose owner was trying to save money on dumpster fees.)
Eighty minutes of bliss, then I was back at the car, not too sweaty since I took it easy heading up and down the six-hundred-foot-elevation-gain Chutes Trail (up to Barham Ridge).
Fifty photos later: here’s a few highlights.
I’m looking forward to my ear eventually unclogging, and a bunch more barefoot miles in 2015. God bless dirt! (And all the life it makes possible.)
One last story (thanks for watching my slide show). It’s a new year, so a new parking pass needed to be bought today. I was surprised when the ranger behind the counter told me the price: $35. “That’s $20 cheaper than last year,” I remarked, knowing that I had just been charged the . . . ouch . . . senior citizen rate.
“Sorry,” replied the flustered youngster as she re-examined my drivers license. “I was trying to do the math in my head.”
Bless her math-befuddled heart; she was gracious enough to realize she’d just caused me at least $20 worth of age-angst, and when I signed the credit card slip, I was (somewhat) mollified to see she’d let the $35 price stand.
Has three weeks of sickness aged me that much?
Oh well . . . I just ran for over an hour, up and down rocky trails, pain-free . . . and shoe-free.
Earlier in December, Orange County was blessed with a wonderful, much-needed deluge (can’t wait till the wildflowers that have sprouted in response begin to bloom!); one cloud-burst left my back yard flooded for a few minutes, so of course I had to get out there and puddle-jump.
Days later, I came down with a very bad case of upper respiratory flu, from which I am still recovering.
Of course “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” immediately comes to mind at times like this.
Don’t parents everywhere warn kids not to go outside and get their feet wet, or “they’ll catch their death of cold”?
Here’s what I found on the Cardiff University (UK) “Common Cold Centre” web site:
Folklore indicates that chilling such as getting your feet wet in winter and going out with wet hair may cause a common cold but until recently there has been no scientific research to support this idea. Recent research has demonstrated that chilling may cause the onset of common cold symptoms5. A study at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff UK in 2005 took 90 students and chilled their feet in cold water for 20 minutes and showed that the chilled group had twice as many colds over the next 5 days as a control group of 90 students whose feet were not chilled. The authors propose that when colds are circulating in the community some persons carry the virus without symptoms and that chilling the feet causes a constriction of blood vessels in the nose and this inhibits the immune response and defences in the nose and allows the virus to replicate and cause cold symptoms. The chilled person believes they have caught a cold but in fact the virus was already present in the nose but not causing symptoms.
Hmmm . . . interesting . . . is this what happened to me?
All I know is I’ve been too sick to run for two weeks . . . which has served to make me grateful for the many days that I have been healthy enough to get out on the trails–in 2014, and throughout my running life. The gift of running is something that is to easy to take for granted when things are going well, and I hope this illness helps me to remain aware of what a privilege it is to be able to move smoothly (and shoelessly!) through Orange County’s sage-scented hills.
Here’s looking forward to better health, and more barefoot trail miles, in 2015 . . .