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I’m Baaack . . . and so are the Wildflowers

February 24, 2020

barefoot fence walk sunset

After weeks of an exhausting cough and feeling stuffy and yucky, I’m thanking God that my lungs and throat and nose breathing apparatus are all back to seventh-decade-optimal working order.

And I’m running again. (Or hiking along fence rails, as the above photos shows.)

The photo below, from a recent visit to Grand Canyon, shows the faint line of trail from Indian Garden (the darker foliage) to Plateau Point–an amazing place where I once enjoyed a sunset dinner during a six-day trip across.

South Rim Jan 2010

I might be smilin’ on the outside, but inside I was nothing but a hot mess of a hacking nose-faucet, drawn to the South Rim in mid-winter for a two-day class to recertify as a Wilderness First Responder.

NOLS sticker

This is the certification required by the Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute–with it I can continue to teach creative writing workshops . . . at both the North AND South Rims this summer!

WFR training fake bruise

Every two years, WooFeRs (Wilderness First Responders) spend a LOT of time going through realistic (note the stage blood and bruise make-up) scenarios; students take turns as both patient and first responder, with lots of debriefing and discussion and some classroom time as well. (The NOLS instructors are awesome!)

WFR awards

My classmates were awesome as well, and the ones I teamed up with for the tibia/fibula fracture . . . and then humerus fracture . . . splinting practice were so good we “won” the prizes for both! (Prizes pictured above: a wound irrigating syringe as reward for our amazing leg splint and a wound care pack for our neat ‘n’ tidy upper arm splint and sling.)

Then it was time to head home and enjoy the grandkids; here’s the youngest one checking out the manzanita (and lupine!) bloom in our yard.

Mickey kid and manzanita

We also got to head north to visit the older grandsons, who did not go hiking with me at Montana de Oro State Park, instead choosing to stay home and play basketball with their dad and grandpa. Go figure.

The Coon Creek Trail, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, had few hikers and plenty of splendid native plants, including these squiggly coast live oaks. (Photo credit: my hiking companion and super-amazing daughter Tina C. Davidson.)

Thea under oak Coon creek

Here’s a plant that stumped me, as well as a few other hikers who: 1) I asked, “What is it?” or 2) Asked me, “What is it?”

Toadshades. Narrowpetal Wakerobin. Trillium augustipetalum. Whatever you want to call it, you won’t find it growing around my home ground (Orange County, CA, wildlands).

You will find this striking plant (and its plethora of cousins) spread across North America, though; it is “the widest ranging of all American endemics, native to more states (twenty-nine of them) than any other plant group confined to the United States,” according to an article in Pacific Horticulture that laments trillium’s under-appreciation as well as its ongoing disappearance from California shady places.

There was more shady beauty to be found along Coon Creek: shelf fungus.

fungi fest

And another plant I had never seen, although it has many purply-blueish cousins in Orange County: Sticky phacelia (Phacelia viscida), covered stem-to-bud with tiny tacky hairs.

Phacelia viscosa at Coon Creek

Yes: it’s wildflower season in So Cal!

Sadly, since the rainy season was less than drench-tacular this year, Orange County is not experiencing anything near a superbloom, but there are still lovelies to discover:

western sunflower from below

Western sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

tidy tips end of day

Tidy tips (Layia platyglossa)

lupine in shadow

Lupine sp.

wild cucumber on chain link

Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)

. . . and this one, with curvy leaves as vivid as flowers . . .

laurel sumac red new leaves

Laurel sumac (Malosma laurina)

Up on the ridge, near the intersection of Hawk and Grasshopper:

hawk and grasshopper intersection

. . . hilltopping butterflies!

painted lady and shadow

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)

plastic bottlecap trash

Not hilltopping . . . just polluting . . .

Then I found this round thing like a bottlecap fallen from the sky . . .

moon reflection

Moon reflection in sluggish Santiago Creek

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying / In the yellow haze of the sun

sun rays and oak

All of this flower-trash-moon-cloud watching sometimes takes my attention from the matter at hand (or foot): stepping safely.

And my toe smacks a rock or root, and $#^% happens. (Sigh. Not again. You can see that this toenail had barely grown in from my last rocky get-together.)

bloody toe

Is it worth going barefoot for the occasional toe collision?

tidy tips and toes

Ahhh . . . to feel the trail . . . dust or rock or mud or leaf . . . as a student once wrote during a “take your shoes off and write” session back in my teaching days: “It’s like flossing your feet with the world.”

So. Worth. It.

Happy (toe-flossing) Trails!

How to Celebrate Ten Years of Barefoot Wandering (and writing)

January 30, 2020

Ten years, 316 posts and 5,000 + barefoot miles through dust, rocks, mud, sand, hills. Wildfires.

barefoot summer running

So many fun miles at Grand Canyon . . .

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A stumble or two on local trails . . .

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One stress fracture (lower right fibula) . . .

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Many healing sessions with Dr. Derrick Sueki at Knight Physical Therapy . . .

Many healing Feldenkrais sessions with Darcia Dexter . . .

Way too many exclamations of surprise by other trail users: hikers, bikers, horseback riders. (“Barefoot! That’s hardcore!” “Wow. Where’s your shoes?” “Etc.”)

Just enough kind blog comments by other barefoot sojourners (thanks & you know who you are!).

Multiple trips across Grand Canyon sans shoes, or partially shoeless; here’s my account of the first one that eventually was published (in slightly edited form) in Rick Kempa’s anthology: On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories: https://wordpress.com/post/theagavin.wordpress.com/1835

A couple of trail ultras; here’s a “race report” after the first one: https://wordpress.com/post/theagavin.wordpress.com/4889

My (literal, 10,000-foot-plus) barefoot high point in July 2012: https://wordpress.com/post/theagavin.wordpress.com/1649

Local 5k/10k races, this one with grandkids:

https://theagavin.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/time-for-some-barefoot-bragging/

But . . . enough traveling back in time!

It’s 2020, and in spite of all the too-easy vision puns that could be made about this year, I will exercise word-play-self-control and leave the future in God’s good hands.

With no idea what tomorrow might bring (but plenty of recent tragedies to remind us how brief and precious our time on earth is), I can only keep putting one bare foot in front of the other, and see where the trail leads.

Thanks for joining me on the journey so far! I appreciate hearing from readers who have been inspired by my barefoot shenanigans, and hope to continue “writing to inspire” in the days and miles ahead.

Happy (barefoot, celebratory) trails!

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Thankful for shoes?! (What have I become . . . )

December 2, 2019
shoes

What I’m wearin’ these days in non-barefoot-friendly situations . . .

After almost ten years of living-and-writing-about the barefoot trail running and shoeless hiking life, I’m trying not to feel hypocritical.

The photo above shows what lengths (pun intended . . . I do have far-reaching feet) I now go to as I enjoy new ways to keep learning and having fun in retirement: horseback riding and CrossFit.

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Two “seniors” having fun? (then why are Merlin’s ears flicked back . . . )

While the Merrell Vapor Glove 4 shoes (in topmost photo) meet my “minimal shoe test” (which is the flex-ability to roll into a ball), and while they work well for box-jumping, rope-skipping, weight-lifting, and other CrossFit play, when I wore them for my first English riding lesson I realized, once again, that there is a time and place for everything:

Stirrup-comfort-and-safety requires sturdy boots with low heels (which my kind sister was happy to lend me indefinitely).

So . . . call me a sell-out. I can take it, as long as the foot-smothering gives me the chance to horse around and practice all kinds of mind-body coordination work–while attempting to properly communicate with a big beautiful creature named Merlin.

Magical old Merlin is 20–but still going strong as a lesson horse; when I looked up “comparing horse to human aging” I discovered a fun surprise: we’re the same age!

Senior citizens . . . yikes . . .  but neither of us wants to let that slow us down.

*Truth in horse behavior note: actually, Merlin lets lots of stuff slow him down–he is a wise old guy and not about to walk or trot any faster than his rider has the skills to communicate “Let’s get going” to him.

I’ve got no CrossFit photos yet, but believe me when I say I’ve reluctantly caved in to wear shoes (my Merrells) to abide by the gym’s “no bare feet” rule.

Has it ruined my life?

Nope. Only my sense of barefoot pride.

So, with no shame left to feel since I’m Cross-Fitting in my bare-ly there Merrell’s a couple days a week, I decided to take some pain away from my Thanksgiving Day run in the rain (below 50F,  which is insanely chilly for a daytime high around here) and . . . Run. In. Shoes.

airborne in the rain

*Truth in barefooting note: it felt good to not have numb feet. Last winter, when I tried running on a similar wet/cold day, I got about a hundred yards from the car and decided frozen toes weren’t worth and had to drive right back home.

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While the rain closes down all the local trails, it does create puddle-wonderfulconditions.

barefoot creek crossing

And when the trails dry out, Santiago Creek is there for mud-luscious stream crossing.

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Also happening this time of year: Toyon berries glow along the trails . . .

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. . . which means snack time for local coyotes, and animal-scat-foot-selfie time for yours truly.

barefoot bench balance 2

Besides being distracted from my trail running by scat, every trailside bench beckons to me as well, calling me to pause and practice balance–an important life skill for seniors! (And the balancing has now become prep work for the Christmas present I just bought the grandkids: a slack line! What a coincidence! I’ve always wanted one! And I’ve always wanted to stuff a whole paragraph full of exclamation points!!)

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Now, this photo does a good job of showing the challenges and triumphs of barefoot hiking and trail running: I would not stumbled into this bloody, betwixt-the-toes stick-wound if I’d been wearing foot-smotherers . . . but . . . I doubt this alligator lizard would have paused for a fetching foot-selfie with me if I’d stomped up to him in big ol’ hiking boots.

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Once last bit o’ thankfulness: being able to run with my grandson during his Thanksgiving week visit. Ten years ago, I was a broken, injury-plagued runner. By the grace of God, lots of physical therapy, movement education (Feldenkrais Method), and the miracle of shoe-less-ness, this cranky-not-creaky “senior” grandma now gets to create running memories with the next generation (who might decide shoes are for them, and that’s OK too).

Happy Shod or Shoeless Lizard-lovin’ Grateful Trails!

 

 

 

Barefoot Interview #2

October 27, 2019
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Barefoot, the early years

Another Barefoot Runner Profile

It was so much fun to interview Scott Marckx about his barefoot running/life a while back, I decided to do a similar (but less extensive) Q & A with a barefoot runner who also inspires me: my oldest son, Ty Gavin.

He inhabits that tricky position of being the oldest child—the one who may or may not have been “pushed” a bit too much during his childhood by his teen-mother-with-a-lot-to-prove. (That would be yours truly.)

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Being “encouraged” to like dirt bikes, the early years (note the tears under the goggles)

By the grace of God, he survived all that, and now is a parent himself: he and his wife are raising three great kids.

Since Ty and his wife met at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (and my other two kids went there as well), it seemed like a fun idea that the family would have a reunion of sorts in October 2019 to run the 24th annual City to the Sea Half Marathon (and 5k and little kids fun run).

Although Ty mostly trains on the beaches of San Diego (not too far from his sit-all-day, tech-related workplace), this was his second barefoot half marathon on city streets, which might be even more heroic than trail running . . . the roads of Southern California are rougher than you’d think, even without any freeze-thaw cycles to break them down.

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Beach training, the early years.

After the race—which Ty finished in just under two hours—I emailed him some questions. Here we go:

When did you start barefoot running?

Many years ago now. Maybe 8 years ago?  Sometime around my mid 30s?

Why barefoot?

The main reasons:

(1) I work near a state beach in San Diego and usually run during lunch time. Being barefoot helps you:

  • Run at any tide level
  • Save time so you can back to work faster; there’s no need to change socks/shoes, so it’s extremely fast to move from sandals to barefoot and back again.

(2) I’m cheap and didn’t want to spend $200 on shoes every year. With running shoes, I had to have two pairs— one that I could get wet in the ocean and one that I wanted to keep nice for the roads.  This money is better spent on a California State Parks annual pass.

(3) My mom runs barefoot and I had a real-world example that it was possible.

Where do you run and why?

Where: I run on my lunch break at a nearby beach where there is a long stretch of sand that is relatively flat at low tides.

Why: Getting outside and moving around makes for more productive afternoons at the desk.

What are some benefits and/or drawbacks to barefoot running?

The main benefits are no more knee pain after a long run and no more toe-nails falling off.

Another benefit is the pressure is off to be fast.  You are impressive simply by not having shoes on, not because you’re a speed demon.

The main drawback is the occasional bee sting.  Why are there so many dead bees on the beach?

The second drawback is there are also some places you can’t run barefoot—places where there are thorns or where it is really really hot on the ground.  There was a day this summer when the sand was so hot I couldn’t run.

Wearing (old) shoes, I used to have a lot of fun running the Mud Run at Camp Pendleton, but won’t run it again since I don’t think it would be wise to do this barefoot—you can’t always see where you are placing your feet in water obstacles.

barefoot half marathon finish line sprint

How was it to run 13.1 miles last weekend barefoot on rough pavement? 

I’ve completed two half marathons now entirely barefoot.  For both of these, I brought along some socks (with homemade duct-taped soles on the bottom of these socks) in my pocket just in case I had a puncture.

My first half marathon was rough; it was the Kaiser Permanente Thrive Half Marathon in San Diego a couple of years ago. (Editor-mom’s note: I found the results online; he ran it in 2:12:23.)  This was mostly on Friars Road, which was in terrible condition.  But I went slow with a goal of simply to finish.  That was when I learned to run on the painted street lines to survive.  (Shouting out the occasional expletive also helped; however, this only confirmed to onlookers that I was an idiot.)

My most recent half was the San Luis Obispo City-to-Sea (October 2019).  This also had an extremely rough stretch of pavement alongside the freeway.  I was surprised that I made it through, but my experience with Friars Road reminded me it was possible.  I was also chasing my (younger) brother in this race, which was extremely good motivation to keep going.

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Brothers, the early years.

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Brothers, during the 2019 City to Sea half marathon

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Brothers (and dad) celebrate under-two-hour finish times.

Any other comments/advice/warnings for people who want to run barefoot?

Get ready to be famous: lots of people will be impressed by you and make comments; you don’t even have to be fast.

Little children passing by will look up to their mommy and ask, “Why does he get to be barefoot, but I don’t?”

Older people in parks will shout loudly for others to take note.  Others will think they are funny if they ask if you are too poor to purchase shoes.

You may find yourself running barefoot simply for the attention. 😉

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Not barefoot, but definitely attention-getting . . .

It’s always fun to dig through old family photos, but it was difficult to find any of Ty without shoes, since he was not much of a barefooter as a kid; this makes his adult switcheroo to shoe-less running even more surprising . . . unless you’ve read Carol Dweck’s inspiring book Mindset, nicely summed up here: “people with a growth mindset believe that whatever they want to achieve is theirs for the taking, as long as they work hard for it, dedicate themselves to their goal and practice as much as they can” . . . excellent advice for anyone out there with a desire to run 13.1 miles barefoot. 

Happy Achievable Barefoot Beaches, Roads & Trails!

Time for some barefoot bragging?

October 17, 2019
barefoot half marathon finish line sprint

My first-born! Barefoot! Running a half-marathon!

At the risk of violating what Psychology Today calls the “The social norms of bragging [that] refer to the fact that our culture expects people to be modest,” I’m about to not-so-humble brag the heck out of my sons’ accomplishments at the City to Sea Half Marathon in San Luis Obispo County last weekend.

These two brothers, one barefoot, ages 43 and 37, ran side-by-side for almost the entire 13.1 miles.

brother running half marathon

(photo proof by Captivating Sports Photos)

Then, much to the younger brother’s chagrin (he was a two-time league champion in cross country–almost twenty years ago in high school), the older, barefoot brother pulled away and finished in 1:58:59.

Younger bro’s time was 1:59:30 . . . not terrible when one considers his “training” for the race: one hour-long run last month which ended with a calf strain. (Older brother runs barefoot every day during lunch hour.)

Both are the busy dads of five of my seven (brag alert) AMAZING grandkids, three of which ran the City to the Sea 5k with their barefoot Grammy G (that would be me, speaking of myself in third person, a la Dennis Rodman).

runners jumping

After the race, we all jumped for joy: nine of us who ran that day, from 13.1 miles to the 50-yard toddler “race.” (I’m wearing sandals because the grassy infield, full of free bagels and juice, was just too dang chilly to my toes. Don’t judge me.)

barefoot grammy

(Yay me: running barefoot for 5k on rough pavement. Photo proof by Captivating Sports Photos.)

My time in the 5k of 26:57 put me in second place in my old-lady age group, to which I can only say (a la Homer Simpson): “Woo-hoo!”

start line with grammy

However, it was my granddaughters’ excellent (cheerful and relaxed) running (and two of them beat me) that made my grammy-heart like to burst with not-even-close-to-humble-brag pride.

jumping silhouette

A grandson who loves to climb and jump (sunset at Morro Rock).

The rest of the weekend was full of Central Coast fun-with-grandkids as well, including an amazing sunset/moonrise at Morro Bay.

full moon rise

California’s Central Coast: you know you’re somewhere special when the little brothers play “Oak 21” during their big brothers’ soccer game (using acorns and oak galls for “chips”).

acorn poker 21

I’ll close with a joke as pathetic as bragging about kids/grandkids: this acorn didn’t roll far from the (barefoot) tree:

barefoot half marathon finish

Happy Generational Trails!

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“Grandma Balancing” photo by my 10-year-old grandson . . . 

 

What Can a Person Accomplish Without Shoes?

October 10, 2019
barefoot sculpture

Scott’s mother recently created this sculpture of him at work.

Scott Marckx: Barefoot Runner, Hiker, Luthier, Boat Builder
A Q & A with Thea Gavin

Scott Marckx has been mostly barefoot since 2012, whether at home or work or on the trails around Port Townsend, WA, where he makes his living crafting violins in a workshop next to his house.

Since I’ve appreciated his barefoot insights—as comments on this “Barefoot Wandering and Writing” blog—over the years, I asked him to write a little more about his barefoot running (and life) as a guest post. This turned into a series of email “interviews,” the results of which follow, as Scott responds to my questions.

For more insight into Scott’s violin-creating and music-making, listen to the 2/17/19 podcast/interview with Joe McHugh on “Rosin the Bow: An audio journey through the fascinating world of the violin family.”

bridge

Barefoot history

I think I must have always had a problematic relationship with shoes, although I wasn’t one of those kids that got to go barefoot in the summer.

My grandmother (Grandma Liz) started taking my brothers and cousin and me backpacking starting when I was five.

When I was a teenager—supposedly buying my own clothes from an allowance—I remember Grandma Liz’s frustration a few times that my shoes were so worn out I could slide my foot out through the hole in the side and pull the shoe up my leg.

She was always trying to figure out decent footwear for me when we went backpacking.

I wore shoes pretty much all the time until I was 46 or 47 and looking for some form of exercise that I could stick with, as I was out of shape.

A friend told me about an article in the New York Times that she had read while using newspaper to sheet mulch her garden. It was about an exercise called “100-ups” and was written by Christopher McDougall.

That led me to his book Born to Run which I got from the library as an audio book to listen to while working in the shop. He made running sound so fun!
I had never been a runner—it had always been pounding misery for me, but McDougall made it sound like, if I learned how to do it correctly, it could be like flying!

So I got books on running form and tried it out, but it didn’t work for me.

In Born to Run, though, there is a character who goes barefoot, and the whole take-off-your-shoes argument is laid out, so I figured “let’s try that.”

At first, it was painful to even walk to the mailbox—it felt weird; I felt conspicuous with those naked feet. Somehow, I kept with it, and it was fun! It freed me up, not worrying about putting shoes on to walk out in the garden or out to the shop.

The path out to the shop was gravel, though, and felt like a bed of coals—that seriously hurt. And running? That took a while.

I had hoped that going barefoot would fix my running form issues, and it sort of did, but mostly by being painful when I did something wrong.

There were breakthroughs and setbacks. I found out that skin gets tough fairly quickly, but tendons and bones take longer, and I hurt myself by overdoing it.

Eventually I found out that gravel, instead of being the painful enemy, was actually a great trainer and friend. When I am hunched over from working in the shop with bad posture, the gravel hurts, but when I start to unhunch my posture it gets easier to run on gravel.

Different types of mud also offer lessons: there is a type where the surface is slick, but the mud isn’t deep and your feet slide. You can feel if you are over-striding because your foot slides forward as it lands, and you can feel if you are pushing off because your foot slides backwards as you lift it.

winter prints

Off the gravel and into the house

Barefoot philosophy

I think I’m coming to the conclusion that we are way more fragile than we want to believe, but if we can work within that fragility, maybe even use it to help us find better ways of doing things, we can do great things.

Barefoot form

I keep noticing how walking and running form issues can make it way more painful (or not very painful) to walk/run on gravel.

That leads me to think that I could probably learn a whole lot more in that area that would help me be able to go farther barefoot on more difficult surfaces, but that would take figuring out how to learn that sort of thing and lots of practice time.

Barefoot injuries (“too much, too soon”)

From my house it is about a mile of neighborhood streets and mini-trails to get to the edge of “Cappy’s Trails” where there is a whole maze of trails through the woods.

I never was a runner before doing the barefoot thing, although I did a lot of cycling earlier in life. So, when I started running barefoot, the combination of bad running form, over-excitement to run on “Cappy’s Trails,” my bones and tendons not being used to this new thing, and being overweight proved very troublesome.

I hurt my feet (probably metatarsal stress) and had to back off.

At first I tried to run every day and I learned that, especially being in my late 40s and early 50s, having at least a day off between running days really helped keep me from getting hurt.

Later I had some sort of tendon thing on the outside of my leg near my knee cause trouble.

I finally read a chapter in Running With the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham called “Just Do It—With Gentleness” (pages 84-86), and that has really helped me. Also, learning about nose breathing from Scott Jurek’s book and then reading Body Mind and Sport by John Douillard really helped, along with trying Phil Maffetone’s heart rate training.

Mostly, I learned to slow down enough so that my body could catch up with my aspirations and obsessiveness with this new fun barefoot thing.

There’s all sorts of stuff that just moving more has brought up. Paying attention to one’s body after years of wishful ignorance brings up plenty of issues.

Barefoot goals
I would love to figure out barefoot backpacking more: how far can I reasonably
and sustainably go on what kind of terrain? How can I figure out the ergonomics of
carrying a pack, in terms of how it changes my form and how my feet either gently
or less gently contact the ground with each step?

A friend of my wife’s sent me a newspaper article on a man who hiked the
Continental Divide Trail barefoot:
https://missoulian.com/news/local/barefoot-hiker-bags-continental-divide-trail/
article_7835b778-0929-5b68-9021-4e0a0b1f8422.html

That is inspiring! There is a trail called the Pacific Northwest Trail that goes from the Continental Divide in Montana through Idaho and Washington and it goes right through my home town of Port Townsend on its way across the Olympic Mountains and out to and up the Coast. I don’t think I would do the whole thing, but getting to hike out my door and into and across the Olympic Mountains is a dream I would like to do some day. Doing it barefoot would make it even better!

Other than that, just getting in a decent run two or three times a week sometimes
seems daunting. I say “yes” to so many things that I don’t always have as much
time as I originally thought I did.

I guess I’ve seen so much improvement in terms of the types of surfaces I can walk
and run on barefoot that I figure I should be able to learn and adapt to even more
difficult terrain—and then I overdo it, yet again!

One other goal: more multi-day sailing/rowing trips in my boat.

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Barefoot and playing the fiddle

Do I perform barefoot? Sometimes. It depends on the situation. A lot of times I will put on socks and most people think I just took off my shoes at the door and don’t think further than that. Sometimes, like playing for a wedding that seems a little more formal, I’ll wear shoes, or sandals with socks. Farmer’s markets you can usually perform barefoot. At a lot of contra dances and square dances even some of the dancers are barefoot.

Barefoot and family life

My wife has been very patient with my quirks and obsessions over the years. She has been patient with my barefoot obsession too. I am very fortunate.

My family has gotten used to it, for the most part. I got some reactions at first about how I was going to hurt myself, etc. One of my sisters still has kind of a hard time with it. Once, she pretended to try to step on my toes, so I returned the favor and that made her stop! I’m trying to encourage her son to go barefoot, just to be difficult! I wish my Grandma Liz were still alive and I could go hiking with her. She always had trouble with the worn-out nature of my footwear, so I would love to get to talk to her about how that ended up working out.

fall barefoot hiking

Walking with Jeanie and Monty

Barefoot with Monty

I was already going barefoot when we adopted Monty from the local shelter, so he doesn’t know me any other way. He does enjoy walks and runs in “Cappy’s Trails” and on the beaches around here, along with hikes in the Olympics. It helped not to have shoes around when he was going through the shoe-snatching-and-chewing stage. He did chew my favorite wool hat that Jeanie knit for me, though. Oh well— he is turning into a really sweet dog.

barefoot dogwalking in snow

Taking Monty the puppy out in the snow

Barefoot racing?

At first I wanted to do an ultramarathon and trail races, but I’ve realized that the commitment to training to even finish an ultra doesn’t really fit into my already packed life. What would I be willing to give up in order to have that extra time? The cost of entering a race also deters me from entering. Yes, it would be great to meet other runners, but I already feel peopled-out with music stuff, and I can go out my door and run whenever I have the time and feel like it.

Also—I am pretty slow as a runner. I started to realize that I really enjoy just getting into “Cappy’s Trails” and looping around on the maze of windy, squirrelly trails, seeing and hearing a woodpecker or some other bird, splashing through a mud puddle in season, feeling the different textures and temperatures under my feet . . . maybe some day I’ll enter a race, but it isn’t very high on the to-do list.

Barefoot backpacking

When I first started going barefoot, I was scheduled to do a backpack along the coast with a friend; I hurt my feet and had to cancel.

The next year I backpacked that trail in boots, took them off for the last part of the hike in, and didn’t put them on again until the hike out. I took them off again for the last couple of miles and almost left them behind by accident. By the next year I had backup sandals and neoprene socks that I packed, but didn’t use. That was about seven miles each way, through woods and along the beaches.

Last year I hiked up the Dosewallips River up the old gravel road, past the abandoned ranger station, and a couple of miles up the trail. I went about eight miles the first day, and then up the trail a little farther the next day before hiking out, so about 10 miles the second day—all barefoot until the last two or so miles when I put on the sandals because the gravel was hard on the feet, especially going downhill, when it’s difficult to place your foot gently instead of banging it into the ground . . . painful. And, when you are already slightly hunched over from carrying a pack, that doesn’t help either.

I want to do more of those types of backpacking trips and figure out what works.
I also got some thicker sandals, because if I do overdo it I might want more protection from the sharp rocks. I’m still not sure the thicker sandals are needed; I just need to find time to do more trips and play with the details.

This year, on a backpack with my cousin and his boys, I found that if I just use the sandals for the long downhill sections I could go barefoot for the rest of it fairly sustainably.

barefoot backpacking

Barefoot and shoes

When I first started going barefoot, I wanted to go everywhere without shoes. I’m still mostly that way, but I’ve mellowed a little and wear sandals in restaurants and hardware stores. I was volunteering at a community boat shop where they require shoes, so I wore them there, putting them on as I got out of my truck in the morning and taking them off before driving away in the evening.

Church was interesting. There is the burning bush passage in the Bible where God tells Moses to take off his shoes. It felt weird to be barefoot everywhere else and then put on shoes for church. I tried a few things and settled on just wearing socks. There are people who saw me in church for months before they realized I didn’t put on shoes when I left, but instead just took off my socks.

I got some thin Xero sandals when I first got started, wore them running, and hurt myself—I have bad running habits, and I revert right back to pounding if I wear something between my skin and the ground.

The sandals come in handy for those places that require shoes, though.

When I began hiking barefoot, I got Xero Z-trek sandals because the strap doesn’t come up between your toes, and I could bring neoprene socks to go with them if I got too cold in the snow. Now I have a pair of Teva sandals to bring as backups for backpacking because they give more support, but I’m still not sure about those.

I have a pair of cheap tennis shoes to wear at the boat shop and an old pair of heavy hiking boots from my pre-barefoot days that I took out last winter when it was in the 20s and I needed to walk in the snow. Also a “sort-of” pair of old dress shoes. But I’m no good at dressing up—too many shoes!

Barefoot trail running

The best thing is feeling the textures and temperatures and really being in this place!

I like to be able to go right out the door and not have to worry about putting some special expensive thing on that is just going to wear out and add to all the garbage that doesn’t biodegrade eventually anyway.

Mud and puddles! Walking right through while others are worried about getting their shoes wet.

Also—leaving barefoot tracks on trails for other hikers to wonder about.

I am only able to trail run because I took off my shoes. It didn’t work for me any other way. I have, however, overdone it in various ways, so someone could say, if you just had shoes on in that instance where your feet got too cold, or when you strained something because you ran too far before your bones were used to it, or you stubbed your toe and broke it . . . but I say, I wouldn’t have been out there doing any of that if it weren’t for going barefoot, so why would I want to put shoes back on?

The worst is not getting to go outside barefoot, because it is too cold or because of an injury, or because I have to work or be somewhere else. That is the worst.

Barefoot advice

Do it right now, but take your time. Skin builds up faster than tendons and bone. Do a little and build slowly. Don’t get carried away like I did—keep coming back to it!

Barefoot distance: how far is far?

I’m not sure what my longest mileage barefoot is—I found out that I enjoy it more if I don’t keep track.

Also, how far I can go really depends more on the terrain. I’ve done a 14-mile day hike on a trail that had a fair amount of sharp rocks. Once I hiked about 18 miles in two days of backpacking—on gravel and rock slides, along with some nice soft trail—but that was too much, and I ended up putting on sandals for the last two miles or so. (And my feet hurt for a few days afterwards.)

Carrying a backpack also makes you hunch forward a little and makes it more difficult to step lightly, at least for me. There are ergonomic packs that distribute the weight front to back that might help with this, but I can’t afford them. I figure I’ll just slow down and not travel as many miles next time, maybe try to listen to my feet, enjoy the place more.

carving fluting

Barefoot at work [in the violin shop]

It’s great being my own boss; the worst things in my shop are if I drill metal and step on the filings, or if I drop something heavy on my foot. Those instances are super rare, and I can always put on footwear if I’m worried. There isn’t much metal in a violin and they aren’t heavy, so I am fortunate that way.

shaping the violin

Barefoot in a boat

My ideal of a boat is to get as intimate with the water and wind as possible, similar to taking off your shoes in the land-based world.

Scott Marckx by John Kohnen 2

Getting intimate with the water during the Salish 100 (Photo by John Kohnen)

I grew up on Puget Sound, which is never as rough as the ocean, so maybe that is part of how I view saltwater. I swam in it as a kid, even though it is cold. My parents had a difficult time keeping me out of the water.

Yes, cold, critter-filled water is scary, but it is also fascinating and mysterious and there is a romance in exploring its surface and wondering about its depths.

During the Salish 100 [a 100-mile trip through Puget Sound, June 22-28, 2019] I loved living on my little row/sail boat and not going ashore (as much as was possible), getting followed by seals, feeling the rocking of the waves, seeing bioluminescence in the water at night, and each day joining other little boats as far as I could see sailing in front of and behind me as we made our journey from Olympia to Port Townsend.

barefoot boat building
Yes, I built my own boat.

When I was in high school and was going through the guidance counseling on what I wanted to do in life, I said I wanted to either be a boat builder or a luthier (stringed instrument maker).

The wood shop teacher wouldn’t let me build a boat in high school wood shop, so I finished the required projects and then built a mountain dulcimer, a banjo, and a mandolin.

It was a kind of long and twisted road getting to where I eventually got a job in a violin shop and then was able to make the transition to making violins for a living, but once I was settled in that, and we had moved to Port Townsend where there is a lot of boat building going on all around, I said to myself: “If I don’t build a boat living here I won’t build one anywhere.”

I had been collecting boat building books over the years and dreaming of it. I was actually gearing up to make a cello, but the boat got first dibs this time around. I found out about John Welsford, who is a boat designer in New Zealand who has a gift for designing beautiful, very functional boats that amateur builders can make in their garage or backyard with very little prior experience.

He has a couple of sayings that sum it up: “By the time you finish your boat you will have all the skills you need to build a boat” and “The mistake hasn’t been invented yet that can’t be fixed with some more epoxy, plywood, and fiberglass tape.”

He has a knack for helping people fulfill their dreams.

I emailed him and told him what I was hoping to do with the boat and mentioned several of his designs I liked, and he suggested one.

Then he was very patient with various questions and modifications I wanted to make as I went through the process. He has a online group that was very helpful in showing the way through the various choices, questions and pitfalls.

At first I tried to build it too much like a violin, and I got bogged down in perfection issues—reading everything about how to do it without ever jumping in and doing.

It took a while, and I wasted a lot of time, but I learned that I could do a little work on it as I had time and materials and then let it sit for months at a time and just dream about it and gaze at it on my way out to the violin shop.

Eventually, I finished it as a row boat, and then, over the years, have added the various parts of the sail rig. Before there were sails on it, we once rowed across the bay to Ratt Island with a friend, and on the way back we had a tail wind. So I took out an umbrella and handed it to my wife in the bow and handed a canoe paddle to our friend in the stern to steer with and we “sailed” back across the bay. We called it “Mary Poppinsing”!

The first time I spent the night in it I awoke in the middle of the night and there was a ring of phosphorescence around my boat!

We’ve had as many as 5 people on my boat at once. It is sort of like a small pick-up truck: very versatile and fun!

scott sailing

         On Puget Sound during the Salish 100, 2019 (photo by John Kohnen)

I still dream of a smaller, lighter boat that I could row and car top and still be able to sleep in, but this boat has been so good and feels really safe, especially when the water gets rougher than I had expected, so the incentive to build another boat hasn’t reached the level of take-off yet—plus there are so many other projects and things to do that there doesn’t seem to be the time. I did scratch that itch some by starting a boat building project with my cousin and his kids. We are making a skin-on-frame rowboat called a Shenandoah Whitehall designed by Dave Gentry: http://gentrycustomboats.com/Whitehallpage.html

It is fun getting other people hooked on the things I enjoy and getting to see and remember that process of discovery of different fun and interesting, if not life-changing, things.

I’m glad I didn’t end up doing boat building for a living; I love the small boats, but it is especially difficult to find a market for those, plus the shop space, overhead, and materials are way more extensive and toxic than what I work with making violins.

I am glad I ended up on the path that I did, creating violins.

finished instruments

Two of Scott’s creations

Barefoot and boredom

I can’t understand how anyone can be bored in this world with all the music and things to make and/or play with and problems to solve and people to converse with or even thoughts to think.

I would love to learn how to simplify. That is probably where the main interest in going barefoot and being in a small boat and carrying a lighter backpack comes from, but those seem to lead to more ideas and things to try out!

Just life stuff

Phyllis Lee, who taught English at the high school I went to, also played old-time fiddle music and brought my brother Patrick (who is now the father of Olivia and Charlotte, the Sempre Sisters) and I to jam sessions hosted by the Washington State Old-Time Fiddlers and to the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.

fiddle playing

Jam session with a friend

It was at one of the Fiddler’s Christmas parties that I met Tex Standefer, who had taught himself how to make fiddles and who got me started making my first violin when I was 15 or so. I was hooked!

As far as performing goes—I’m not so good in a crowd or on stage. I like being able to have quiet time to try to focus. I do miss having people around when I am alone in my shop for hours, but that is way easier to deal with than being on the road for me.

I wouldn’t have been able to figure this stuff out when I was younger, so I am glad things seemed to open up and offer choices as I went and things seemed to fall into place in a very good way.

I feel especially spoiled in my marriage. Jeanie has been very patient with me over the years and we’ve done a fair amount of work together on our relationship. The fit has always been there, though, and that has been a wonderful blessing.

The Church has really been a blessing, growing on each of us and supporting us.

The year we were to be married we came up to the Fiddle Tunes Festival and ended up seated in the cafeteria next to an old fiddler named Melvin Wine. He heard we were going to get married and he told us, “You make sure you get married in a church, because those people will be there for you when the going gets tough.”

We told him, “yes,” we were getting married in a church. He was right, but we also have so many other communities, including the music community and our families, who have been there for us as we have dealt with the issues that have come up in our marriage and in life.

 

Having gone to the Fiddle Tunes Festival here in Port Townsend since I was 15—when I go now, there are so many memories; so many of the tunes I play, I learned from people who are now gone, and we all seem to be getting older and more frail.

The hand writing is on the wall.

We have three friends in the past couple of months who have lost their spouses unexpectedly, and that has been even more of a wake-up call.

Tell that person right now that you love them, or that they were so helpful to you in that way, or that you really like that tune they played or give them a smile or a hug, because this might be the last opportunity to do that or say that in this world.

It is interesting, but barefoot running has also made me more aware of mortality and frailty. It seems there is this precarious balance—between getting better or more in shape, and injury or failure.

Sometimes when I have the opportunity to go for a barefoot run, I am scared that I can’t do it, that I will hurt myself—and I’ve proved the “hurt myself” part of that right enough times to be wary, since I’ve come back so often with a  stubbed toe or a pulled muscle.

If I just tell myself I can start with a walk, and then go slow and easy, and that I can always back off to a walk again, and that it is so good just to be outside on the trails and I don’t have to prove anything—then usually I get out the door and go gentle and come home happy and satisfied that I took that little bit of the day to go running.

I know that some day I will not have that option to go out the door, for whatever reason, so I try to remember and do those things now, while I still can.

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Thank you, Scott, for taking the time to answer all my questions, and for providing feedback as I shaped our email exchange into this piece . . . you are an inspiration to me, even though we’ve never met, and I hope that your words, recorded here, inspire others to live creatively as well . . . with or without shoes!

Happy Barefoot (musical!) Trails!

 

Barefoot Days: A Poem for Summer’s End

September 22, 2019

barefoot balancing on bench

That’s it for summer!

The calendar–and cooler morning temperatures–signal a new season in So Cal; it’s called “waiting for rain.”

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Early fall also signals the beginning of fire season in the foothills; in areas of repeated fires (always human caused, as there just isn’t that much lightning in these parts), most native plants have disappeared, giving way to thick stands of invasive weeds: mustard and thistle, crackly dry and full of ouch potential.

sticker in toe

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Beauty persists, though: elderberries hang heavy, ready for the cedar waxwings to get all juiced up on the fermenting fruit.

cedar waxwing 2

 

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Whatever the season, rocks are always working to keep me alert . . . always ready to remind me it’s never a good idea to “zone out” when trail running barefoot:

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bench balance silhouette

When winter finally arrives, there will be no more early morning shoeless shenanigans, as the ground surface–even in mild So Cal–becomes too chilly for my prima donna toes. But for now: I’m in “fall denial” and enjoying empty morning trails.

Oh, these Barefoot Days!

(Here’s a lovely poem–written well before I was born, but I’d never heard of it–that my 10-year-old granddaughter discovered this week and sent me.)

Barefoot Days
By Rachel Field (1897-1942)

From Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Josephine Ferris, Doubleday, 1957, p. 229

In the morning, very early,
That’s the time I love to go
Barefoot where the fern grows curly
And grass is cool between each toe,
On a summer morning-O!
On a summer morning!

That is when the birds go by
Up the sunny slopes of air,
And each rose has a butterfly
Or a golden bee to wear;
And I am glad in every toe–
Such a summer morning-O!
Such a summer morning!

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Happy Summer-or-Fall (but always barefoot) Trails!