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Another barefoot running adventure: heading up Harding Truck Trail on a hot summer day

August 19, 2012

To prepare for my excursion up Harding Truck Trail in the Santa Ana Mountains of our local Cleveland National Forest, I read a few blogs to find out the latest in parking and trail info (and, of course, I consulted Karen Klein’s wonderful recent book 50 Hikes in Orange County).  I learned that it’s a rocky dirt road that cars are not allowed on, it gains a little over 3,000 feet in 8.9 miles, and it’s crowded with packs of zooming mountain bikers and parades of backpackers training for epic journeys to big mountains across the globe.

Yes, the rocks and elevation gain were there, but on this beautiful August morning I was pretty much alone for the 6+ hours I was out on the trail. Seven mountain bikers went by, and only three folks on foot. Two of these were a dressed-alike couple of trail running machines who chugged past me early on, completed whatever summitting they had planned, and passed me as they headed back down hours before I even got near the top. Oh well.

I was in my own “barefoot machine zone,” running as much as the VERY. ROCKY. TRAIL. would allow. After 8.9 miles of picking my way cautiously through the gravel, I was more than ready to put on my Merrell Pipidae sandals and trot back down without so much wincing.

I mentioned a third person on foot–this was a really odd encounter. As I was running down, about 2-3 miles before the trailhead, I saw a young man ahead on the trail, wearing work gloves. As I approached, I noticed he had placed a short-handled shovel at the edge of the trail, as well as a backpack.

“Doing some trail work?” I asked.

“I’m burying my dog. She died yesterday,” was the completely unexpected reply.

And, sure enough, as I looked at the uphill edge of the trail, there was a German-Shepherd-sized pile of rocks that almost, but not quite, covered everything but a fly-infested bushy brown tail.


Wasn’t this gonna smell to high heaven? Was this even legal? Why not pick a burial spot that wasn’t inches from the trail? All of which questions I kept to myself as I picked up the pace after saying a quick,”I’m so sorry.”

That was one of the strangest encounters I’ve ever had out on the trail. I felt sorry for the guy, but his choice of pet cemetery was going to make a lot of people gag in the coming hot days.

Back to the matter at hand–or foot:  this Grand Canyon Rim-to-rim training run/hike to test my barefoot limits certainly revealed the drawbacks of not wearing shoes on almost 9 miles of trail scattered with sharp, rough, pointy, jagged, angular pieces of ground-up mountain.


I used the 3.5 hours on the way up to discuss with my feet what they were feeling and why it was OK to feel that way, but really, it was nothing unusual and couldn’t they quit sending pain signals to my brain. I repeated the Born to Run mantra more than a few times: Easy. Light. Smooth. Fast. (well, not the Fast part so much. Mainly “easy easy easy light light light.”

Remembering Barefoot Ken Bob’s advice: “Relax!” also helped me to “re-set” my brain/body connection and let the tension go. Not easy after getting jabbed in the forefoot for the four hundredth time, but it definitely helped me get to the top without “giving in” and putting on my sandals before I had “planned.”

Ha–there’s a lot of chatter going on in barefoot running blogs these days about whether folks should call themselves “barefoot runners” if they wear anything on their feet. What I took away from the (sometimes heated!) discussion: footwear is a tool. Use it to advance your goals. Since my main goal is to run pain-free, and shoes were not doing it for me most of my adult life, running with nothing on my feet (on local hill-trails, where the rock ratio is less than up in the mountains) has allowed me to achieve said goal.

When I’m out of my home turf (or home dust), then I bring my Merrells along to get me out of predicaments like today’s: 8.9 miles of gravelly downhill, super-heated in the August mid-day sun.

But the Merrells are not ideal: they are a magnet for tiny rock fragments and I have to stop. And stop. And stop. To clear them. The many straps also rub my feet into rawness, but today there were no blisters, so that was good.

The best thing about the Merrells: I will rinse them off and wear them to work tomorrow, and I will smile all day knowing where they’ve taken me (not only down Harding Truck Trail and Holy Jim Trail in our local mountains, but also 7 miles down the North Kaibab trail at the Grand Canyon).

Now for the photo-journey:

I started before sunrise, knowing how hot it was going to get. I should have started earlier!
My “anti-mountain-lion” hat: the eyes in back are supposed to fool the mountain lion into thinking I’m not prey running away. Does it work? I’m still here . . .
There they go: running strong, in matching outfits.
There’s 8.9 miles of this from the trailhead to the top. Watch your step . . .
Every so often, rarely, seldom, would there be a soft and non-rocky section of trail. Ahhhh . . . .
Did I mention there were a few rocks?
One of my favorite California native plants: wooly blue curls. Beautiful color, intricate form, fabulous scent, many medicinal uses.
Another summer-blooming California native: California fuchsia. No rain for months, and then it blooms. Love it.
When you get to this viewpoint, you’re almost to the top. That’s an earlier section of the trail, way across on the opposite hillside.
I made it: here’s the “Harding Truck Trail” marker.
Looking east toward the Inland Empire. These nice mountain biker ladies just powered up Harding. Way to go!
Using my tripod and timer: a self-portrait at the top.
Happy to be back at the trailhead. I had a bit of a time finding it in the dark . . . this was my first time here in 8 years, and I had thought there’d be lots of people there getting an early start. Nope–my car was the only one in the lot.
Another reason I don’t enjoy shoes: they make your feet dirtier.

Back to work tomorrow. When will the next adventure be?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 4:48 pm

    Hi Thea
    Thanks for your comment on my barefoot running/monster feet story. I enjoyed reading your trail run experience. You are very brave! Happy running! Patricia

  2. August 23, 2012 11:31 pm

    Hi Thea
    It is raining hard where I am and reading your post reminded what a hot, summerer trail should be like.
    I have just made your post my post of the week on my barefoot blog at
    Happy running

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