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Five years of barefoot trail running = miles and miles of rocky, dusty, muddy, greeny smiles

January 4, 2015

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.

Nope.

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.)

Hills are da bomb!

Hills are da bomb!

This big old oak weathered the recent windstorm quite well.

This big old oak weathered the recent windstorm quite well, I was pleased to see.

For some reason, one prickly pear had not responded to the recent rains, and was still shriveled.

For some reason, one prickly pear had not responded to the recent rains, and was still shriveled.

But the rest of the prickly pads were all plumped up.

But the rest of the prickly pads were all plumped up.

There aren't too many coast cholla in this part of Orange County; bear grass is another rare-ish plant that grows along the Chutes Trail.

There aren’t too many coast cholla in this part of Orange County; bear grass is another rare-ish plant that grows along the Chutes Trail.

The cholla reproduce by letting go. The name "prolifera" might have something to do with what I found on the ground near the plant.

The cholla reproduce by letting go. The name “prolifera” might have something to do with what I found on the ground near the plant.

California sagebrush and white sage: both growing like crazy after the rain. As soon as it rains here, winter becomes a time of springing new growth in the foothills.

California sagebrush and white sage: both growing like crazy after the rain. As soon as the storms arrive, winter becomes a time of springing new growth in the foothills. (And those bud-looking things are actually the nondescript flowers of the sagebrush, one of the first bloomers of the year.)

Wow! The laurel sumac's red sprouts were a stunning contrast!

Wow! The laurel sumac’s red sprouts make for a stunning contrast . . .

Not too many folks on foot this afternoon, but plenty of mountain bikers.

Not too many folks on foot this afternoon, but plenty of mountain bikers.

This Painted Lady was out enjoying the sunny trails also.

This Painted Lady was out enjoying the sunny trails also.

"That's no Painted Lady, that's a barefoot runner."

“That’s no Painted Lady, that’s a barefoot runner.”

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.

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