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What Works Barefoot (and what doesn’t)

August 18, 2018

Another summer road trip of learning the intricacies of being shoe-less vs. shod . . .


The scene above occured at the Fremont Indian Museum along I-70 in Utah. I was not in the mood to cause a fuss, so: sandals– my very old, falling-apart, Merrell Pipidae Wrap models, which if they ever brought them back I would get ten pairs because of how comfortable and capable they are, not just for visiting museums, but for many miles of backcountry backpacking over the years (think: Boucher Trail at Grand Canyon).


Not too far from the museum: the Castle Rock campground . . . a lovely place to spend the night after a looong day of driving north. My freedom-loving toes enjoyed imitating the turrets of the castle-y rocks.  A barefoot win.


Final destination: Ouray, CO, where one of the highlights of my week was a chance to barefoot hike in the San Juan Mountains . . .


. . . where the rocks are no problem, until they are:


The above shot was taken through the amazingly clear waters of an alpine lake (elevation 12,693):


For the second half of the 7-mile round trip, I opted to wear my Sockwas.  We were trying to beat the looming afternoon thunderstorm, and the 2,347 elevation loss felt like too much to do rapidly, shoelessly.


A much easier saunter: the Ouray Perimeter Trail, which I did with my (waaay older! It’s finally OK to be the youngest of seven siblings ’cause they’re all on Social Security and I’m not!) sister, who was house/cat sitting for friends.


The first couple miles of trail was barefoot friendly. Until it wasn’t.


Near the high point of the trail (elevation ~8,500′) were shapely platforms of rock–huge views and perfect for a picnic IF you’re watching the ground carefully for a low-growing/cryptic cactus.

So: once one steps in cactus, one learns?


One would hope . . .


I decided to use my magic umbrella to fly out of there (not only cactus lurked, but it was mid-day and the ground was heating up).

Time for sandals . . .

. . . which carried me quite legally to a refreshing glass of my favorite liquid at the Ouray Brewery (H2O); my sis bravely bought a beer so we could hang out on the third floor patio for a while to watch the clouds above and crowds below pass by.


Sure, Ouray’s a mountainy-tourist town, full of Jeeps and people in hiking boots. But they all have to leave their engines and shoes behind if they want to enjoy this place’s famous soothing water.


From up on the Perimeter Trail we could see the blue gems set in concrete on the outside of town: three hot mineral pools plus separate swimming lanes and obstacle course.


Did someone say OBSTACLE COURSE?! No shoes needed here for two crazy grandma-sisters-american-ninja-water-warriors:

obstacle course moment

BONUS: a barefoot climbing wall above the pool (which kinda hurt my previously bloodied toe from the lake hike earlier in the week).


DO I look like I’m a high-climbing rock star? ‘Cause I’m only a few inches above the pool, into which I fell quicker than you can say “tricky photo-editing.”


Miners and cowboys. Boots required.



That’s Josh, our ride-guide on one last Ouray adventure: a four-hour jaunt up to Baldy Peak (~10,500′) on horseback. Lucky for me the local (Ridgway) thrift store had something that qualified as “close-toed shoes” so I would be eligible to ride my palomino Dish through aspen and fir forests for a round-trip of twelve steep/rocky/view-filled miles.

Four hours is a looong time to keep my frisky feet still, so every now and then I would remove them from the stirrups and wiggle my ankles and toes, to which Dish responded with much ear-flattening and unease.

“Sorry, Dish,” I’d whisper, stick my feet back in the stirrups, and Dish would be back to normal horse-ear behavior.

We only had one “incident” that made me thankful for the many (happy happy) hours I’d spent horseback in my early teens: Dish was chomping away (not again! Stop it Dish! Get your head up!) on trailside vegetation, when some tiny critter must have flown up her nose. She gave a panicked buck and began snorting and stomping in place on the narrow trail. As a kid, I always loved a good bucking session, and my muscle memory kicked right in, together with my much-calmer old person demeanor, so I was able to sooth Dish with my body language and words until she was able to snort her angst away. Yee haw!


Big sis and I are very different, but also have lots in common, including our love for a drive in the country, so one afternoon we tooled along a local dirt road, admiring Ouray architecture and trying to imagine ourselves living in this beautiful place (we couldn’t, but we tried).

Coming around a bend, we were both surprised and delighted by the sight of this basketball hoop stuck to local redrock . . . for sure a place where the locals would have home-court advantage. Probably in shoes.


Happy Ouray (or elsewhere) Trails: “To everything there is a season: a time for bare feet, and a time for shoes.” (#AdaptedScripture)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2018 10:53 pm

    Where I live there are many chestnut hedgehogs and so the first years of barefooting I spent a lot of time taking away the thorns :))
    But the greatest obstacle for me is the social stigma. I’m working on it.

    Ciao. Airo

    • August 25, 2018 9:13 am

      Thanks for the comment, Airo. We have oak trees here that drop lots of pointy acorns on the nearby trails, but unfortunately most of the trees burned in last year’s wildfires, so there won’t be many acorns for a long, long time. As far as the social stigma goes–that’s a tough thing to deal with, but I try to remind myself to not be too concerned about things that are beyond my control, like other people’s attitudes. What I can control? How good my feet feel without shoes 🙂 Good luck to you on your barefoot adventures!

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