Surprise. On the way to (yet) another race, I’ve pulled off the New Jersey Turnpike — desperate for coffee, water, a break from unpredictable traffic (speeds of up to 95 MPH) — and here I find myself, suddenly, in the Walt Whitman Service Area. Whitman being, to some, the greatest artist America has produced. The singer of the open road. The poet of Democracy. I did not know there was a Service Area named for him. After the race I’m planning to visit his gravesite, which lies a few miles distant. First, though, I must complete the Delaware Running Festival Marathon in nearby Wilmington, my 100th event of marathon distance or longer. Which begs the question — what next?
Having climbed the Catskills multiple times over, and having bagged the Adirondacks’ 46 high peaks, I am now slowly making my way through the next regional list — New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers, of which there are 48. Slowly, on account of the 5-6 hour drive to get there — and sometimes longer, as bumps in the road tend to knock the power cord out of my phone, which I notice at those inopportune times when I really need Google Maps. And slowly on account of the rough trails — steep, full of chunky rocks, dotted with mud pits, laced with roots — and my practice of going barefoot. Did I mention acorns?
This is the account of my latest trip — bagging 6 more peaks on a 20-mile trail over three rainy days.
In April 2021, I reached my 7,000th mile of hiking, running, and walking barefoot, accumulated over roughly seven years. Now — five months later — the mileage stands at 8,034. I seem to be picking up the pace. Which supports the thesis that practice makes you stronger (at least until age catches up). The real thesis, though, is that life is better with more nature and less technology.
Last year I set out to complete the John Muir Trail (JMT) with a twist. I’d hike it barefoot. Why? Barefoot is simple. Natural. Intense. Every step is an adventure. But the terrain was more difficult than I expected. Out of the JMT’s total distance of 211 miles, I completed 150 miles barefoot, or about 70%.
This year I came back determined to do the whole thing.
The following is an account of what happened, written with three audiences in mind. First, of course, hardcore barefoot hikers looking for a challenge. Second, conventional hikers. Presumably these people do not wear boots to the beach, so therefore I thought they might enjoy going barefoot where the trails are soft and sandy, putting on shoes when rocks appear. Call it a hybrid approach. Third, I had in mind the woman I encountered last year, descending from Donahue Pass (11,066 feet). She said her feet were so sensitive she couldn’t tolerate going barefoot in the bathroom. She won’t try it, but I thought she might be curious what it’s like. Continue reading “170 Miles Barefoot on the John Muir Trail”
On the long drive down (it took nearly three hours) the rain lashed against the windshield of my jeep incessantly. When I finally pulled into the parking lot of the Hainesport Municipal Park, the rain had paused, the air was still, and the skies were gray and heavy. A moment later, I started running…
Seven years ago I began integrating some barefoot training into my running practice in order to improve my form, thinking this might reduce the risk of injury, as Chris MacDougal suggested in his bestseller Born to Run. Initially this was an experiment. But it has morphed into a journey, and every so often I pause to reflect.
A year and a half ago, I reported on my 5,000th mile of barefoot running, hiking, and walking. Last summer I reached the 6,000th mile somewhere on the John Muir Trail. In March of this year, I passed mile 7,000 and as I write this, I’m at 7,108, having just completed my 6th barefoot race of marathon distance or longer. Along the way, barefoot has gone from experiment, to training technique, to my preferred way to run and hike, and now’s it become a part of my philosophy.
I’ll start by reporting on accomplishments in the eighteen months and 2,000 miles since my last report, and then I’ll share the failures.
I’d been looking forward to the Grasslands Trail Run for more than a year. Late March weather in Texas would be a break from New York’s lingering winter, and the course follows gorgeous sandy trails – for a barefoot runner like me, this would be a real treat.
The race was three months off, but here I was stuck in New York for the winter, and heavy snow was falling — conditions not conducive to barefoot running. This raised an interesting question — how would I prepare for the race? Continue reading “Getting Ready for the Grasslands”
Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time climbing the Catskill High Peaks, traditionally defined as summits of 3,500 feet in elevation or higher. Not only have I climbed each of these, I’ve done each in every month of the year, which is called the Grid.
The Catskills All Trails Challenge is a different kind of exercise. It requires you to complete every hiking trail in the region, which total 347 miles in length. I embarked on this challenge with curiosity, for it would take me out to places I’d never seen before.
Since I’d been hiking and running in the Catskills for many years, I already had close to half the trails complete. Over the last year, I’ve made several trips in pursuit of this new goal, which has pushed my completion level to 66%. It’s been slow progress. Many of the trails are remote. Sometimes the trails I need are quite short, but require a long walk to reach a junction I’d never taken before. While there are some loops, most often I have to go out-and-back, which means it takes twice the required distance to complete the trail.
Like any challenge, this exercise provides structure, a specific goal, camaraderie, and a sense of meaning. I’m looking forward to earning the certificate of completion, which I’ll add to my collection of finisher medals and other trinkets. But the real question is what I’ll experience by going out to new places. What I’m finding so far is that the All Trails Challenge is a different experience from peak-bagging. Instead of rocky summits with distant views, I’m discovering lovely forests and meadows and so much water — ponds, lakes, streams, bogs, and falls.
What follows are a handful of images and some observations from trips taken over the last year.
The John Muir Trail is a famous 210-mile hiking route that traverses California’s Sierra Mountains, which Muir referred to as “the range of light.” I visited the Sierras in 2018 and was impressed by the spectacular landscape. After some consideration, thru-hiking the JMT became a goal for 2020.
Just getting ready for the JMT was a big operation, as the trip entailed competitive and thus hard-to-get permits, extensive route-planning, careful selection of gear and provisions, and travel logistics that were complicated by the COVID pandemic. Additionally I decided to take on the JMT in an unconventional format by hiking as much as possible barefoot. Why barefoot? For the extra challenge, the special feeling of lightfootedness that comes from moving naturally, and the distinction of doing something important a little bit differently.
The 23-day journey turned out to be an incredible experience; indeed, it contained enough impressions to fill a book. In the interest of brevity, however, this blog post will consist of a short synopsis of each day on the trail and a photograph or two.
Some highlights from a 37-mile circuit over the holiday weekend along the so-called “Super Pemi Loop” in New Hampshire’s Pemigewasset Wilderness. The purpose of this trip was i) to make progress on the peak-bagging list for New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet and ii) to test gear and train for my upcoming trip to the John Muir Trail in California’s High Sierra.