Notes from New Hampshire

The secret to racing, writes Ross Bentley is “to drive over the limit at times, bring it back, hang it out there, dance with the car at the ragged edge.”  I remembered Bentley’s advice a few weeks ago, while watching Top Gun: Maverick, with Tom Cruise as the aging fighter pilot who still feels, after all these years, “a need for speed.”  Who still pushes jet aircraft over the limit at times, and people, too. 

Later I was sketching out plans for a trip to New Hampshire, when the thought occurred to me — doesn’t everything worthwhile take place at some kind of edge?  Call it the ragged edge of reality.  A nebulous margin where knowledge gives way to the unknown.  Where jolts of pain and pleasure provide intermittent light, like signal flares.  Where the way forward, as Emerson wrote, “shall be wholly strange and new.”

In New Hampshire, the edge would lie for me along the White Mountain’s blade-like granite ridgelines, where I would attempt to climb a set of peaks without shoes or food (since that is how my practice works) — and to learn something, possibly, about myself and the world.

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Notes from New Hampshire

Completing the Catskills All Trails Challenge — One Step at a Time

On October 26, 2019, Steve Aaron and I stood on a vantage point near the summit of Balsam Mountain and celebrated his completion of the Thirty Five.  We stared across the valley at pumpkin-colored ridges and frothy marshmallow-mist swirling beneath cerulean sky, while overhead the clouds spread out into a celestial ribcage (the scientific term is cirrus vertebratus) and I thought, how strange that the sky would celebrate Steve’s accomplishment and then, wouldn’t it be even stranger if this was all coincidence….

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Completing the Catskills All Trails Challenge — One Step at a Time

9,000 Miles Barefoot

In September 2021, I reported on my 8,000th mile of barefoot walking, hiking, and running, and this morning I logged my 9,029th mile, so it’s update time.

What started as an experiment morphed into a practice and then became philosophy — and from here on the journey points into mystery. Originally the thought had been to reach 10,000 miles, and now that I’m nearing that objective I can only wonder what lies beyond.  Honestly, there was no rationale for 10,000 miles, besides it being a round number. That and the thought that 10,000 hours of training in a discipline is said to make you an “expert.” Although what I’ve found is that barefoot teaches simplicity. There’s nothing to be an expert of.

The following is my account of the last 1,000 miles walked, hiked, and run without shoes — including successful races and other projects, frustrations, and lessons learned….

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9,000 Miles Barefoot

Whitman and Wilmington

By Barefoot Ken

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?

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Whitman and Wilmington

Wildcat – Carter – Moriah

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.

Continue reading “Wildcat – Carter – Moriah”

Wildcat – Carter – Moriah

8,000 Miles Barefoot

By Barefoot Ken

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.

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8,000 Miles Barefoot

170 Miles Barefoot on the John Muir Trail

By Barefoot Ken

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”

170 Miles Barefoot on the John Muir Trail

Another 50 miles at Hainesport

By Barefoot Ken

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…

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Another 50 miles at Hainesport

7,000 Miles Barefoot

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.

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7,000 Miles Barefoot

Getting Ready for the Grasslands

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”

Getting Ready for the Grasslands