10,000 Miles Barefoot

How irritating — that they would spread salt so liberally everywhere, not only in the streets, but on the smooth white sidewalks where I’d planned to run (and not a patch of snow in sight).  Later I asked my Mom — she didn’t know, but agreed it must have been the City, which forced me to consider the possibility that the local population was so lacking in balance and agility that a late November snow-dusting was seen as potential calamity.  In any case, due to the salt I cut my run short at 4 miles instead of 5 and stepped into a favorite coffee shop for my morning cappuccino, only to be confronted by a young woman behind the counter.  I saw a pale white face, light-blue surgical mask, and a pair of hazel eyes glaring at me. 

“We can’t serve you — it’s the health code.”

With raised eyebrow —  “In Illinois.  Really?”

“Even if it’s not against the law, it’s our right.”

So I left. 

Once back at my hotel, I opened laptop, entered the mileage in my training log, and saw I’d finally crossed the boundary — I’d just passed my 10,000th mile of barefoot hiking, walking, and running.  And then I went back out, still searching for my morning coffee….

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10,000 Miles Barefoot

Hyper-reality and the Desert of the Real

Flying into LaGuardia, the City shimmering outside the airplane window — labyrinth of light beneath squid-ink sky.  Bridges spanning black waters, buildings silhouetted against dark vistas, boulevards radiating in concentric directions. Circuit board of the digital economy.

“City of hurried and sparkling waters!” sang Walt Whitman, “city of spires and masts!  City nested in bays! my city!”

But it’s not my city.  Not anymore.  Never really was… Continue reading “Hyper-reality and the Desert of the Real”

Hyper-reality and the Desert of the Real

Homeless in Dallas

Black tarmac slips into view — tires impact — with jolt and bounce we arrive.  I’ve left New York behind, and with it, family, friends, routines, familiar places – in a word, I’ve left behind my home.  Traded it for a city with a herd of larger-than-life bronze bulls and a brassy sun.  By the way, I like it here fine.  For a two-week stay, anyway.  The issue is, splitting my time between two places – not to mention other travel too – leaves me feeling spread a little thin.  Like Bilbo Baggins, who told Gandalf, “‘Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”  Then he briefed Gandalf on his plan: to leave his home in the Shire, to see the mountains one last time, to find a place to rest, and maybe finish writing his book. Continue reading “Homeless in Dallas”

Homeless in Dallas

More Nature, Less Technology

“You’ll be the troublemaker.” Arif gave me a sly look as he guided me to a far corner of the restaurant, and I nodded, because surely life is too short for small talk.

There were six of us seated at the table.  Four middle-aged women — each one attractive, intelligent, engaging, successful.  A quiet-spoken serious young man with a shock of brown hair.  And me, wearing camouflage-colored Yankees cap and a few days’ worth of stubble.

This was an “intergenerational dinner,” hosted by the Hoot Owl, a cozy restaurant in upstate New York with a loyal local following.  The event was organized around a series of questions designed to elicit discussion.

Anne had been tasked as the table’s guide, and now she opened with the first question – what makes you feel most alive? Continue reading “More Nature, Less Technology”

More Nature, Less Technology

Barefoot on the JMT – 2022

After three years and three attempts, this summer I finally completed the 211-mile John Muir Trail entirely without shoes.  Whether sensible or not, that was my objective all along.  As my friend Mat reminded me, when I ran in to him at Red’s Meadow, “finishing what you start is a good habit to get into.”  And then a few seconds later I realized that’s what I told him — in 2021 when he’d seen me struggling on Glen Pass, shortly before I gave up and pulled on shoes.  So throughout my 2022 journey, especially when things got tough, I kept thinking to myself how much better it would be to report to Matt a successful outcome, rather than explaining why I failed again.

I’m working on a detailed write-up, which is quickly expanding to book-size length, adding to a great mountain of material that awaits the light of day.  For now, this post contains links to a number of short videos I filmed while walking down the trail.  You can also access these videos on my YouTube channel. Continue reading “Barefoot on the JMT – 2022”

Barefoot on the JMT – 2022

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.

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Wildcat – Carter – Moriah