Shoeless in Seattle

A sole-searching tribute to bare feet
by Billy Gard

Overview
Take Off Two Shoes and Call Me in the Morning: Health Benefits
Tasting with our Feet
Adjusting to Bare Feet
Information That Will Shock You
Exploding Barefoot Myths
Q and A
Other Barefoot Websites

“I stopped and took off the shoes. I thought I heard my feet sigh with relief.”
-Andrew Good

“One reason I run barefoot is I love the freedom my feet feel during running. No more hot, sweating feet. No more blisters from the shoe rubbing against the skin. The care free attitude of not avoiding puddles or worrying about mud ruining expensive advertisements for Nike.”
-Ralph Kuhn

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush alive with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I run barefoot because it’s natural. No arguing that no one was born with shoes. I run barefoot because it’s fun. Mute point if you’ve done it, if not, do it. I run barefoot so I can prove the crap out of people that they’re wrong. I absolutely hate it when people tell me all of the worst case scenarios about being barefoot. It makes me want to do it more right in front of their face. I know that’s not a very good argument but it’s one of my reasons nonetheless, defying their opinionated “facts”.
- Kloudab

Overview

What do you suppose is your chief rite of passage into spring? It could be when you swat your first fly; the first time a strip of grass becomes visible along your front walk; the first time you hear thunder; the first time you smell wet concrete; the first breeze that blows through the kitchen; when you step out the door and the temperature doesn’t change; and chances are, when you step outside for the first time barefoot.

In fact if you’re honest, that moment your bare feet first touch the grass so overcomes you with spring fever that you are sure you can hear the horns of elfland. The spring pixies are dancing circles around your head, and stardust is collecting on your shoulders. What a strong psychological cue that nature is coming awake.

I am about to introduce you to a community of people who don’t only step out in bare feet when the spring fever bug is going around, but do so as a normal mode of dress. They pretty much treat their feet like their hands. They have found out how tough the human foot really is when allowed to just be feet, and have exposed the mentality behind the ad “Just $15 dollars a month will put shoes on their feet, food in their tummies and a roof over their heads.” The role shoes play in an outing dress would be better expressed by stating it thus: “Just $15 dollors a day will put shoes on their feet, a tie around their collars, and derbies on their heads.”

Most people have probably been exposed to the eye drop ad famous for its slogan - and I am not kidding - “the closest thing to your own natural tears.” Just turn the same advertizing department loose with selling orthotic shoes. You can bet they’ll be calling them “The closest thing to going barefoot.”

What a miracle such shoes would be. I’ll bet people would pay a fortune for them. Too bad the poor couldn’t afford them. At least if we were willing to pay higher taxes, the government could provide poor children all over the world with those quality shoes that are the next best thing to being barefoot. But with a government that just doesn’t care for the children, we will just have to settle for the clunky shoes that don’t deliver that barefoot experience. Of course anyone who has been placing their faith in the experts are going to miss my point entirely. These days I guess we would call that the “duh” factor, or to say, the children around the world we want to donate these miracle “next best thing to going barefoot.” shoes to are already going barefoot.

Yes websites do exist that are devoted barefoot acceptance. The one that appears to be their central hub is the Society for Barefoot Living, which is a world wide but small society of people who are advocates of the barefoot lifestyle. There are people there who are crusading for barefoot acceptance in business, school and public environments, and are trying to show us just how acceptable and normal we always knew barefooting is. They have links to various chapters of the Barefoot Hikers, who of course get together to go hiking in their birthday boots.

Take Off Two Shoes and Call Me in the Morning: Health Benefits

There is much physiological support, as well as psychological, for going barefoot whenever you can. A bare foot bearing your weight covers more area of ground than the inside of a shoe. This means a shoe of your "recommended" size squeezes your feet, particularly the wide part in front. And if that’s not bad enough, high heels are a double slap-in-the-face for your feet, not only raising the heels and shortening your calf muscles, but also making your feet slide down and push your toes firmly into the small sharp tip in front! I get bunions just looking at the side-by-side pictures showing the effect of high-heels on feet. Can anyone tell me why the foot, if anything, fans out to its widest at the toes, whereas these noble shoes taper off to a point in precisely the same place? Yet during the dark ages “court society” considered small and dainty feet to be a mark of nobility and wealth so much that they practice a ghastly thing called foot binding, which is to put their children in small shoes to keep their feet from becoming “overgrown”. They say this didn’t hurt, but how can that be if just reading about it does?

In its natural state your foot is wider since it is allowed to spread to its real shape. In fact, a typical foot allowed to remain bare exhibits a striking abduction of the big toe (probably because it went to market). The axis of this toe, extended backward, should go to the middle of your heel. Foot sightings in barefoot cultures have made this observation. This is so rarely seen now that it is thought to be a deformity. But those who have the “affliction” will protest our reaction of shock. Those afflicted with this “deformity” can run and play better than most people wearing the best athletic shoes. And that makes us so frustrated that we say what we do to anyone caught playing in any way that doesn’t support big business: “Grow up and act like an adult.” Those who have worn tight shoes from childhood and then taken up barefooting and regained the mobility they thought they had lost to “aging”, will be the most outspoken about this being a deformity worth aspiring to.

You may want to get a good look at your foot in the mirror, to see if you are in need of the healing experience of going barefoot.

These are indications of feet deformed by ill-fitting shoes. It will take a number of long barefoot walks to recover your feet to normalcy. You can expedite the process by washing, massaging, stretching and exercising your feet as well.

Bare feet also of course don’t become smelly the way they do in shoes. Because the toxic sweat is held against the skin by shoes, there is a breeding ground for skin infections that can be reabsorbed by the body and put a strain on the body’s lymph system. Airing out your feet takes a load off the body’s overall toxic burden. Not only do your feet smell better, but your body has more of a chance to purify elsewhere as well. I wonder how many headaches we wake up with that are caused by reabsorbed foot odor.

It seems to be observed that after a lot of barefoot walking, one develops an uncanny ability to avoid dangerous obstacles unconsciouly. It could be a combination of peripheral vision, the automatic retraction of a step or adjustment of weight the moment you feel something sharp, and even an unconscious snapshot of the ground ahead before you reach it. These, and maybe additional things not documented, seem to work together in an organic and subtle way without our knowing that it is even taking place. As far as it appears, we are just lucky and nothing happens to be right in our path.


Barefooters at Queene Anne Fun Run

Tasting with our Feet

I once picked up a factoid from one of those “didjaknow” lists, which said that butterflies taste with their feet. My immediate comeback to that one is “So do people, but how would we ever know?”

A time or two while hiking I had the subtle sense that I was able to taste the ground with my feet. Now if there’s any truth to the idea of people being able to do this, it is obvious why it would remain to this day shrouded in mystery. (Can anyone say “shoes required in the science lab”?) The only thing we have been allowing our feet to taste is the stinky interior of our shoes. Over time we eventually tune it out, kind of like our sense of smell tunes out ubiquitous odors.

This may also explain our pleasant associations with places like home, the beach, or grass where we typically take our shoes off. We are giving our feet a new taste experience although we aren’t paying conscious attention to that fact.

It is known that, in a similar way that our two eyes work together to produce an image in space, our senses of taste and smell work together to produce that combined gustatory sense “in space”. Well suppose that our feet’s nerve endings act a lot like taste buds in how they work together with our sense of smell to produce a combined gustatory experience.

This would sure go a long way toward explaining what keeps barefooters hooked on their experience.

Adjusting to Bare Feet

The experience of going barefoot is typical of the psychological progression that follows the withdrawal of any means of “support”. When I first take my shoes off, such as under my desk at work, my feet feel soothed and refreshed as I am able to flex my toes, strech my arches, rub my feet against each other, and feel the cold floor tiles. As I concentrate on my bare feet, I even feel my feet “buzzing”, almost like they’re saying “Mmmmmm.” - I don’t know how else to describe it. This must be what barefoot runner Andrew Good meant by “my feet sighing with relief.”

But after a few minutes, though, novice bare feet begin to feel kind of “exposed”, kind of like one feels trying to sleep without a blanket. Your feet want to retreat back to the warmth of shoes. But this is one of many situations I talk about where change produces unease, even when there is an increase in comfort. It’s as if your feet are saying “I like an air bath now and then, but I wasn’t planning on this for keeps.” It’s similar to the uneasy feeling of acting friendly and cheerful if you’ve been anal-retentive all your life. It feels good at first, but when the prospect of keeping it up presents itself, you feel “smothered by air.”

But if you get your feet out of your shoes on a regular basis, giving them a repeated experience of “sighing with relief”, you will find the period of unease to be temporary. You will eventually cross the great divide, and you will want to go barefoot as your normal state. Shoes will feel to you like a baseball glove. You will sometimes put on shoes because they look good with your outfit, or because of a dress code, or because your feet are cold, or for high-impact play requiring good cushioning. Shoes will feel like an added incumberance, and you will always have some particular reason for wearing them. You will start thinking in terms of “hat, gloves, sunglasses, shoes”, rather than “pants, underwear, shirt, shoes.” You will want to be barefoot at home, picnics, the park, and evem on the trail. You will see for the first time that shoes are for protection, but NOT for support. You will discover that putting your shoes on the first chance you get is based on the same mindset as running the water while you brush your teeth or turning the TV on the moment you come in the front door.

“But how would you hike such long distances through rough wilderness barefoot without dealing with cuts, blisters and bruises?” The question is typical of someone who obviously has done very little barefooting. Spectors of injury loom large to those who experience them least. If you’ve never attempted walking the streets, sidewalks and trails barefoot, you have nothing to go by but descriptions of it by other people. And if you trace this information back to the first-hand accounts, you will find it has been revised beyond recognition. I would also scratch out blisters as a barefoot problem because anyone knows that walking long distance in any but the most perfect shoes causes them. A good barefooter’s response would be to answer a question with a question: “But how would you hike such long distances through rough wilderness in the same shoes without dealing with sweat-soaked feet, blisters, athlete’s foot, hang nails, displaced toes, and a room that fills with foot effluvium the moment the shoes come off?”

I remember early attempts to go barefoot on the sidewalk. I would best describe the surface as real “loud”. I kind of tip-toed. If I tried to go barefoot on gravel, I would have quit after a few yards. And this is to say nothing of bare feet in the cold. I’ve taken a few walks around the block in snow and on solid ice. For you barefooters who want to remember what it was like to have tender shod feet, just push your hands against the sidewalk.

People need to learn to stop being shocked about bare feet. Your feet are not “private parts.” Feet may be shown in cartoons without shocking anyone. Even a picture of Jesus with bare feet is not thought of as being improper. We think of bare feet in terms of the beach, the grass, sitting on a dock, and tickling your little sister. How ever did they come to have any other implications? Shock at nudity may date back to the beginning of history, but shock at bare feet dates back to a time which I was around to see.

I saw an enlarged photo in a newspaper ad that caused me to really take offense. And if you see it I hope it does the same for you: Two kids and their father are standing and playing musical instruments. But you can’t look at the picture long without noticing that both children are barefoot and the father is wearing shoes. What is plain here is that the environment was ideal for bare feet, since the children’s young tender feet were totally bare. Also the small size of the man’s shoes and the lack of socks make it plain that the man was obviously trying to come as close as possible to bare feet as it is proper for a grown-up to do. The sight of a grown man with bare feet was obviously unthinkable to the ad designer, or this would be the first setting where it would be shown. Message: Bare feet are a wonderful open-air feeling that every child should experience, but the experience is just too unguarded and innocent for the prim dignity of a grownup.


Seattle Barefoot Hikers in the Issaquah Alps

Information That Will Shock You

I’m sure you are familiar with the irritating snap a doorknob gives you on a dry day. Evidently we seem to build up a positive static charge in our bodies, since our shoes keep us from being properly grounded. When you consider how much our bodies rely on electricity, a chronic buildup of static cannot be insignificant. If anybody gets a good shock from a doorknob while barefoot, please email me to let me know.

The importance of static charge is made more clear if you have studied the transistor, which as you may know acts like an electronic gate. Tiny voltages such as can be induced by radio waves are applied to a transistor to significantly modulate current flowing through it. Surely we can expect many thousands of volts of charge in our bodies to somehow influence the flow of current through our nervous system.

Wait a minute. This cannot be thousands of volts. Wouldn’t that kill you? Obviously it doesn’t. A thousand-volt power source would kill you, since it is sustained. But a static voltage is discharged immediately by the current before real damage can be done. However, these high voltages and discharges sure cannot be very good for you.

And when you consider that we live in a negatively charged environment, it should follow that our bodies, having adapted to that environment, have an electronic network designed to operate in the context of that negative charge. So any chronic buildup of positive charges could be forcing the electricity in your nervous system to flow against high resistance. In fact, entire nonessential brain centers may be lying dormant to conserve energy.

This being the case, the value of going barefoot can be seen in a new light. The light of an electric arc to be exact. It would seem that it is while outside playing barefoot that our proton-bound bodies can drain out the deadening charges and make reparations from the ravages of static buildup. You are giving your whole nervous system an opportunity to flow with abundant ease.

Would you suppose that this could be the explanation for the soulfulness that engulfs a person as the spring comes around and you inevitably step onto the grass barefooted? You know that feeling: often referred to as spring fever, a wilderness experience, or nostalgia. The feeling is commonly inspired by the distant past, far away places, classical music, and nature. It also seems to occur when you catch a cold for some reason. C.S. Lewis talked at length about the well-charged German word Sehnsucht referring to this experience, a word that translated into english would come out poetry. Germans must go barefoot a lot.

Exploding Barefoot Myths

It’s illegal to drive barefoot.

Whoever spread this one around should have to walk forty miles barefoot. Just the very fact that such an urban legend is believable is a sign that we have allowed government to rise above the servile role we elected them for. Another reason we believe this is that some police have told us this. This is an example of a law that is not in writing anywhere, but is asssumed to be so self-evident that a law is not necessary. This is because for that great majority (almost 100%) who do keep their shoes on, driving barefoot would be unsafe, because it would feel weird to them. It is the safest way for a barefooter to drive. But there is no reason a policeman who never knew barefoot people existed anywhere should know this. The one exception to the rule is that in Alabama you need shoes to ride a motorcycle.

Feet are stinky.

This has to be the father of ironies. They stink only because of shoes. Because we are afraid of the dirt from the ground that goes right on and comes right off, we create old dirt, marinated in sweat and bacteria

You’ll get athlete’s foot.

If you are consistant about going barefoot, the fungus will dissipate without the warm, dark and moist shoe environment. And eventually you will cure it by regular washings alone.

There is glass all over the place.

Look for a wry smile on anyone who says that. I frankly suspect that he has contributed diligently to that situation.

Your feet will come to look like ground beef, what with all the pavement and gravel.

It sounds like you need to actually meet a barefooter, and let him show you his feet.

You can pick up parasites.

Places this filthy are hard to come by. You have to go places where human filth festers. What little infection is spread around could actually innoculate you against infection by strengthening your immune system. It is not a level of infection any greater than others we already have a much better attitude about dealing with, like bathroom faucet handles and shared mustard bottles.

Barefeet track dirt around.

Unlike shoes, which don’t? With shoes on you can track dog poop right into someone’s house without knowing it. With bare feet you know the instant you step in it. The problem with people who say this one is that it shows they already have taken the attitude that they don’t want to discuss it any further.


Here are my feet on 3/15/03 after
a hike through Discovery Park

Q & A

Won’t this cause athlete’s foot?

It could be the cure for athlete’s foot. It is caused by the feet being in a dark, moist environment most of the time. If you wear thick gloves long enough you can get athlete’s hand. If you barefoot as much as possible, your athlete’s foot should start to go away. Look for any open sores from this condition before you feet contact the open ground. And if you are treating Athlete’s foot, it is a good idea to wash your feet with hot soap and water after each hike. Foot washing is also a good idea after having your shoes shoes on for a long time.

My feet smart after I’ve been barefooting too much. I tend to wonder if this is worth it.

Believe it or not, you are in pretty venerable company. What could be more the opitome of "tough, leathery soles" than the hobbits? Yet consider this line from Fellowship of the Ring: Flight to the Ford

The Road was still running steadily downhill, and there was now in places much grass at either side, in which the hobbits walked when they could, to ease their tired feet.

Your feet aren’t uniquely delicate and inadequate, though it may feel that way if you’ve been wearing shoes for a while and then try to take them off. But you’re feet aren’t uniquely invincible either. If you play the guitar, you may remember when your fingers hurt after only a short time on the frets. Your legs hurt if you walk further than you’re used to. Obey the general rule that if something really hurts, don’t do it. And eventually the recurring irritations will go away as your feet toughen up. It is also important to wash your feet regularly just as you do your hands, so as to rule out infections caused by dirt.

We live in a “No Shoes No Service” marketplace. How should I handle restaurants and stores?

Get yourself some bedroom slippers or moccasins that you can tote along with you when you are going somewhere you are required to wear shoes. Also good are clogs which you can easily step into or out of. They should give you room to "flare" your toes when you feel that urge. Sometimes I will barefoot down to the restaurant or bank, then slip a shoe on each foot separately as it steps over the threshold. Then take them off the same way when I go back out. I also will often kick off the shoes when seated at work or the restaurant. While the superior comfort of moccasins is sufficient reason for use on usually unshod feet, their real plus is seen when you are not wearing them. They of all shoes assert their existance the least when being carried.

I cut myself stepping on glass. Shouldn’t I stop barefooting until it heals?

You should first find a good bandaid, perferably cloth, which sticks firmly to your cut even when walked on. If you wait for a cut to heal, that may take too long and cause your feet to “soften up” too much. If you experience significant pain from walking on your sore, stay off it for a time. But with a good bandaid, you may be able to salvage your barefooting practice and still allow a full healing. Check the bandaid periodically to be sure it doesn’t wear through and expose your sore to the ground.

Some people seem to be able to run barefoot through the woods at night without tripping. How do you explain that?

If barefooting has become a normal state in a variety of situations in your life, maybe the unconscious gains the ability to detect sensations that are far too subtle to register consciously, such as nuances of reflected sound from small objects, retinal images in really dim light, and even differences in air temperature around solid objects. And maybe even if we cannot "see" by infrared radiation, how do you know our eyes cannot detect such rays at a subliminal level? And for all we know, we may be able to make similar use of electromagnetic reactions between our bodies and other objects.

During some times of the year, my feet get cold, especially when I am sitting and reading.

Wear socks or slippers. We cover our hands when they are cold. Yet if we gave our feet nearly as much open-air time as we do our hands, we’d indeed be barefooters. But cold feet generally isn’t a problem if you are moving, in which case your feet should stay warmer than your hands because they work harder. If your feet are cold while active, it is the weather. Chances are you are already wearing gloves. Just put your shoes on. But it’s important that you don’t wear shoes that will squeeze blood out of your toes, and make your feet colder.

Don’t you have to experience significant discomfort with newly bare feet before they will become tough enough to be comfortable that way?

Not at all. If you walk until it hurts, you will develop bad associations with going barefoot, and you will quickly lose interest in it. Pick a relatively smooth sidewalk to practice on, and walk a small distance that doesn’t cause any discomfort, and each day increase that distance slightly. Then find a rougher sidewalk and practice similar graduated distances. When you are really ready for a certain roughness of ground, it feels like a nice massage for your feet, not a cutting harshness. Think of the high you will get when you find your pale, fragile feet that felt weak and awkward crossing the kitchen unshod, replaced by sturdy, well tanned feet with tough leathery soles that can run on icy gravel without distress. Barefooting really isn’t an extreme sport.

How did you get interested in going barefoot?

I actually was inspired by a cousin of mine that, upon arriving in town on the train, was barefoot. Eventually my sister and I realised she always does this. She carries moccasins with her when going where shoes are required. But the lure behind this inspiration lies deeper. There is a human affinity to bare feet that goes back to childhood. It seems to have something to do with being more in touch with the world around you, because you can feel the ground under your feet and the cool air around them, making an additonal part of you feel alive. I assume you would not wear gloves when you are petting a kitten. When your feet feel good, you do. In fact whenever I take off my hat, my glasses, or my watch or when I get my hair cut I feel the same refreshment and feeling of purity as the skin gets more exposure to the open air.

It seems you would eventually take this a step further, and apply the same arguments to being nude.

I was naturally to expect this to come up. After all, much of what I said logically supports nudity. To say it up front, humans are not psychologically designed for social nudity. Numerous attempts at nudist colonies only serve to affirm this. There are certain parts of the body we respond to in a totally different way than we do to any other part. Our modesty about them is hard-coded into our very being, and attempts to circumvent this is a recipe for disaster. However, there is nothing similarly provoking about the sight of feet. For example a mixed church group having a swim party will go barefoot without a problem. And bare feet are portrayed in clean family cartoons as well. It is true that the sight of bare feet inspires a sense of freedom in a way that hands don’t, simply because we know how good our feet feel in the open air after being in the dark damp confinement of shoes. This is why I distance myself from those barefoot advocates who are merely using it as a stepping stone to nude-rights.

Does this have anything to do with a foot fetish?

It is distressing that that awful phrase fell into common usage. It is disproven by the fact that bare feet predated the fetish movement by a long shot. Not only does it betray the society’s bug-eyed fixation on sex, but it may all by itself explain the increasing requirement of shoes. Keep in mind that even a picture of Christ with bare feet is not considered irreverent. So the foot can hardly be considered an intimate body part. Maybe all these slang words for sex come from attempts by people to give explanations for their behavior other than sexuality, only to have them inferred as newly coined euphamisms for something bizarre and dirty. I wonder if I can rescue the bare foot from this dark impass in time to reintroduce it to the respectable world.

What can I say? Tennis shoes just go with my outfit.

Then wear shoes that are one or two sizes big. The idea is to give your feet the same room inside the shoe that they would get on the open ground, even when your weight bears down on them. If your feet move around more in the extra space and cause chafing, this presents a case for not wearing shoes so much. We are so used to squeezing our feet and toes that we trained ourselves not to feel it anymore, but I get club feet just thinking about it.

How about barefoot running?

I am experimenting with this. It is thought that if shoe-assisted runners can experience joint problems from the impact of running, then barefoot running must be worse still. But this fails to take into account the adaptive behavior of the body when forced to run in this more natural way. I’ve been having a recurring knee pain during running. It seemed to go away when I ran barefoot. Man was a natural runner long before he began wearing shoes. So the natural shock absorbing capability of our muscles is adapted to the barefoot condition. Shoes soften the impact enough to deaden the body’s natural shock protection, but not enough to totally protect us from damage. The body uses unconscious muscle movement to absorb the shock even more effectively than shoe padding can do. It forces you to learn such a soft step in running that it may even help to fix the joint problems that you thought you had because your shoes weren’t expensive enough!

If you owned a restaurant, would you allow bare feet?

I would love to open a restaurent for the express purpose of letting people come in it barefoot. I would even put a Society for Barefoot Living logo on the door that classifies it as barefoot friendly, and even give a special discount to barefoot patrons. I in fact sincerely doubt I could count on anyone showing up barefoot unless I did just that. When you consider it, and I’m sure store owners at large do not, the portion of your customers who show up barefoot will be similar to what it is in the population at large, which as you know is close to zero in northern states. The only exception I would have to this is if I were running a black-tie establishment, wherein I would not only require shoes, but even a coat & tie for men and dresses for women!

Other Barefoot Websites

Medical support for barefooting

Barefoot as part of the primal blueprint

Go bare-pawed now! Society for Barefoot Living Running Barefoot Barefoot Runner Barefoot Hikers

Contemplating on my patio

Billy’s home page