Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Barefoot Travels

This may be my first actual philosophical post, in which I will attempt to persuade that hiking with bare feet for at least part of an adventure is necessary, especially a difficult hike. Or I may just digress and write about thoughts while hiking.

While scaling the mountains of Camden yesterday I was thinking "why do people hike". I think most people would respond that they go hiking to "experience nature" or perhaps to "escape from reality" in this case reality meaning concrete, steel, cubicles or offices. In one way, a hiking trail like I climbed yesterday is an escape but (and here we begin the philosophy) one is still rather stuck to the trail. One can walk off the trail, into the woods, but if one does not know the area well, it is very easy to get lost. However, neither the path nor being lost in the woods are necessarily the wrong place to be. I suppose many would, when escaping their "real" lives, stick to the path because eventually, one must make it back to the beginning of the hike, so as to escape ones escape and get back to real life. Perhaps being lost in the woods is real life!

The question of "experiencing" nature, or that escape, would be to some empiricists (in the philosophical world) the ability of a person to have sensation associated with hiking. Sensation being the experience of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell of ones environment, in this case being important because it is different than ones normal life, so is that escape. But how many of these senses do we actually experience when hiking? Yesterday I found myself concentrating on reaching the top of the mountain, the summit, and briefly forgetting what was all around me. I was experiencing the sights and sounds and smells, but only in a limited capacity over the sound of my hard breathing from climbing, and my drive to the top. In this regard, I was concentrating much more on the placement of my feet than on the world around me; important so that I would not fall, but not looking up, and so missing other important aspects of life around me. Perhaps if I had just slowed down, not focusing as much on the summit, but more on the walk, I could have noticed more (a classic theme, I know). Perhaps part of this is that those who escape their office lives do not realize that in order to experience these "escapes" to their fullest, it is necessary to reduce the tempo of the walk, "trip", "vacation". Not only does one have to physically be in a new place for this escape, but also must find a way to reduce the pace of their time in the new area.

While walking in an unfamiliar environment, tasting plants etc. to better experience the journey may not be advisable. As such, I will continue by focusing on the last sense, touch. When we hike we have a sense of touch, in that we brush against branches, touch interesting plants, sit on large rocks to eat lunch, but when we are simply walking along a trail it seems that ones sense of touch is lost. Ones shoes are in the way. Many would answer that question "why do we hike" by suggesting that hiking can help us to "better connect to our environment." But if we are never even touching the ground we walk on, are we really experiencing that last sense?

So I got it in my mind yesterday to take off my shoes when I was descending Mt. Battie, headed back to the car. As I think I mentioned in my previous writing, Battie is 780 some feet down, over the course of a half mile. And the trail is all rock. And the squall had just hit, so everything was wet. But, I decided to remove my shoes for the last, and steepest quarter mile. I am glad I did, as it was fascinating to walk and feel at the same time. You can imagine the different feelings while walking, cold rocks, squishy piles of wet leaves, roots, solid roots, sharp stones. While I would not suggest this hiking style at all times, it is worth the attempt. Although I was closer to falling multiple times, I noticed that I had to plan my route down the rocks much more than before, as I no longer had any padding under my feet and I was more able to slip. I did indeed feel much more connected.

So my suggestions when hiking, which could quite possible change if I was to hike more, or more rugged terrain (because it hurts to step on those hidden stones!) is to remove your shoes when about a quarter mile away from ones home. Experience just how hiking FEELS!

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