June 10, 2013 by scratchtype1
Last Monday, the last day of the vacation time I had used, I went for a hike in Susquehanna State Park in Maryland. It had rained heavily overnight, and the reason I had ended up there was to get west of the rain that was drenching the area where I live. I had prepared my pack with the supplies I like to have for longer hikes — extra carbs with Gatorade, peanut butter M&Ms, and bananas; maps of the park’s trails; my glucometer and an insulin pen (I’ve had type 1 diabetes for more than 28 years) and extra pairs of dry socks, because as we all know, it rather sucks to walk in wet socks and boots.
The first 5 or 6 miles of the hike were good and my feet remained fairly dry. But then I popped out of the woods into a section which was made of tall grass fields and a narrow path. With the wet grass slapping against my legs and socks, the feet got rapidly soaked. When I reached the point where the path led me to a field’s edge with a wider mowed section, I stopped at a relatively dry area and pulled off the boots and socks, anticipating the pleasure of putting on a pair of dry socks and losing the squish-squish-squish sound of me walking along. Except when I opened up the pack, that’s when I found that I had forgotten to put the plastic bag of dry socks inside. Oops. I picked up one of the wet socks I had just pulled off and squeezed it. Water fairly poured out from that squeeze. I then wrung out both socks as much as possible, but they were still frightfully wet.
I pondered. Then decided that I would hang the socks and boots from the pack, and hike for a while barefoot. It seemed like that should feel better than putting them immediately back into the wet socks and boots. It was interesting for that next mile. I would walk over dirt and grass, over some asphalt, over some gravel, over some rocks. I became aware that hiking barefoot was a much more rich sensory experience than what I was accustomed to in boots. All that texture which had been underfoot, and under the shoes, all these years. I found out that in bare feet the foot will sometimes grab at the ground to help with grip. As a result of that gripping, I found the feet were becoming tired towards the end of the barefoot period.
But anyhow, that and I suppose some influence from having watched the TV show Dual Survival with Cody Lundin, got me thinking, “Why not barefoot? Why do I need shoes?” Of course, right now, the vast majority of doctors and podiatrists who might read this, and who read carefully enough to see how I say I have type 1 diabetes, are likely cringing at hearing a diabetic going against conventional medical wisdom that diabetics need to protect their feet with shoes.
That wisdom is understandable, in view of the history of diabetic feet. Feet are prone to having less circulation and a common complication of diabetes is that circulation diminished over time. Another common problem is loss of nerve function, many diabetics lose sensation, especially in their feet. Those two factors mean that non-healing wounds and infections are real risks in the feet of diabetics.
But let’s think a little more about this some. It appears that one of the things also being found out at this point is that it is rather likely that wearing shoes as much as we do in this modern civilized world is that our feet are being atrophied. Trapped inside the shoes, the muscles don’t develop like our barefoot ancestors’ muscles developed. One thing that is known is that active and working muscles have better circulation than weakened and atrophied muscles. So knowing that, it makes me realize that it may actually be counterproductive to advise diabetics to be in shoes, almost as soon as they get out of bed until they go to bed again at night. It might actually be better if diabetics did more things barefoot, to encourage full muscular development of the feet and consequently, blood circulation to them.
Now in cases of where diabetics have lost significant amounts of sensation, it might be advisable then for shoes, but I think also it would be important for them to have structured times of barefoot activity, in a safe sort of location. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. If a person breaks a leg or arm, and that’s put in a cast, we know that the muscles in there atrophy. But we never advise someone to wear a cast for the rest of their life. Shoes are not entirely like casts, as they have some flexibility, but they significantly reduce the activity of muscles in the feet.
So, because of all this, I have begun to decrease how much I wear shoes and how much I do things barefoot. In fact, over the weekend, I hardly wore shoes. I drove barefoot. I golfed 18 holes Saturday and 18 holes Sunday, barefoot (got some sore calves this morning because of that). Bought a pair of flip-flops to take around in the car so I can avoid hassles with stores.
Right now, walking on dirt and grass is a real pleasure. Asphalt and concrete are still somewhat uncomfortable, but hopefully the soles of my feet will thicken and toughen. I hope so, because one thing I tried Saturday morning was going down to White Clay Creek Preserve and walking a bit on its path. What’s funny is that I anticipated it should be pleasant to walk on a bare dirt path, but instead that’s when I discovered that because I’ve always walked it before in boots, I never noticed that they must have put down some light pebbles and gravel, I guess to help with traction for those who walk and run that trail. That might help the traction for those in shoes, but it made walking over it very uncomfortable for the bottoms of my feet. What I can do for that right now while my feet are still toughening up is to bring along the pair of flip-flops and I can wear them intermittently when walking trail sections that are too strenuous for my bare feet. But not always, the best way to toughen things up is to expose them, and hopefully in time I will reach a point where I can walk those gravelly sections in bare feet and feel little to no discomfort.
Another thing I’ve learned so far is that when you walk barefoot, you pay more attention to where you are stepping. Right now it’s a bit overwhelming at times to me because I’m not used to processing all that information, and it’s a bit saddening to realized I have, for now, lost one of the things I like to do when hiking — looking all around me, to the sides, up, down, front, back. Now it feels like I’m constantly surveying an area right in front of me. But that should improve in time.
And eventually, sometimes, I figure to try to start to do a little bit of running barefoot.