the paths we tread

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June 24, 2013 by scratchtype1

When the other guy and me went through Port Clinton Saturday evening, I thought it kind of funny odd that while I had driven up along Route 61 a decent number of times, I had never been aware of the fact that the Appalachian Trail goes underneath one of the road’s bridges. It wasn’t until recently when the first glimmers of thinking about doing some day hikes on some of it that I became aware of its path through Pennsylvania.

But those times I had gone up to Forksville and World’s End State Park, I had not realized I had crossed paths with the AT. Times I had gone to Hawk Mountain, didn’t know it. Even my visit to Centralia back in March had been done in this unaware state.  But now there I was Saturday evening, sitting next to the guy driving, on our way to meeting up with some others who were going to do a hike to the Pinnacle. I rode comfortably enough with my pack and boots between my legs and bare feet.

When we reached the initial rendezvous point, I pulled a pair of socks from my pack and then put my feet in the socks and shoes. The last time I had worn shoes and socks before then was back on Monday morning when I drove into work and hadn’t yet hit up on the idea of stashing the shoes at work.  Wearing boots, my feet became heavier. They would adjust back to them over the course of the hike, but even so, I felt a certain disconnection by doing so. Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve found out there is a sensory world that is lost to us when we wear shoes.

But, truthfully enough, my feet and ankles are not yet ready to handle the sensory world of the AT in PA. So the boots were a necessary item for me to do that hike. And I also don’t think I could have handled doing it with the huaraches yet either. Lots of rocks, lots of gravelly sections. Gravel is the biggest challenge barefoot, my feet are slowly adapting, but they’re still quite sensitive to its discomfort.

I was surprised when I saw that the hike leader wore Vibram 5-Finger shoes.  At one point, when we ended up alongside one another, I asked him, “So how do you like the 5-Fingers?” He said, a bit bluntly, that he liked them although he found the number of questions about them sometimes annoying. I didn’t feel put off or insulted by that, I just stated how I had begun the process of becoming barefoot and was just curious some because of that about meeting someone who was using minimalist footwear. That opened him up and he advised me to take it slowly and not to injure myself. I agreed with him that that was important.

During the hike, I talked with various people, a man from India who had been in the United Stated for 8 months, a younger guy who told us about his experience at a Zombie Run, a woman a couple of years younger than me who had married at age 17, had 4 kids, and had been divorced twice. She told me about how her children give her gifts on both Mother’s and Father’s day, because she really has done all the work of raising them.

There was no transcendent moment when we hooked into the AT. But I did note how there were now white blazes on the trees to mark the path and then on an uphill stretch while walking to the Pinnacle, I thought about how at one time the Barefoot Sisters had come in the other direction down this path, how they had come, without shoes, picking their way through the rocky debris, and how I was going up in it my sturdy boots. Would I have felt more of a connection had I been shoeless, had I been capable of walking it shoeless? Would I have had the sensation of touching ground that their feet had touched, that there would have been more of a connection, a deeper sensation of humanity, of humaneness? If I had felt that, would that have only been a sort of wishcasting on my part, a belief in something without substance, without merit, without reality?

I have no certain answers to those questions. They are not elegant koans, but they are almost koan-like in that they don’t have certain answers.  So maybe if you get the right frame of mind, you can think those kinds of things and then lose yourself, when you stand upon the rocky ledges of the Pinnacle, looking out on a countryside with a hazy moon above it and the scars of man-made light strung up in the buildings in which we live, work and conduct our lives.

So it went. So one day I will return there, without shoes.

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