I was walking down the stairs the other day. The steps are made out of some kind of rocky aggregate, and I had decided to descend barefoot in order to spare my cleats and socks.
The rough, rocky surface jabbed into my soft feet. It hurt but I couldn’t walk lightly because I had the bike over my shoulder. The staircase has two sets of ten steps, and by the end of the first set the jabbing had turned from pain into something else.
What it turned into was memories.
Do you remember running barefoot across a hot parking lot when you were a kid? Do you remember walking barefoot across rocks and gravel? Do you remember dashing across a lot or a yard and finding out that it was chock full of cockleburs?
The pressure against my feet dug deep into my memory and I thought about all those hot days in Houston and Galveston and Daingerfield when, for whatever reason, I was outdoors without any shoes on. There was a barefoot balance between the freedom of the naked foot and the punishment of the unwanted glass fragment or sharp rock.
If you took the freedom, you also took the jab, and the only reward was that those soft little feet, over the course of a few shoeless weeks, became toughened, callused, gnarly little footpads, and with the raspy skin you became unafraid one day without knowing it of the hot asphalt or sharp rocks or cockleburs or anything else. The skin turned leathery and hard and told you instinctively that it was summer.
Do kids go barefoot anymore?
The semi-annual revolution
I live in fits and starts. One day it’s a change-the-world diet, the next day it’s an assault on all human limits with a brand new power meter. Like the feet under those hard calluses, though, it’s the same old me.
One of the great things about changing myself forever until I revert to the old self in a week or two is the sensation of the new, not to mention the self-love that comes with making a virtue out of necessity. That’s what’s been so great about bicycling barefoot.
“You can’t bicycle barefoot,” you’re thinking. “Those pedals would devour your feet whole.”
That’s true, but I don’t mean bicycling without shoes. I mean it metaphorically. The shoes are the clothes and the gear. Bicycling barefoot means putting on a shoulder bag and a pair of floppy shorts and slowly pedaling in to work, then back again.
Bicycling barefoot means pushing the pedals no harder than it takes to move forward at a reasonable speed. Wind blowing hard? Don’t respond by bending down and jamming the pedals…just go slower.
Have to surmount Via Valmonte and Silver Spur? Don’t get out of the saddle and crank it, find your great-great-great granny gear and go slow.
Like walking without shoes it’s unpleasant at first, but with repetition you start to fall into the rhythm of barefoot and you start to notice all the things that you can’t normally see due to tunnel vision or the grimace of agony or being to tired to lift your head more than an inch above your stem or because you’ve got your nose shoved halfway up the butt of the rider in front of you.
Putting on my shoes again
Bicycling barefoot, more than anything else, connects you with the freedom you first felt on your first bike, that giddy, punch-drunk, stomach-full-of-butterflies feeling that told you life was never going to be the same again as you pedaled madly to keep upright and avoid the curb and go fast enough not to tump over but not so fast that you crashed.
The nicest thing about bicycling barefoot, though, is that it’s just like walking without shoes. All it takes to get back into the groove of beatdowns and baby seal clubbing is a change of clothes.
So, it’s almost summertime. Mightn’t you ought to take off those shoes and go for a walk?