Foot conditioning

February 14, 2023 Comments Off on Foot conditioning

Winter is a time when everything gets out of shape, especially my feet. In summer they are rough and callused. I can walk most anywhere, and do. Last summer I did the bulk of a 16-mile hike unshod over rough terrain.

It doesn’t take long for foot fitness to go away, like any other fitness. The mDNA get instructions that no more extra foot skin is needed when you start wearing shoes and bam, the mDNA stops producing it. So now my feet are soft and tender and they hurt when I walk on sharp gravel. There is a lot of sharp gravel in the yard. It’s either a perfect training ground or hell.

Walking barefoot is great for your brain. It improves cognition and memory. It also improves sensory awareness of eyes and ears, especially eyes. When you are getting started with your calluses you can hear your brain analyzing everything beneath your feet. Is it sharp? Is it soft? Hard? Warm? Cold? Cool? Hot? Rough? Smooth? Spiky? Bendy? These are all crucial things your brain has to sort out as you walk barefoot.

As your brain catalogues things as pain-inducing or not, you then lose awareness of them. It’s synapse building-as-you-go.

Calluses don’t take away feeling. They protect the skin from cuts and punctures. Studies comparing the feet of flabby-footed Westerners with villagers who never wear shoes show that the villagers’ feet are every bit as sensitive as the flabby-footed folks. But the villagers’ feet aren’t damaged by walking, a novel idea, and the habitually barefoot have a much more sophisticated ability to discriminate between painful and non-painful sensations.

It’s almost as if people evolved to walk without shoes, almost.

Once you’ve spent the better part of a year walking shoeless, it doesn’t take long for the calluses to build back up. Like other kinds of fitness, having done it in the past makes it easier to do it in the future as long as too much time hasn’t gone by.

It is a very nice feeling, getting in touch with Mother Earth this way. You feel so much more, literally and figuratively, when your skin is in contact with the unpaved surface of the world. And since you stare at the ground a lot, you notice more. You notice little things fighting for life, just the same as you. Little flowers. Tiny shoots of green. Extra-tiny bugs scurrying here and there on important missions, just as important as yours.

We can learn a lot from bugs, none of whom wear shoes, and from dogs for that matter, who generally go bare-pawed. Snykes has extraordinary proprioception. He rarely misplaces a paw, and his rear paws never hit sharp things. How does he do that? His rear paws are behind him. Maybe he memorizes everything in front and then his brain calculates where his rear paws need to land to avoid the ouchies.

It has to be more complicated than it looks, and it looks darned complicated.

By the time April rolls around my calluses should be back, along with my foot muscles. I have told people that walking barefoot is easier than walking shod because in fact your foot muscles do all the work when you walk, not the calves/thighs/glutes. It seems counterintuitive but it isn’t. Your feet are evolved to make you walk with maximal efficiency, and barefoot walking builds up the arches, ankles, and the hundred-plus ligaments/tendons/muscles in the foot itself. The larger muscles in your leg evolved to stabilize and support the weight of the upper limbs and body.

Cover the foot up with a shoe and the foot muscles atrophy, and since they’re constricted and can’t flex, the work shifts to the bigger, less efficient muscles in the legs. Shoes are the reason that even runners can have fat feet with weak connective tissue. And people who don’t even run, like most cyclists and the population at large, simply have flabby and inert feet.

It takes a long time to build up your feet, but when they finally get strong they start to look fundamentally different. The muscles and tendons become pronounced and the foot itself gets skinny and elongated. Your arches start to raise and your toes splay out. And you find that you can walk so much farther with so much less effort.

We still have some cold, therefore shoe weather ahead, but spring foot training has begun.


Super weekend

February 13, 2023 Comments Off on Super weekend

On Friday morning, Snykes and I hiked up the 5 Hills, then up to the big lookout. It was a 6-mile walk with 1,316 feet of climbing. At the bottom of the Big Hill, Snykes let me know that he was tired by lying upside down in a ditch.

But I knew he was just taking a break, so we continued on to the lookout, looked out, than tramped the 3+ miles home. He was super tired. He is a little doggie with short legs. Running up steep hills is hard. He does it anyway.

After a few hours I decided to go on a bicycle ride up Old State Road. It took me an hour and fifty-two minutes to go just over thirteen miles. The sand was deep. The road was steep. The melted snow made everything muddy. The road above Wagy Flat was washed out from the the snowmelt. Cars couldn’t go on it and they hadn’t, it months. There was a downed tree in the middle of the road. I pedaled very slowly but it was hard as fuck.

Finally I got to the snow. I tried to ride it for a few yards. I couldn’t. It was only going to get deeper, so I turned around. But dog it was beautiful. When you are high in the mountains it is so quiet. You can hear rushing water from the creeks and freshets below. An occasional scrub jay squawks; that’s about it.

That night Kristie arrived. We got up early on Saturday and went to Lake Isabella for groceries and bird seed. Snykes loves the car because he thinks we are going to McDonald’s. He also thinks he is a lap dog. He sits in my lap in the passenger seat, usually crushing my thighs and occasionally my nuts. I don’t mind. He is happy with his nose out the window. Snykes’s approach is good. He thinks we have to do everything together because we are pals. Pals are like that.

Next, we decided to enjoy the pre-game show, not the one that everybody else saw, but rather our own private one along the M-99 en route to the Johnsondale Bridge. I think we saw less than a dozen cars in three-and-a-half hours.

We decided to ride heart rate and I averaged 121 bpm for the whole ride, which although that’s only the top of my Zone 2, ended up being a really hard 52 miles with 3,100 feet of elevation. It’s the same ride I’d done earlier in the week but I felt great and rode faster, finished faster, and ended much less tired. It’s almost as if training works. And when you’re on a 30-lb. aluminum bike with fat tires, it almost feels like you accomplished more. Almost.

On the way back we stopped at Brush Creek to marvel at the little falls. Usually there’s hardly any water in it. We also stopped to check out a downed power line. The cliff fell over on it and buried it. SCE had better things to do on Super Bowl weekend than repair downed lines.

We got home and were really tired, but we both had that satisfied feeling of having done a hard ride. Coming into town I pretended I’d gotten clear on the Poggio and had made it alone to the Via Roma, only to be chased down at the last second by Merckx, Zabel, de Vlaeminck, Cavendish, and Kelly. Catching my breath I dropped back, then swung wide and hit out early, catching them by surprise and taking the first classic of the season by a tire width, right there in front of the adoring toothless lady standing in front of Charlie’s Grocery Mart.

On Super Sunday we were super tired. Snykes was not happy because he’d been excluded from the bike ride. He has always wanted to win Milan-San Remo, too. We decided to do a ten-mile hike up Cannell Meadow Trail.

There were two other people with dogs but we soon passed them and had the trail to ourselves. We made a detour before turning around, scrambling a half-mile up a crazy steep wall that ended atop a peak looking down into the river valley. Snykes loved it so much. He is a good little doggie and such a strong little hiker.

We climbed over 3,100 feet in five miles of ascending. It felt steeper than it was because of the hard ride on Saturday. The air was crisp and chilly but not cold. At times the sky cleared and at others it looked stern and wintry. Snowy Sierra peaks cut the skyline. We had the whole million acres to ourselves.

Back at home we all three collapsed for a long winter’s nap. During that time someone threw a football somewhere and lots of drunk people got drunker and half of them got happier and half of them sadder. I hope it all worked out for everyone in the end.

I know it did for us.



January 31, 2023 Comments Off on Freedog

When I got Snykes I had a romantic vision of taking him to the mountains where we would take long, rambling walks together. He would bound ahead, sniffing out quail and dove and squirrels, and I would stride along behind. He’d look back at me from time to time but I’d never need to call, wouldn’t need a leash. Snykes would be a freedog, rescued from the pound by a benevolent me who gave him the freedom to simply be a dog.

It was a geriatric version of “A Boy and His Dog,” retitled “An Old Fart and His Dog.”

But Snykes had other ideas.

The first thing he did was to bleed all over my shoe. Life in the pound had meant little to no walking, so his pads were tender as a puppy’s. Simply jumping around in the “get acquainted” pen for a few minutes, walking out on the SPCA grounds, and bounding around in the parking lot shredded his feet. When we got home he could barely walk.

The pads healed but Snykes appeared to be more of a sleeper than a walker. He’d eagerly jump up to go outside and was always happy to walk for longer distances, but his status quo was asleep. And then when we brought him up to the cabin it got even more complicated.

Even though we’re flush up against the Sequoia National Forest, you can’t just let your dog run off leash until you’re a pretty long way from town. There are occasionally other dog walkers, and of course some people simply let their dogs run wild all day. The dogs are aggressive and Snykes has a certain street dog air to him; the one time in LA that he got attacked by two large dogs off leash, the attackers quickly thought better of it. Snykes deftly got to the large shepherd’s throat, and if Snykes hadn’t been on his leash, it would have ended badly. For the shepherd.

Moreover, Snykes loves to meet and greet people, and it’s not always mutual. So we would take long walks every morning with him on the leash. He strained a bit in the beginning, but as long as I let him sniff and pee where he wanted, it was okay. I wanted to let him off his leash but I also feared he’d run away. So we walked together, tethered.

Yesterday, after we’d gotten a solid two miles up the road, I decided to give it a try. I’d never seen another person that far up the road, and I mean, “A Boy and His Dog,” right?

I unsnapped the leash and he trotted a few steps, waiting for some other type of control to be asserted. None came. He glanced back at me, confirmed that he was in fact off the leash, and sprinted away. I had no idea he could run that fast. In a few seconds, kicking up dust like a car, he was fifty yards away, and then, without stopping, he wheeled, skidded backwards, and going even faster made a beeline back towards me.

He was running downhill so fast that his rear legs couldn’t keep up with his front, sending him in a full sidewise, barely-in-control run, his tongue flapping like a sail until he got within a foot of me and instead of crashing and sending me sprawling, he sheared off and continued sprinting down the hill, turning again and racing back to me at breakneck speed.

I’ve seen happy dogs before but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one as happy as Snykes being freed from the leash. We walked another couple of miles up the road, or rather I did. Snykes ran ten steps or more for every one of mine. He sniffed, he checked, the galloped, he loped, he trotted, he dashed down the road embankments, he explored and leaped and bounded as only a free person can. I mean dog.

No, actually, I don’t.


Sprint, ride, walk

August 20, 2022 Comments Off on Sprint, ride, walk

Two days ago I sprinted. Rather, I did sprints. Rather, I did eight 30-second sprints with one-minute rests. I’ve been doing them once a week now for a month.

Kristie persuaded me that high intensity intervals were incredibly beneficial to doddering, mostly dead old fucks, and she did it the way she usually does. She sent me a bunch of research to read. Fortunately it was lots easier than the stuff about myokines and lactate and phosphorylation and the Cori cycle. Basically, in this study they took some old fucks and put them in a lab and made them do:

  1. 60 seconds of jumping jacks with 90 seconds rest
  2. 60 seconds of squats with 90 seconds rest
  3. 60 seconds of sprinting in place with 90 seconds rest
  4. 60 seconds of squats with 90 seconds rest
  5. 60 seconds of jumping jacks and hopefully a cold beer

Then they made a different set of old fucks do the same thing at home with no supervision.

Then they made a different set of old fucks do nothing.

The incredible results were that the old fucks who did nothing DID NOT CHANGE.

And the old fucks who did a few jumping jacks and stuff CHANGED. And, crazy, I know, it made no difference whether they were being supervised (a/k/a gym) or on their own. The gym industry is not stoked about this study, I guess.

Their blood pressure lowered. The pennation angle of their muscles increased (go look that up, lazy). Their VO2 max increased. Their LDL dropped. All this with five lousy minutes of intervals, three times a week.

Of course Kristie, whose nickname at work used to be Bitch Pudding, makes me do intervals way harder than that. To even start my intervals I have to climb a thousand feet, barefoot. Then when I sprint I have to do track sprints. Still not sure what these are but they involve much nausea. You might be wondering how these have affected me?

Well, on sprint days, when I wake up I get pre-nausea. Then after the sprints, the rest of the day is a fucking piece of cake. The more I do them, the more I realize that no matter how fast I run, I’m not outrunning death. He’s just having to work harder to catch me.

After the sprints I rode around the lake. This is one of two throwaway rides here. It’s 39 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing, along with about 5 near-death encounters with RV’s and pick-them-ups. When you start the day with running sprints, the bike riding is really easy. According to my coach, this is because sprinting is what’s known as acute VO2 max training, and its effects last up to 48 hours, making whatever subsequent thing you do seem incredibly easy. Of course since the subsequent thing is almost always sleep, I’m not sure this proves a lot.

The next day I felt like shit so I stayed home.

This morning I felt great so I left the house at 5:20 and walked to the grocery store in Kernville, which is just under seven miles away. As I walked along the highway a car pulled up. It was Mike, the butcher. “You walking by choice?”


“Okay. You’re usually on a bike, so just wanted to check. No ride?”

“No, but thanks. See you in a bit.”

I got to Kernville and went to the meat counter at the grocery store, where Mike dished up a pound of hot Italian sausage. I got the rest of my stuff, including two half-gallons of milk, but they were in glass bottles. When loaded, my pack was about 30 pounds.

You see a lot more when you walk. For example, I found a little dirt road that parallels the main highway that I’ve never seen despite a hundred or more rides along this stretch of road. Some local fellows had painted a start line for a quarter-mile race track. I bet that after a few beers and the exercise of 2nd Amendment rights that gets even more exciting.

I also got to examine the two dead people memorials that have been there for a long time. I guess that having high speed limits and no meaningful DUI laws makes the deaths worthwhile.

The local tattoo parlor is pretty cool in the early morning light. But I noticed a tiny placard in the window for a lawyer in “Suite C.” Lawyer officing with a tattoo artist. Sounds about right.

The walk home was miserable, hilly, and hot. Now I know why PCT through-hikers don’t carry a lot of glass bottles. But when I arrived, Pepper was waiting for me. He’s like a dog. He meows when I come home and then wants to be petted and fed, but not in that order.

I like dogs, too.


A hike

August 14, 2022 Comments Off on A hike

Yesterday we hiked the Remington Ridge trail. It’s 14 miles round-trip with 4,500 feet of climbing, 95% of which is in the first 7 miles. So it’s steep.

Until today’s scorching temperatures blew in, this summer has been mild, rarely getting above 105 and often, like yesterday, not exceeding the high 90’s.

The day began with a car adventure. Someone was too high or drunk the night before, over-smoked the hairpin at the bottom of our road, and came to rest with the assistance of an oak tree. The front of the car was tacoed.

You see a lot of car adventures here because there’s no towing to immediately clear the area as there is in LA. Also, after the typical drunk driving escapade, the driver stumbles away and gets a ride home, figuring he’ll come back the next day to sort it all out.

And people are more blase about car adventures. For example, one guy’s battery died in the middle of a grade on a narrow 2-lane highway with (for here) a lot of traffic. Rather than coasting to the shoulder, he stopped in the middle of the road. Then another guy drove by, reversed, and drove into his lane to give him a jump. Anyone at any moment could have rounded the blind curve and slammed into the jumpee, causing serious injury or death. No one seemed to care.

Another time on that same stretch we came upon an upside-down car in the opposite lane.

Yet another time we saw a guy who simply drove off the edge of a mostly straight road at such a high speed that his pickup vaulted some inestimable distance off into a ravine. People stood on the roadside, shading their eyes and trying to make out who it was.

Since there aren’t any cops to speak of, and certainly no sobriety checkpoints, and since the dominant thought seems to be, “What’s the point of driving if you can’t drive drunk?” these things happen a lot.

Up on the trail we saw no one. We’d tried to climb it in late April but had turned back because of snow. Now it was cool and beautiful after about 5,000 feet. At the top, just over 6,000 feet, it was serene, with lots of tall trees and cool wind.

By the time we got home we were exhausted.


Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review

July 21, 2022 Comments Off on Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review

Minimalism was born from the simple “less shoe, more you” premise. The idea is that less cushioning and support from your kicks means you’ll engage your feet more, and strengthen the muscle fibers that get neglected when you’re all laced up. With stronger accessory muscles in the foot, injury rates were expected to drop and running efficiency would improve. Minimalism sought to reconnect runners with that organic barefoot experience, allowing the runner to run barefoot with the absolute minimum of material between your foot and the road or trail.

But what is a “minimalist barefoot running shoe”? The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research defines it as:

Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”

The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, Aug. 19, 2015

After extensively testing a variety of minimalist barefoot running shoes, our team has selected one that is flat-out superior to every other model on the market. This conclusion has been reached after researching the market, surveying user reviews, consulting with product engineers, and using my own experience in these shoes to determine the best options. Our experts have handpicked this pair based on value, test impressions, expert recommendations, and how the shoe performs overall. Here, then is the top pick to consider if you’re making a move on minimalism—just be sure to ease them into your running routine gradually.

The Sapiens Ped, World’s Best-Selling Minimalist Barefoot Shoe

Where do we start? These kicks work for running, agility training, weight lifting, chopping wood, trail running, rock climbing, foot-fetish websites, and more. With only one model to choose from, the Sapiens Ped incorporates an epithelial footbed that softens the step-in feel without adding too much cushioning. While extremely heavy in the footwear category, weighing in at about 5.4 lbs per pair, the no-lace, always connected attachment mechanism can’t be beat. The midsole stays almost completely off the ground, and the shoe uses an internal support skeleton with a few light overlays for a bit more structure through the upper. “This is a minimalist shoe so I did not expect it to be cushioned. However, it had enough cushioning that I felt protected from the road—although I wouldn’t wear it on technical trails,” said one neutral-footed tester who runs about 40 miles per week. “I noticed some Achilles fatigue after about 8-9 miles; I usually wear 4mm drop shoes, so I imagine my foot will adapt with time and consistency in this zero-drop pair.”

A few of our shoe testers are highly-experienced minimalist runners. We asked Don K., a decade-long member of the team, for his thoughts on the Sapiens Ped after he ran a full marathon in his sample pair. “These are a good bridge for runners who want more grip on trails but also need a shoe for flat and even surfaces. The outsole is well made and lived up to the durability of any other shoe I’ve tested. It has an incredible feature where the more you use it, the tougher it gets. Darned if I know how that technology works! The upper is a bit thinner than other minimal shoes, and if you hit rocks or sharp branches with the top of the shoe it emits a red fluid, no biggie as it dries quickly and eventually falls away, but it leaves something to be desired from an esthetic standpoint. The Sapien Ped comes with a lifetime guarantee as well, which is cool.

“The support is all internal, which I suppose is why it’s so heavy. The zero drop is also a positive, for me, as it provides a more natural feel while running, almost like wearing nothing at all,” Don added. “Probably the weakest feature of the shoe is the laces. It doesn’t really have any. But nonetheless, it fits incredibly snugly. Never slips or rubs.”

Other users comment on the shoe’s unparalleled traction, which compares favorably with the best rock climbing shoes.

World’s most waterproof shoe ever?

Whether on the trail, through a creek, or simply on a rainy day outside, the Sapiens Ped has unmatched waterproofing thanks to a unique coating that surrounds the upper, heel, shank, toes, and sole of the shoe. Extended use of the shoe in extremely wet conditions such as World War I trenches can result in something called “trench shoe,” causing the protective layer to rot and fall off, exposing the internal structure to permanent damage. However, normal use in water for many hours at a time causes only temporary wrinkling. Set them out in the sun for an hour or two and the wrinkling goes away with no damage to the exterior material or the fit. The manufacturer strongly recommends NOT putting them in the washing machine. Care instructions state, “Wipe with a cloth using soapy warm water to restore to original luster.”

Says one long-time user, “The breathability of these shoes is amazing. They wick out moisture better than Gore-Tex.”

The Sapiens Ped also comes with a unique design called the “Free Toe-Box.” Essentially mimicking the function of a human foot, the Sapiens Ped, through use of its proprietary extensible outer material, allows the toes to move freely without coming into contact with any material that might cause chafing, rubbing, or blisters. According to James Watson and Francis Crick, lead shoe developers with Double Helix, LLC, the company that designed the Sapiens Ped, “The free toe-box allows the toes to grip, flex, and absorb impact without bumping into the body of the shoe. There is also a degree of foot flex that you get with the Sapiens Ped that other shoes simply can’t match.”

However, the Sapiens Ped’s most revolutionary design is its proprietary “EverTough” sole. Chemicals sent through complex signaling pathways actually repair the sole of the shoe as it wears, paradoxically creating a stronger, more resistant, and more puncture-proof bottom the more you use it. Crick & Watson remain mum on how this works, but our lab testers and road testers were astounded at this apparently “regenerative” sole.

Samuel Tiras, one of the lead testers, remarked on how the heel and big toe of the shoe became incredibly hard after only a few weeks of use. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “This stuff works.”

Nothing’s perfect …

Despite all these amazing benefits, the Sapiens Ped isn’t without a few downsides. First is smell. Excessive use without proper cleaning will result in unpleasant odors, according to Pepper the Cat.

Moreover, the appearance of the Sapiens Ped, although not the functionality, severely degrades over time. When fresh out of the box they appear pinkish (also available in black, brown, and olive), and are incredibly soft and cute. Since this is a long-term purchase, and since use causes thickening of the sole and other contact points, after 40 or 50 years you probably wouldn’t want to take these kicks to Cinderella’s Ball.

One final warning: these shoes are NOT dog-proof. An unlucky strike by a nasty little Dachshund, for example, can result in fibrous tears of the upper. Although messy, the self-repairing red fluid contained under the inner lining of the shoe will restore the integrity of the shoe’s integument. Scarring, however, may result, adding to the shoe’s diminishing esthetic value if you’re also planning to wear it to your wedding.

In sum, we recommend these as the most minimalist barefoot shoe on the market. They’ve been around for several million years and the design has literally withstood the test of time. Of the models we tested, they also came in as the cheapest; consumers report that the average market price is “free,” although delivery can be expensive depending on the length of the hospital stay.

Whether minimalist barefoot running shoes are for you, it’s a certainty that after just a few runs you’ll take these kicks with you wherever you go.


The dog of small things

July 20, 2022 Comments Off on The dog of small things

It is a fact that the older you get the more you have to hurt if you want avoid hurting.

When you are young, you have to hurt to improve. But when you are old you are going to hurt no matter what and then die, maybe not even in that order, so the choice isn’t about what to do to get better, but what to do to get worse more slowly.

A lot of old people are like a lot of young people. They don’t like to hurt, period, so they settle into a life-death spiral of constant pain and discomfort. That can be the discomfort of not shitting well every morning. It can be the discomfort of insomnia. The pain of bad ankles, creaky knees, a bad back, or simply the general painful malaise of being locked inside a body that can’t go easily up a staircase or that can’t cross a parking lot without a lot of sweat, stink, and agony, or even a body that is too stiff or mushy or plain old fat to squeeze comfortably inside anything smaller than a giant recliner.

Kristie maintains that the older you get, the faster you have to move. There’s actually scientific research on this and some day I’ll dig it up and post it. But not today.

Today I’m going to talk about what happened when I did eight successive 30-second sprints, with 1-minute rests, on my morning 4-mile run that gains about 1,000 feet in the first two miles up to the turnaround.

What happened is that it hurt a lot. Sprinting when you are old and slow is not fun, though at the end there’s a kind of disbelief bath that washes over you. “I did that?” becomes “I did that!”

In the afterglow there emerged a morning glow, the burst of sunlight over the eastern peaks. I stopped my warm-down jog and whipped out my camera. You have five to ten minutes of that sideways light and then it’s over.

I focused the lens on as many small things as I could find and let the sideways light do all the heavy lifting. Small things, whether 30-second-old-man-hobble-sprints, or a bee in a flower, belong to the same dog. Arf.


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