LOCATION: Ridley Creek State Park, Outside Newtown Square, PA (Delaware County)
TIME: 12 noon to 4 PM
CONDITIONS: Partly cloudy and brisk, Temps in the Mid-50s F
PARTICIPANTS: Christopher Roat, Bill Shakely, Christian Bradley, Pat Gruzenski, Jessie Moore, Gary Soulsman, Tom
If you can find it, read Gary Soulsman's 10/31/99 Wilmington News Journal article entitled "Two Feet Closer to Mother Earth."
On Saturday, October 23, 1999, I drove to Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County, PA, for another meeting of the Barefoot Hikers of PA. The skies were partly cloudy as I arrived and temps were hovering in the low 50s. My feet stepped from the car and felt the cool but comfortable ground beneath them. I was first joined by Tom, a photographer for the Wilmington (DE) News Journal, who quickly spotted my bare feet and Barefoot Hikers shirt. Shortly after, veteran hiker Chris Bradley arrived and exited his car barefoot. Gary Soulsman, the reporter from the News Journal, arrived next. We began to chat and Gary asked some background questions for his article, which Chris and I gladly answered. Bill Shakely, another experienced barefoot hiker, pulled up at noon and joined the group. As we stood answering questions, the sun came out and began to warm the air and ground. Tom took a few pictures of us (and our feet) for the paper. Around 1 PM, our final hikers arrived. Pat had faced some serious delays from road construction in Delaware, but we were happy to see her always bare feet hop out of her truck. Pat brought along her barefoot granddaughter Jessie, another experienced barefooter at the tender (but surely not tender-footed!!) age of 5.
After a few more questions and pictures, we followed Bill Shakely to the start of the park's WHITE TRAIL, crossing through a wonderful grassy field onto a dirt trail covered with a spongy carpet of fallen leaves. Fallen leaves provide a wonderful soft and carpet-like feeling underfoot, though they do give the added challenge of hiding twigs and rocks, so the feet must be fully aware of the sensations beneath them to counter any unexpected terrain. Still, for most of the trail, with a few brief sections of gravel, rock, or tree roots, the surface beneath the leaves was soft dirt and mud--a bit wet but not gooey in most places. Occasional patches of wood chips were positively springy underfoot. We wound our way through the park, up hills and down, beneath a canopy of red, gold, yellow, and green leaves. Our bare feet provided great traction as always, especially on steep downhill segments covered with treacherous wet leaves. As we crossed a few streams in the park, we just waded through, stepping from rock to underwater rock. The water was brisk, but not nearly as chilly as I had expected, and our feet dried quickly as we exited the water. We crossed a few paved roads and a few dusty wooden footbridges. We even found one spot where the mud was sufficiently gooey to leave a few bare footprints. The air had warmed to the mid-50s and was quite pleasant and comfortable, though a chill passed through us when the sun hid behind the clouds and a breeze blew. Even Gary opted to join us barefoot for a segment of the trail. Sadly though, he chose a not-so-wonderful portion of the trail at which to introduce his feet to the sensations of the ground after they had been so long trapped in shoes. Hopefully, he will join us again in the future and start the hike barefoot, giving his feet time to adjust properly. Nonetheless, he did well and we applaud his first time effort. :-)
"Is this barefoot hiking?" asked Jessica. "Yes it is," replied proud grandmother Pat.
Jessica Moore, at left, did an especially good job for her young age. She kept up with the group for the entire 3 hour hike. Her well-conditioned soles were unbothered by even the rougher segments of trail--brief downhills with random rocks or gravel cover and stray tree roots. In fact, a few times she even ran ahead and circled back to us. She would often stop to wander from the trail and explore fallen logs. Decaying logs provide a wonderful sensation underfoot and a natural "balance beam" to cross. Jessie also loved climbing into larger trees, her nimble toes easily grabbing the bark. She also climbed a few large boulders with ease, happily explaining that she has "sticky feet." She is a water child as well...and would stop to check out the water whenever we passed within sight distance of a stream. :-) She did a great job, showing just what natural and unweakened bare feet can do with ease and comfort. So, I am happy to make her an OFFICIAL Barefoot Hiker--our youngest yet--just a week short of her 6th birthday. Way to go, Jessie!!! Stay barefoot!
After climbing one last steep section of trail, we followed the paved road back to our starting point and said our goodbyes. This turned out to be one of our longest hikes, at 3 hours and roughly 5 miles. Still, everyone felt great and our soles, as always, were unharmed and felt wonderful. :-)