LOCATION: Tyler State Park in Newtown (Bucks County), PA
TIME: 12 NOON to 4 PM
CONDITIONS: Warm and sunny, Temps in the 80s F
PARTICIPANTS: Barefoot Chris, Debbie, Josh (age 11), Derek (age 13), Eric (age 13).
On Sunday, August 30, 1998, the Barefoot Hikers of PA met for another hike at Tyler State Park in Newtown, Bucks County, PA. Today, I was joined by four TENDERFOOTS, our name for first-time hikers: Debbie, her children Josh (age 11), Derek (age 13) and Derek's friend Eric (also 13). Due to a missed turn, Debbie and her clan arrived a bit late. I had already begun to explore the park under the bright midday sun. The temperature had already warmed into the low 90s Fahrenheit and the humidity was moderate. As could be expected, many park visitors were enjoying wading in the stream near a dam and pedestrian bridge. As the sun glistened above the water, hikers, walkers, bicyclists and people on horseback crossed the bridge and disappeared onto the many trails through the park. After a brief exploration period, I returned to the parking lot. I soon heard someone calling out to me from a car. She asked if I was a Barefoot Hiker and I confirmed that I was. She parked and shed her shoes, leaving them behind and encouraging the boys to do the same. The older boys placed their sneakers into a backpack to bring along, but Debbie and Josh chose to abandon their footwear altogether. As fate would have it, the parking lot area is quite rough. Composed of black asphalt, it had already warmed to uncomfortable levels by that point under the glaring late-summer sun. Almost immediately upon exiting the car, the newcomers felt its effects, though Josh seemed relatively unfazed. I pointed out some of the tips for surviving the asphalt, such as standing on the shadows made by cars and the painted white stripes which can be significantly cooler than the rest of the lot. I then assured them, quite honestly, that crossing the parking lot would be the most difficult part of the hike.
After our introductions and a quick dash across the parking lot, we began our hike, crossing the warm, smooth concrete of the pedestrian bridge to reach the many park trails. I chose a trail which I had explored on a previous visit to the park--an equestrian trail. We crossed through some mid-length green grass which tickled the soles and onto a trail which began with smooth, rounded pebbles. However, I knew from experience that it would soon smooth out to a path of comfortable dirt. In my experience, the equestrian trails, composed of packed dirt, usually make for more interesting barefoot hiking than the multi-use trails which are designed for hikers and bikers, and hence are paved. Paved trails are far less comfortable and interesting underfoot than more natural terrain. After pushing through a brief thicket where tall shoulder-length weeds skirted the trail closely on both sides, we reached a clear path under the cover of leafy shade trees which cooled the temperature considerably, allowing for comfortable walking in the day's heat. For most of its length, the trail paralleled the wide creek which was dotted with occasional canoes gliding effortlessly. Beneath our feet was relatively uncluttered packed dirt with a dusty coating. Occasionally, we had to dodge the remnants left behind by the trail's intended users. At other times, muddy spots left behind by prior rains loomed before us. By this point, Josh led the pack and happily plunged into the squishy mud, sinking up to his ankles. The other boys followed suit, as did I, feeling the squishy mud ooze between my toes then dry onto my feet as I walked on. At first, Debbie tried to dodge the muddy spots, but soon surrendered and enjoyed the squishing of mud between her own bare toes. While walking through this wooded area, we were startled by a large and colorful caterpillar with horns.
Next, we crossed another section of paved path, continuing onto the equestrian trail on the other side, which again was exposed to the glaring sun. The ground beneath us was very warm and beach-like sand which had occasional mid-sized rocks to provide a challenge to the newcomers, who quickly discovered the annoying discomfort that occurs when a rock strikes the underside of the foot at the wrong angle. Nonetheless, they all adjusted quickly with Josh leading the pack. Soon, the rocks gave way to relatively smooth sand as we crossed a wide open field. Along the way, I used one of Debbie's cigarettes to demonstrate an interesting trick which is quite simple for a conditioned barefooter but somewhat startling to an uneducated bystander. After a brief pause at the convergence of three trails to chat and rest, we continued onto the covered bridge trail. A scenic, old-fashioned covered bridge loomed before us. First, however, we had to cross a few hundred feet of gravel on a small hill! Most of us, myself included, were somewhat daunted by this difficult terrain. Josh, however, quickly made his way to the top and began to explore the bridge. The rest of us slowly crossed the gravel and joined him in the cool shade of the bridge, where the old wood felt cool and dusty beneath our tired soles. We took pictures at the bridge before moving on.
After a brief detour, we started to circle back onto an equestrian trail which led back along the creek the way we had come. At this point, Derek and Eric chose to don their sneakers, as their feet were feeling the strain of what had turned into a rather long hike for beginners. The next section of trail was again packed dirt, but populated by occasional rocks and twigs which proved painful to the tired soles of the first-time hikers. Josh continued on, keeping up with the now-shod older boys, proving that bare feet are indeed quite adequate for any terrain. Debbie fell slightly behind, her feet feeling the discomfort which is not uncommon among first-time hikers, especially after such a long hike. I too dropped back, apparently lacking the youthful energy possessed by the boys. After perhaps a half mile, the trail rejoined the trail the original one and we retraced our path, occasionally encountering other hikers and horseback riders. We picked up the pace once we returned to this familiar and easy terrain. The boys continued undaunted and Debbie and I got a second wind. Debbie even admitted that her feet felt better and were again feeling quite well, after the lingering discomfort of the rougher terrain passed.
We returned to our starting point. Before crossing the bridge again, we all walked down to the water's edge, soaking our feet in the cool, almost cold, but quite refreshing creek. We washed away some of the mud which covered our feet before crossing the bridge and purchasing some well-deserved treats from an ice cream vendor. We again talked briefly. Debbie and Josh admitted that they had a great time and their feet felt pretty good--Debbie indicated that they would definitely join a future hike. Derek and Eric were somewhat uncertain but said it was an interesting experience as well. I again congratulated everyone for doing so well their first time out, noting that we had hiked further than on any previous group hike, covering three miles and nearly three hours. Then, Debbie and the boys departed, returning to their cars across a now somewhat cooled parking lot, as the sun had begun to set.
"Hi!!! Well we survived our first hike. It was a lot of fun and I noticed Josh is choosing to go barefoot quite a bit. He was so proud of himself that he did so well. "My feet didn't hurt that much. After we got home I took a shower and scrubbed my feet down - no hidden damage. Actually didn't hurt at all. What was sore were my ankles and calves but a good sore like how you feel after you first start to exercise. "We want to thank you. It was a good time and I too think we did pretty darn good."