On the Trail: Five-mile feet | AspenTimes.com

On the Trail: Five-mile feet

We were an hour or so into our hike along the Escalante River in southern Utah and we’d already crossed the shallow stream three times. At each crossing we’d taken off our shoes and socks, waded across, and then spent several minutes on the opposite bank, scrubbing the sand from our wet feet and putting shoes and socks back on.

On the third go-round, one of our group of four suggested we try walking the next stretch in our bare feet. Being on the banks of a year-round stream in the sandstone Escalante country, I figured, it just might work.

So we set out, socks and shoes in hand, trudging upstream through sandy soil populated by willow, sage, rabbitbrush, tamarisk and cottonwood. Occasionally we crossed patches of slickrock dusted with the footprints of earlier hikers, but for the most part it was like a walk on the beach ” a beach of fine red sand surrounded by towering cliffs and golden cottonwood trees.

Walking barefoot in the sand reminded us of childhood; we found ourselves talking about summer vacations when we spent every day in tough, calloused bare feet that were immune to the abuses of hot asphalt, gravel or almost anything else. Sadly, our tender adult feet stung whenever we stepped on a goathead bur or a sharp rock in the streambed.

But the barefoot method saved time at every stream crossing and was surprisingly fun. Sand just feels good between your toes ” a simple pleasure easily forgotten. We ended up covering roughly five miles that way.

On the return trip, we laughed at the look of our five-toed footprints against the backdrop of boot treads on the trail and wondered why more hikers hadn’t decided to lose their shoes.

Something to bear in mind next time you’re crossing a stream in canyon country.

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