These pages are not legal documents. They are not intended to be legal documents.
The main purpose of these pages is to make the idea of going barefoot more accessible to people, especially people like me who have been forced to suffer needlessly in shoes, and who may not realize that there is another option, and also to make people more aware of the needless barriers to going barefoot, in the hopes of effecting change.
It's also a stress reliever for me, an attempt to be more proactive in dealing with these issues, an attempt to have some fun in the middle of all of it.
Some pages have had their links removed. The pages are still there, and will stay there as long as I am with my current web host.
April, 2012, updated February 2013
I am the Anti-Cinderella of the shoe world. My feet are so wide and square toed that no shoe will fit on my foot, even with the considerable deformation my feet have experienced from shoes over the years. And I'm not about to cut off toes to land that prince!
Like many people in North America, I assumed it was illegal to go barefoot in town (we were encouraged to go barefoot at the cottage); that if I did dire things would happen. I would be arrested, I could go to jail, the sky would fall! You know, all those dire things kids imagine when their parents tell them they have to but don't really have a reason why.
Even when I met someone who was barefoot full time except when rescuing animals in disasters, I still figured it must be actually illegal, but that she just hadn't gotten caught yet.
Then I came across this article: You Walk Wrong by Adam Sternbergh, and my mind blew open. And I exploded. Anger, decades of bottled up stress, it all came pouring out. Not only was it perfectly legal to go barefoot in town, but it was also actually healthier! How dare they force me into decades of real suffering for nothing! Just a dress code! I was furious, in a good way. A truly righteous anger.
After looking around to see which stores I would be banned from (The Bay downtown in Vancouver - though they took the "shirt and shoes required" stickers off their doors that summer - and the liquor store, which didn't matter because I don't drink) and which were fine (no indications of bare feet rules for either Vancouver transit or Vancouver Public Library on their websites), I started going barefoot full time.
I was scared to start where everyone could see me, because my feet were very sensitive. I'd been barefoot indoors for many years, but outside my feet were quite tender. So I went on a hike to Burke Mountain, somewhere I'd been going often to do trailwork. And when I got to the start of the trail I was working on, off came my shoes, hopefully for the last time.
Here are the shoes I was wearing that summer:
The laces are tied like that to take pressure off my high instep.
And here are my feet on that day, newly liberated:
Note the difference in shape and width! And I had just taken my feet out of my shoes. Which is why they look pretty wrinkled.
So I thought it would be easy. Because I had gone barefoot every summer for a decade at the cottage. You know, 30 to 40 years earlier. It was not easy. It was brutally difficult. If you are going to go barefoot for any distance to start with, a washed out gravel road is not the place to start. A soft forest trail, or a grassy lawn, or even a very smooth sidewalk, but not a washed out gravel trail. It took me close to an hour to manage a hike that would normally take me ten to fifteen minutes. My foot muscles were ridiculously weak, and walking on boulders was hard work. In addition, my soles were so tender that walking on anything that was not completely smooth and flat (like my floors at home) hurt.
I persevered that day, and continued barefoot on the way down the hill, too, but at a certain point I got so tired I gave up and put my shoes back on again. I wore them to the bus stop, took them off while waiting for the bus, boarded the bus with them in my hands, and never wore them again.
But I didn't go back to the mountain for a long time.
It was the middle of summer, and hot, so I was content to sit around at home most of the time. I went on two or three trips to the grocery store (15 minutes each way), going "ouch ouch ouch" all the way, and often cheating by walking on the grass beside the sidewalk. (The sidewalks in this neighbourhood were not perfectly smooth, which didn't help. They actually had quite a lot of pitting.) I think I may have taken a trip to the library as well, to stock up on stuff to read while I recovered from walking to the bus stop and back. I was, and still am (as of April 2012, the time of writing), on disability, so didn't have a job to go to.
The second week I started to speed up as my initial sensitivity wore off. I had a dentist's appointment and walked the 25 minutes each way. I started to get my first blister on the way back, and got a second one the same day when I walked about 30 minutes to see a movie preview I had a free pass for. My first blisters were on my right, dominant, foot - one on the ball of the foot below the second and third toes, the other on the outside of the heel. Back to sitting around at home a lot while my feet recovered/adapted.
The first set of blisters cleared up in about a week, at which point I got the same blisters on my left foot, which also lasted for a week. That was week three of barefooting. Week four involved a blister on the ball of my right foot below my fourth and fifth toes, and week five the same blister on my left foot.
So it took about five weeks to break my feet in, which is longer than average, but when you consider how immobilized my feet had been in shoes and how unused those parts of my feet were to being walked on, it's not surprising. I never had problems with blisters below my big toe or on the main part of my heel, because they got plenty of traction in shoes. Someone whose shoes actually resemble the shape of their undeformed feet isn't going to have to go through the same amount of toughing up.
One more thing that I discovered: I went for a hike in Lighthouse Park during the fifth week. This park, which is within West Vancouver city limits, has nice soft forest floor trails for the most part, and even though I had painful blisters on my feet, they didn't hurt when I walked on the soft uneven surface. It was walking on sidewalks that was hurting my feet, because of the repeated impact on exactly the same place every time I took a step. Something to think about, for those who are transitioning.
For those who are just starting out going barefoot outside, Richard Keith Frazine's The Barefoot Hiker (1993, out of print) has some good recommendations and is free online - it's what I used to get myself out the door, so to speak. There will be more books coming, as the barefoot movement spreads, but this one is a classic.
So my feet were toughening up, and it was time to go back to my regular life, right? Wrong.
One thing, which I will mention quickly here, is that the muscles in my feet were still seriously weak, and I simply couldn't do the hiking I'd been doing before until they had a chance to get stronger. So I tried to go back to my trail work, but I ended up getting too tired. I was trying to do too much at once (the transition takes quite a while longer than you might imagine, at least it did for me), plus it was during the fall when I often have lower energy levels due to less light. Today my feet are thick ("swollen" according to one person) with muscle. You can't see my bones poking through. That's the way it's supposed to be. But it took a while to get there and I should have been more patient.
The next spring they looked like this:
I had to insert this picture just for fun. I was out hiking and had just reached the snowline.
And two years later, April 2012:
Woohoo! Muscle! (And probably some brown fat, to keep my feet warm.) But building up your foot strength is just a fitness concern. The real problem was that it turns out the law wasn't so simple after all.