Barefoot and Fancy Free

Interested in cutting down on your luggage size and weight to adapt to those pesky airline baggage restrictions? Want to free yourself from the constrictions and conventions of clothing? Maybe you should take up barefoot hiking. On the heels of articles about Ron Zaleski, a retired health-club owner from Long Island, that he was walking the Appalachian Trail barefoot, the New York Times just ran a story yesterday about barefoot hiking clubs.

And both of these stories followed in the footsteps of a story from the Times last Saturday about barefoot water skiing championships. Is this a trend? Apparently, it’s no longer challenging enough to just walk or run around with shod feet. More punishment is necessary.

While these hikers say this puts them more in touch with the earth, literally and figuratively, experts are skeptical about the practice. The Times quoted Dr. David Samuel, a podiatric surgeon as saying, “I’m sure a lot of Neanderthals died from foot infections.” And a quick search turns up a host of nasty bugs such as hookworm (present in Appalachia), roundworm, and various parasites that one can pick up through the feet, not to mention injuries. The threats are downplayed by some barefoot walking societies.

Mr. Zaleski intends to finish his 2174-mile trek before Christmas, probably hoping to minimize his chances of frostbite. This would make him the first man to have accomplished this feet, er, feat.