Saturday, July 04, 2009

Some Notes on Maine

By Diana Hsieh

Paul and I spent four delightful days hiking in Acadia in Maine before traveling down to Boston for OCON yesterday. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor, and we hiked various sections of Mount Desert Island. It was our second trip to Acadia; we returned because we enjoyed the hiking so very much last time. The trip did not disappoint: we exhausted ourselves with hours of vigorous hiking each day, then restored ourselves with excellent seafood in the evenings. For example, here we are, as happy as clams, on the top of a hill:

(Click on the picture for a larger version.)

For three of our four days, we hiked on semi-difficult trails -- meaning lots of streams, mud and muck, rocks of all shapes and sizes, exposed tree roots, and some good climbs. Our hikes lasted from four to six hours each day. After the past few months of dissertation work, it was a genuine luxury to be able to physically exhaust myself in that way.

I wore my Vibram Five Fingers on all of these major hikes. Vibram Five Fingers are barefoot "shoes": they protect the feet from cuts and abrasions, while allowing the person the kind and range of motion of bare feet. Here is a picture of me in my Vibram Five Fingers in May:

(Again, click on the picture for a larger version.)

Shortly after my mother took this picture, I ran a very comfortable mile and a half in them on a rocky desert trail. (When running in them, you don't pound-pound-pound like with normal running shoes, and so they're actually easier on your joints. You must be more agile -- and more sensitive to your terrain -- in them.)

I bought my Vibrams last fall: I began hiking and running barefoot in them in a desperate attempt to alleviate serious pain in the balls of my feet due to Morton's neuroma and capsulitis. I'd already tried standard medical treatment -- meaning custom orthotics, steroid shots, heat and ice, and rest. Nothing worked: I couldn't run a half mile without suffering two weeks of crippling foot pain. So last fall, I tried going barefoot, thanks to some posts from Richard of Free the Animal. That solved the problem very quickly -- and finally made clear its cause. Like him, I found the process of learning to walk barefoot quite fascinating! (Maybe I'll post more on that someday.)

I've done quite a bit of running and hiking in my Vibrams, albeit always in dry rather than wet terrain. Acadia was very, very wet. So I was a bit worried about them. However, they passed every test. I had excellent control and perfect grip on slick rocks. My feet didn't get tired, sore, or swollen like they do with hiking boots. I enjoyed the greater control and care required to pick my way through the obstacles on the trail, but they didn't slow me down. Apart from a few spots on my feet rubbed a bit raw -- not surprising given that I hiked over 15 hours in these "shoes" over four days -- they were very comfortable. I expect that I'll use them even more frequently now.

Also, I fasted while hiking. In ages past, I would have been obliged to routinely refuel myself with carbs to prevent myself from collapsing during these kinds of hikes. Now, because my body runs on fat, I was able to eat a smallish breakfast of eggs and fruit, hike for five hours without any food, entirely skip dinner, eat another smallish breakfast of eggs and fruit, then hike for another few hours before eating a snack of nuts, then eat a hearty dinner.

One final tidbit from Maine: I bought some local raw cow's milk at the "alternative" grocery store just a block away from our bed and breakfast. It was excellent -- and what a delight to buy it at a store! The grocery also had some raw goat milk yogurt, but I didn't have time to try that, as I would have liked. However, I did try the pasteurized plain sheep milk yogurt, and that was stellar. It had an extra tang to it, and I definitely liked that. I might try to find a source of sheep's milk in Colorado.

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