Connecting with nature is really all about the footwear...at least for me.
Historically, I have always been a reluctant and rather whiny hiker. I never "got" the whole "communing with nature" thing. Never really understood what that meant and being physically uncomfortable with blisters and sore feet really took away from any attempt to obtain that experience. Before our honeymoon Evan helped get me fitted with a good pair of hiking boots. While they helped somewhat in my confidence in stepping, it did not help the enjoyment factor ....or the whining.
And then came Vibram Five Fingers...the barefoot alternative. ( A GREAT BIG HUGE THANKS to my friend Gina for telling me about them!!) I love being barefoot, but that does come with a certain risk of injury so it isn't ideally suited for all outdoor adventures. Before making the purchase I read online about them. It's essentially a thin vibram skin that covers the bottom of your foot. They fit like a glove. These shoe-socks are sold at running stores and are touted as one of the best running shoes so that you can achieve the perfect form of a Kenyan Olympian. As soon as you remove shoes, your body will intuitively correct itself. For example, if you slam
your heels, you won't in these. Then you can retrain your muscles to move in the correct form. Or so I have gathered from reading and can imagine after wearing them...
I couldn't get over the look of them at first. But Gina has never steered me wrong, so I looked up where to find them. (Camping with Wi-Fi, yes that's my speed.) They had them at a running store in Portland, ME while on vacation so we stopped. I tried them on. They were WEIRD looking at first. I walked around. Evan tried a pair and said, "Not for me Thanks." I wore them out of the store like a kid with a new pair of sneakers. I was warned to go slowly at first as muscles in your feet and calves will have to get used to the new footwear. I hiked a bit around a park the first day in them and 2 days later I jogged in them. My lower calves were a little bit sore, but nothing too serious.
Then we started hiking in Acadia National Park in Maine. And this is where I fell in love with them. They are the best hiking shoes I have ever worn. I had read that you feel "connected with nature" when you can feel the earth beneath your feet. Gina had also said something like this. I didn't really know what that meant. How could I like nature more just with a pair of shoes? I still don't know the answer, but I do know its true. Something about feeling the roots and rocks beneath your feet (minus any stabbing, cutting or blisters) and gripping rocks with an almost lizard like ability feels AMAZING! I have never felt so connected to nature and I know I have never liked hiking so much in my life. I couldn't get enough. Every morning I was itching to get out and explore some more. I did do 2 nature walks in the old hiking boots on mostly gravel trails and I certainly didn't enjoy those as much as bouldering in the Five Fingers. I also used them for canoeing and in water they are just like water socks/shoes. They dry quickly in the sun too.
The only experience I can compare it to is natural childbirth. Not the pain part, the connection part. Giving birth without drugs gave me such a connection to the process. I could move my body freely and intuitively as I needed to. It didn't require thinking, it was just a deep understanding, a primitive knowing. That is the difference in these shoes. I could feel the earth, the terrain, and my body could move and adjust accordingly without having to over-think it.
The shoe-sock look garnered a lot of comments and compliments on the trails. One barefoot hiker we encountered had visited the same store in Portland and they had to special order his size. A 12 year old boy told me I could climb like Spiderman, which is a compliment of the highest level I think .
I don't know if there is any way of describing the experience adequately, but if you like being barefoot, you'll just have to try them for yourself.