Saturday, December 28, 2019

A hot, smokey start to summer

Given the number and extent of the bushfires it's no surprise that I'm still in Sydney. No plans to leave for the immediate future. The weather has been hotter and drying than normal. The fires have started earlier, are more numerous and burnt more than ever before. I'll stay in the city for the moment until the situation improves.

I'm feeling more confident on my feet lately. I've been walking a minimium of 12km daily, with some days of 24km. Smoke and heat have limited the larger days. The amount of time it takes has also been a factor. The Keen sandals have been working well, but I miss the open toes of real sandals. So, I've started wearing a pair of Merrell Mojave Sport sandals a couple of days ago. My kind of sandal - no toe box, so the toes wiggle free. Early days yet on them. I've have also patched the Vibrams - so still wearing them sometimes, depending on where or what I'll be walking on.

Besides the shoes, I've been looking at how my body moves. I had thought I knew how to walk. Like, how hard is it? We all get it worked out by about 15 months. I started watching how I walk and reading about gait. I realised how little I knew. It's terribly complicated all the bits that work together for locomation. Where are the feet are pointing, which bit hits the ground first, how hard, are you upright, or hunched forward, pushing off with the rear foot, and on and on.

And then when I started trying to monitor my own walking - what is that foot doing, I was reminded of this quote from Alan Watts, The Way of Zen:

"The centipede was happy, quite,
Until a toad in fun Said,
"Pray, which leg goes after which?"
This worked his mind to such a pitch,
He lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run."

I feel like the centipede. Watching how I walked or trying to change my gait, at times it feels like I can't walk. It is all too much to direct. I feel like a broken puppet and I can't walk unless I direct every action. At times I do end up stopped and need to forget about it for a while. With practice I'm getting better. Less broken feeling and more 'gliding along' times. It's a slow process. In the begining any change feel really weird, and require a huge amount of attention. This also triggers centipede freeze up.

Changes are slow. It takes time paying attention to have the change stick. It is so easy to drift back to the old way. It also takes times for muscles and tendons to adapt to some of the changes. Things hurt, ache or feel tired really fast. I have to pace the effort. A little bit each day, slowly increasing the length of time. Then one day, I notice that the change has stuck and it doesn't feel weird anymore.

I'm still working on it.

This has a bit of a guide about walking technique.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Footwear (again)

Not the post I was hoping to make.  My cart is still resting beside me and not adventuring along the roads (yet).

Since the last post there has been a seemingly never ending stream of unexpected events that delayed me.  The latest is back to my feet.

Also hoping that adding an update will stop the spam bots.  Maybe they look and see no updates and think the blog is abandoned and so try to post comments. Been getting a lot lately.

A tale of feet footwear sorrow follows.

Sadly I wore a hole in the sole of my Vibram Five Fingers. I returned to Barefoot Inc for another pair, but found their retail store has closed. The building is being refurbished. They are still in business online until they find a new location, but I'd rather try on shoes than do the order/return cycle. Specially as Vibram Five Finger sizing is all over the place. It is not the same size between models, and they keep changing the models. All the Vibrams I have had have been different sizes, and apart from one occasion, different models.  As much as I and my feet like Vibrams, it has been an the increasing hassle finding them. I also really want sandals, specially with summer on the way. Time to try something new.  Something more easily available.

Unshoes looked good. The Pah Tempe 2.0. I liked the strap placement so the toes can wave free, and the options for custom sole sizing. Ordered and they arrived quicker than expected. But I wasn't that happy with them.  The single strap adjustment is a compromise and the hold on the foot always feels loose. I'm still have them and continue to experiment with them, but the telling feature was I went back to wearing the Vibrams with the hole in the sole.

In frustration I tried on a pair of work shoes in Kmart. Heavy with the steel cap, but could work. Decided to look at hiking shoes just to get some shoes and get walking more.

Ended up with a pair of  Keen Newport H2. Pretty much a shoe with holes. I wavered on the sizing, and may have sized wrong with too large. Found out later there is a half size that might be a better fit.  Day one I walked 15 km in them and immediately had sore knees, feet and legs. Lesson: it takes adjustment after Vibrams, go easy.  That eventually settled down, and I was able to increase my walking distance. But now I'm working through blisters - heel, between the toes, and on the toe tips. I had preventative taped spots, but missed a couple - which did blister. Some might be because of callouses, but the heel blister is rubbing on the sandal. I'm not a fan of the moulded foot bed. Trying to decide if I sized wrong, or I just need to cut the moulding away in that spot.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Footwear Choices

Time is flying past and the preparation continues.  Last week, looking at the list decisions to be made and tasks to be done, it seemed grim. But, rapidly it has improved.

Foot wear has been continual problem. What to wear?  I have a home made pair of sandals, that continually needs repair. A pair of Merrell sandals that aren't great. I've modified to improve the fit. They are almost worn out, but I can't bring myself to throw out yet. And a pair of Vibram Five Finger (VFF) Trek Ascent that are worn, but not completely worn out: the pair I walked the Bibbulmun Track in 2017 in. Starting a 2000km+ walk, none of those are going to last the distance. I need new shoes. But what?

My feet are large and broad.
Insoles on tracing of my feet

Modern shoes are weird. Really weird. High heels for everyone. Something that started with  calvary riders to keep help their feet on the stirrups when standing and shooting arrows, became a way to show you were rich enough to afford expensive heeled boots.  Then there are pointy toes.  Peasants had broad wide feet, so the aristocracy showed they were better by wearing pointy shoes.  Because the heel is raised, the sole is hard, so to make stepping easier, the toe area is raised to help the 'step off' part of walking.  And then, the edges of the shoe are raised as well.  I'm not sure if this is a "feature" or just the effect of injection moulding when attaching the top of the shoe to the sole. The edges get more material, to hold the top on, but the center gets less, so the foot bed becomes boat shaped.  The insole goes on top of the foot bed and attempts (unsuccessfully) to fix this.

I've tried the conventional shoes. I really wanted to be able to use them, just because of the ease of finding them. But on the practice walks, I just couldn't keep them on. My feet started to hurt. Worse, the changes wasn't just the feet; the knees, hips and back too.  Months of join pain, toes jammed up, and pushing the cart in heels wasn't want I wanted to do.

(There are problems with wearing heels. The higher the heel, the worse the problems. Researchers use women's high heels for their studies as they are so extreme, but most shoes have heels. Unless you are wearing 'zero drop' shoes).

I really wanted sandals, but haven't been able to find any that tick all the points I want: a flat foot bed, zero drop, no toe raise, no squashing the toes together and no toe post.  Such a sandal surely exists somewhere.  But for now, every time my feet hurt, my go to fix-it shoe is the VFF. I walked the 1000km Biblumun track in VFF's. They work for me. Why was I spending so much time on footwear when I could just wear them again. Decision done. Decided.

Now, where to get a new pair.

Sadly the Trek Ascent model I have is no longer made.  I only had that model through a series of chance events, so this time I wanted to try on different models.  Luckily Sydney has Barefoot Inc.  It's conveniently located near Green Square Station, Alexandria.  Three times I went to look and try on different shoes before I decided.  Besides VFF, I was also looking at Lems, Vivobarefoot and Xero shoes. The staff wear the shoes they are selling. So are able to give real feedback on the different models and their best use. They couldn't have been more helpful.

I left with not one, but two pairs of new VVF.  It was a great deal that was too good to pass up. My feet are thanking me already.  The two pairs are old stock.  Models no longer made.  I'll definitely be back to Barefoot Inc in the future.

Interest point: For anyone thinking that you can't wear barefoot shoes on the road for long distances: Raw Running. In 2013 this couple ran 15,782km around Australia, running 366 marathons (43 km) each in 366 days, no days off in barefoot shoes.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cart improvements, and Training

Day 2 of training and cart adjustments.  I changed how the mesh sits. It is now a single deeper compartment, rather than several segmented sections. I had tried newer handles, but discarded them before starting today. Still more work needed on the handles.

Google maps tells me the walk is 11.4 km on footpaths and fire trails. I had thought the trip was 8 km and hadn't considered the elevation change. I was worried about how slow and out of condition I'm feeling. Knowing it is actually 11.4 km makes me feel better. It's a good mix of hard, rough, sandy and hills. The outbound 5.7 km trip is very easy and fast. The return is another matter: it is up hill all the way except for the last kilometer. Much slower, with more rest stops.  I'm walking with test load of 30 kg of water, plus some tools in case of running repairs. No way pulling it up hill is ever going to be easy. The more I train now, the better I'll feel later. 

From the first walk I have been very happy with the way the cart is working. The cart is light weight, handles well, rolls over obstacles easily, and the shade cloth has been excellent for holding gear in and keeping the center of gravity low. It has surprised me how rough and how uneven the ground I can travel on, and not tip the cart or tip gear out. All this is without a cover over the top, that I'll have later.  I originally wanted a fishing net, but now I think that shade cloth is much better. Small things just stay in the bottom and nothing falls through the holes. The depth of the net sling matters. On the first walk I had it quite high. This gave less load room and meant the handle ends hit the ground first when putting the cart down. This wasn't great for resting as the handles ended up in the dirt all the time. On any slope, stopping the cart moving needed wheel chocks as the handles slide on the ground very easily.  With the changes for today, the load sits on the ground when resting. Downside is that pulling the cart my heels sometimes hit the load even though the distance from the handles to the load start increased. Also, resting, the load sits in the dirt, which is okay when the resting spot is clean and dry, but is going to be a problem when wet and muddy.  I'll have to find a happy medium between the two.  I'm still thinking how to have light weight feet for the handle end that would keep the handles and load out of the dirt, and could let me sit on a low seat for resting too.

There are still other changes to make to the cart. The basic design of the cart will stay the same. It works well pushing or pulling it. I will add a hip belt as that makes pulling it uphills easier, helps with resisting on the downhills. It feels like it saves energy, else I have to grip the handles hard enough to transmit the push/pull force. On the flats a hip belt gives my hands a rest. But the pull handles need to be far enough apart to not bang on my hips when walking.

Brakes would be nice to add some drag for the downhills. I can walk in front and push back to slow or stop the cart, but walking behind and resisting is safer. On my first walk, my foot slipped on one of the downhills and while I didn't fall, I did realise that if I had, the cart would have run me over.  With changes for today, this is less likely, as the load hits the ground if the handles lower too far. But on a steep hill, the cart could still run me over before the load dragging stops the cart moving. 

Mudguards are an essential addition. Even on dry ground, sand, dirt and leaves stick to the tyres and fall off into the cart.  Mud and muddy water will also end up inside without mudguards.

Something to sort urgently is footwear. I've had a lot of trouble with my feet over the past few years and worry that without the right footwear, the trip will be very short.  Modern footwear fashions are crazy:  heels with narrow and pointy toes.  I'm still wearing Vibram Five Fingers, which are excellent for being flat, having amble width, and not compressing the toes. But they are wearing out. Now in training time is the best time if I'm going to replace them with something else. But what?

Thanks to Terri who provided the photo of me on the fire trail with the test load.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sydney: Cart number x

Not sure where I'm up to in the cart count. Too many have been conceived, half or fully built and then torn apart to start again. But this feels closer to final. A test walk soon will help decide if this is the case or not. 

I originally wanted a bed base structure so that I could take the wheels off it and sleep a couple of centimeters off the ground. But as construction progressed, the weight increased, until that started to become a problem.  Back to ground sleeping without the platform. And the build is lighter.  

If the trial goes well, I'll add eye holes to shade cloth to help tie down the load. A tarp will go over the top for weather protection.