When barefooting becomes a virus

My original starting point as a barefoot runner and barefoot hiker has been explained in a previous post. The interesting part is that over the past year of barefoot life, barefooting is becoming like a virus, infecting my friends with the desire to start experiencing the same freedom and fun.

Hong Kong, a positive attitude to barefooting

It must be said that the generally positive attitude encountered on hiking trails when they see you barefooting in Hong Kong is quite encouraging. So far, I have yet to encounter a negative response to barefoot hiking or running.

Most of the accounts coming from Europe or the US talk about the social stigma associated with walking or being barefoot. In Hong Kong, on the contrary, and it is probably linked to the Chinese culture of reflexology, there is an acute awareness of the benefits of barefooting.

We were stopped by an older man (shod) who gave us a little pep talk which went like this:

We all know how good barefooting is for our health. Yet, very few of us go out of our comfort zone and do it”.

Old man on the trail

Those thoughts sum up the cringe or instinctive response to barefooting in a nutshell. When you dare go out of your comfort zone for the first time, everything else becomes so liberating.

This positive response, heard on the trails, plays as an encouragement and positive reinforcement for those who start barefooting.

Barefoot hike on Jat's incline.
Capture of our barefoot hike with Matthew on Jat’s incline.

When it transmits like a virus!

The fact that you are capable of barefooting along great distances can act as an incentive to friends who might take the step more easily. Often, people are scared of barefooting if they are alone (“comfort zone” again). When they are in a group, it becomes more “acceptable”, as the group shields the individual from directly facing the eyes of the others…

At any rate, the virus of barefooting has slowly transmitted to my friends.

We started first with Matthew, going out for barefoot runs together, then for barefoot hikes

Later, my other friend, Bailey, got also convinced to do a barefoot hiking, especially as he saw me targeting one after the other, the most challenging places such as Suicide Cliff, or Lantau Peak.

Hiking barefoot in group

So, in the end, we agreed to meet up and start a barefoot hike together, including his mother, Linda. Linda has been also barefoot hiking for quite a while and is an experienced barefooter. We chose to take the trail from Shatin to Kowloon peak, as it is an easy trail acceptable for a beginner.

Pro and beginner barefooters
Linda, the pro barefooter and Bailey, the beginner…

It was thus that on the path, Linda kept progressing at a quick rate, Bailey instead huffing and puffing, as the rough terrain was taking a toll on his unconditioned feet. Nevertheless, he managed to hike all the way without wearing his shoes!

Barefooting on the trails…

The beauty of hiking barefoot is that you can dip your feet in any small stream, or wet them to refresh them.

Fresh water on bare feet
Bailey and Linda enjoying fresh water on bare feet

The beauty of keeping fit

Incredibly, Linda showed us quite some feat of suppleness in her stretches during our hike. Thanks to her hard work, this lady keeps an incredible joint suppleness.

Maximum  stretch
Maximum barefoot stretch on Jat’s Incline!

This shows that barefooting certainly increases your tendon flexibility and ease of extension.


Stretching barefoot
Linda stretching in the middle of a barefoot hike

Running downhill

As you may know, I often run downhill Kowloon Peak, after a hike around the mountain. Lately, I started long runs around the mountain, which end up with a downhill run.

Most of the time, I try to take the Wong Tai Sin route to add some mileage to my runs. Sometimes, however, I take the “short” route and run down Jat’s Incline, which amounts to roughly 9 to 10 kms from doorstep to doorstep.

The road can be quite rough in places, so it was a bit of a stretch for Bailey to run down, but he and his mother managed to do it with a great smile!

Hiking barefoot and running down Kowloon Peak!

Barefooting alone is nice, doing it together is even better!

In the end, because we are a social animal, we tend to enjoy experiences in common more than alone… Communication and sharing the benefits of barefooting (without all the nonsense of “grounding”) may incite friends to join you on the trails. In Hong Kong and Asia, at least, barefooting can be done in a fun way.

Barefoot biking from Shatin to Plover Cove… an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscape!

Last week-end, a friend of mine, Matthew, took me around on a bike ride, from Shatin to Plover Cove. The interesting part of this bike ride is that the whole ride takes place on biking lanes and in a very lovely seaside atmosphere. It is also an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscapes on the way, as the whole area has some gorgeous views.

Renting a bike

Renting a bike is very easily done near the river, in Shatin. The total price is about 60 HKD for a whole day. You can also rent “family bikes” (sort of 4-wheeled bikes for several persons to ride). All you need to do is to leave your id card information.

As I run and hike now more or less regularly barefoot, I decided to go for biking barefoot. Obviously, the pedals of a mountain bike do leave a dent, but my feet have become sufficiently conditioned now, not to suffer an exaggerated inconvenience.

After that, as long as you follow the coastline, it is an easy scenic ride along Tolo Harbour. Along the way, you can come across some interesting sights. Like for example, the wonderful Tsz Shan monastery.

 

Tsz Shan Monastery

This monastery is quite recent, as it was completed only in 2015. Its main feature is the statue of the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. At 76 meters tall, this white bronze statue towers now over the Tolo harbour, being a recognizable landmark. The monastery is quite popular, to the point that it enforces a strict online booking policy to visit it. If you want to enter, bookings must take place at least one month in advance.

Tsz Shan Monastery
The statue of Guan Yin at Tsz Shan Monastery

The other way of taking a peak inside this monastery, is to fly a drone above or around, which is what I did with my Mavic Pro. The monastery was built thanks to financing from Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Hong Kong. It was even rumored that the Guan Yin statue would be his tomb in the future, but he denied the story.

I also filmed the various places we visited, from Tsz Shan Monastery to Plover Cove:

 

Plover Cove

Plover Cove is another interesting spot, pretty much at the end of the 30-kms ride from Shatin. Originally, a piece of Tolo Harbour, this portion of the sea was drained in order to make it a reservoir of freshwater for Hong Kong. Its dam is reputed for having been the greatest such work at the time of its construction (in the 1960s). Today, the place is an ideal vacation spot for many hongkongers who enjoy riding bicycles on the dam, or flying kites.

Plover Cove reservoir
Plover Cove, with on the left the freshwater side and on the right the sea

Of course, I had to take a “dronie” with Matthew on that occasion.

Plover cove dronie
A “dronie” of Matthew and me on Plover Cove reservoir dam

Tolo Harbour is also used for quite a number of nautical sports. Some people use a sailing board, others prefer waterskiing. Here, you can see a group practicing sailing board with the Tsz Shan monastery appearing in the background.

Tolo Harbour
Sailing Board in Tolo Harbour

 

Getting back

After the exhilarating 30 kms ride to Plover Cove, now came the time to ride back! Although the path was as flat going as coming back, of course, muscles started feeling the effort.

Also, if you can do it at all, do leave in the morning. In the afternoon, plenty of people who do not know to ride start appearing and are a real hazard on biking paths. In that, the return was rather more stressful than the first leg of the trip.

Once we got back to Shatin and returned the bikes, my feet were slightly tender from biking for several hours barefoot. I thus decided to go home barefoot. And obviously, this involved the challenge of taking the MTR… barefoot!

Barefoot in the MTR
The escalator does not feel painful at all, contrary to what you might expect.

I went barefoot all the way, until home. Most people didn’t look at my feet, those who did, didn’t care. I was in a sportive attire, so I guess this attracted less attention too.

The reason for doing this was partly to challenge my own comfort zone, partly also to test my limits too. I did use a public toilet in Shatin, but I wore my sandals (could not conceive walking in the urine of others).

Nevertheless, the whole experience was interesting and liberating. I might swear I had more looks from other bikers on my biking barefoot than while in the MTR!

After the exercise, my glutes were quite tired as it had been quite a few years since I had done a long bike ride (I used to ride for long distances in Belgium). But this shows the different facets of Hong Kong. A city where biking or hiking is just a few MTR stations away from the urban sprawls of the center.