Performative Barefooting for AMC, Chapter 2: double connection

My first few of tries at crossing paths with AMC groups in the woods had mixed success, but nonetheless were the seeds of a new hobby -- to simply find them and visibly pass by, affirming to their participants that barefoot hiking is a healthy alternative that real people can practice and enjoy.  In May 2023 I had a particularly successful outing, managing to meet the AMC group coming the other way *twice*, at very different places on our respective loops.  The trip leader, someone I know who actually used to come to the local Wednesday morning outings, made her plan fairly obvious in the listing.

Mag's Harold Parker / BCT trip listing
AMC trip listing

Let me describe a little bit about the hike leader, since I know her.  While she has a fair amount of hiking experience throughout her life, she never seemed interested in learning enough about Harold Parker to know where she was on our Wednesdays or even lead one -- even though I encouraged her to!.  She also claimed that she never hiked alone, always with a group.  Her particular quirk was the amount of gear she would bring along for a mild two-hour stroll, with a substantial day-pack with a Camelback water pouch, boots, full gaiters, several clothing layers, poles, and definitely the microspikes in winter.  It took her quite a while to be *ready* after pulling her car in.  We had a couple of conversations about this, and she was adamant about having all her stuff all the time even if it slowed her down somtimes -- in my mind she became "gear gal".  Nothing really against her, I just found it amusing.  Her strong point was knowing several parks out route 128 toward Beverly and Gloucester, since she lives out that way, and she recommended a couple of good places and even brought me some maps of them.  I did make some of my own forays out that way, and enjoyed what I found.

While fairly assertive in conversation about her own approach to hiking, she seemed to have quite a bit of respect for me regardless, since I could confidently and cheerfully lead groups around the many sections of Harold Parker and decently find my own way in other parks.  She did her thing, I did mine, and we never really *disagreed* about anything.  Eventually her attendance at the Wednesdays dropped off, and soon after stopped entirely.  At one point after a nice slam around Agassiz Rock or the like I sent her email, just to make sure she was okay and tell her that I'd gotten out to appreciate some of her territory, and she said she was fine and had been doing her share of AMC hikes in or near her beloved Beverly spaces.  A little later I was poking around the AMC trip listings just for some ideas, and realized that she had also started *leading* some of them out there.  She was putting her local knowledge to good use!  So I offered to join one of her upcoming trips, with the caveat that I had gotten ignorant and frankly unexpected pushback from various AMC people on my choice of (no) footwear, and had declined to renew my membership.  Would she be willing to "sneak me in", I wondered, just for old times' sake, since it was still apparently "leader's choice" as far as I knew?  All she said in response to that honest inquiry, rather coldly, was

    You just have to register and follow the guidelines as outlined
    in the trip description.
To me, this sounded like she had already drunk the latest AMC leader kool-aid and adopted their same increasingly exclusionist attitude.  That shows through in the text of her Skug/BCT posting, if you think about it, and not particularly surprising given a little insight into her personality.  In some ways, AMC is heavily about gear too, apparently encouraging their leaders to lay down all kinds of rules for their outings that aren't really necessary most of the time unless you *are* up in the Whites and it's cold.  If they want to encourage people to start getting outdoors in general, especially locally where risks are very low, why does it have to imply an expensive trip to REI or EMS first?  In scanning the other trip listings, footwear "requirements" are often specifically mentioned, obviously giving people no credit for making their own decisions and choices.

So it was clear to me that the running anti-barefoot sentiment was still infesting the higher levels of AMC and the leader training network, vindicating my decision to part ways with giving them money for a "membership" that really doesn't mean much in a practical way.  This leader was evidently right on board with the folly, and like the other leader who basically triggered my departure despite having SEEN what I was easily capable of, was clearly unwilling to let me join her groups without something confining my feet and actively *jeopardizing* my safety instead of enhancing it.

But today ... today, this leader was in *MY* stomping grounds, and had just basically detailed her whole trip for the world to see.  She totally set herself up for the same kind of mild passive yet harmless trolling, and a fun little challenge for me.  Plotting an intercept course would still involve a bit of planning and considerations of timing, so I came up with a route that would hopefully bring all of us through some particular choke-points where a loop matching her description *had* to pass.  At the right time of the morning I tooled quietly past the first parking lot to confirm that yes, people were gathering there ... and a while later, the most likely second lot to confirm that yes, the people had moved to that one, and then parked myself down at the Headquarters to start my own loop.

[Why she thought she had to spot cars for this one, I can't imagine.  But I guess with the pandemic "officially over", people could be comfortable with riding in each others' vehicles again?  It's still kind of an organizational pain in the ass, and rather unnecessary for designing this kind of loop in Harold Parker.]

My opposite loop with intercept points
My route with meeting points   (select for larger detail)

It was a gorgeous day, sunny and surprisingly crisp and cool in contrast to the previous couple of days.  Almost perfect hiking weather.  I blasted my first leg around the pond pretty fast, even with taking a small side-lobe or two, and actually wound up a bit ahead of schedule -- I thought my first intercept point would be considerably farther south.  I only had a vague notion of the group's pace, given as somewhere between "easy" and "moderate".  [A later report described it as "too slow".]    So I was past the obvious choke-points, now with more than one choice as to which way they were likely to come at me.  But I took a guess that the leader would follow the blazes [e.g. "sticking to the rules", per the core of her philosophy] and stay on the BCT.  And five minutes later, I was proven right, as I met her group coming over a big whaleback!  Success!  I said hello and "long time no see!", and reminded her to please mention our regular Wednesday mornings to her group if she hadn't yet.

It was fairly clear in her eyes that she did *not* want to talk to me, was only sort of icily cordial in return, and the whole encounter was quite brief as are all the ones with us going in opposite directions.  And then it was done, and I moved on to my secondary project, to confirm some of the Open Streetmap data about the wacky tangle of mountain-bike trails that sprout off both sides of the BCT as it goes through that area of Harold Parker's "northeast quadrant".  That involved a bit of tracking what I call "stubs" of where trails take off, walking a short up-and-back just to mark the point in the GPS track, which can then often be linked together and intersections confirmed in the Open Streetmap data.  This took a bit of time and un-confusing of which little unmapped "bootleg" trails linked what to what, with a bit of back-and-forth and peering through the freshly budding-out understory at where the other trails are.  I didn't really want to try and walk all of that mess in one day, though, and figured I would head back toward the car.

Ah, but which way back?  Where might the group be by the time I got a little farther south?  The description of "blue loop and then back on the BCT" held a strong implication of one particular path, so I headed that way as it was about the only practical, not-on-roads way to get back to where I needed to be anyhow.  And as I popped out at NA20 to cross Middleton Road again, there they were, paused at the gate across the street!  A second positive meeting on the opposite side of the loop.  They started moving right about then and the group passed me basically in the middle of the road.  I simply said "we meet again!", waved the phone in the air while mumbling something about my mapping efforts, and dove into the woods on the other side.  They all clearly recognized me, and some of them seemed quite amused.  While on my final leg back to Headquarters I realized that if I was going to present the original trip text, I would need to get back and scrape it off the Regi website before it automatically disappeared.  It was still listed when I got home, so that's what allowed me to bring the whole story with all the specifics here.

Really, the strategy game of getting the routing and the timing right is more fun in its own way than simply going on the group hike itself.  Maybe minus the social aspect of conversations one could have along the way, but those are pretty superficial and only help noise up the woods.  The "hunt" sharpens one's awareness and ability to second-guess the target's thought process, uses one's prior knowledge of the terrain in a fun way, and in some manner makes it all more rewarding than a simple walk in the woods.  And thus, worth a detailed writeup.  My loop was just about six miles, in a little over two hours, which in hiking terminology is a fairly bat-out-of-hell pace.  And that's another thing barefoot is really good for -- it's fast and quiet, once the conditioning is there.  No stuck-up "club" is going to ever make me forgo that, and they can just watch me and lump it until they decide to smarten up.

Really, AMC should not only be *embracing* the barefoot-hiking concept, again, as a healthy alternative and a fully independent choice of the participant, but also bringing me in as a mentor.  Given that everybody signs a group "waiver" absolving AMC and any leaders of responsibility for injury or unpleasant experiences, there is absolutely no reason they couldn't just roll with it and let people do their thing as part of a group.  The first word that comes up in discussion of this feet problem seems to be "liability", and guess what, there is NONE to worry about where my feet are concerned, with or without some dumb and legally meaningless piece of paper.  That's the legal truth of it, just like it is in stores and restaurants and venues.  A hike leader's main job is to make sure the group doesn't get lost, not to nitpick about someone else's apparel where it's really not warranted.

Amusingly, I learned a little later from someone who had been on this hike and also comes to our normal Wednesdays, that the leader was rather annoyed that I had appeared at all, and apparently spent the next 20 minutes after each fly-by ranting to everyone within earshot about what a horrible person I am, or something.  Well, that's 100% on her, and still most puzzling since we had been perfectly cordial with each other when *she* was coming to the Wednesdays.  Shrug, go figure.  Declaring someone a monster because of their all-natural footwear is really pretty psychotic.

There are more chapters in this series, which I've listed on a separate page to make the entire collection easy to find.

_H*   230515

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