Everybody’s talking ’bout a new way of walking
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy let your mind roll on
— Rooftop Singers, “Walk Right In”
I remember an incident from the late 70s. At the time I was Head Librarian at the Royal Ontario Museum and my main reference and cataloguing duties were with the museum’s science departments. As a result of this, I got first look at most of the new acquisitions, which included Scientific American reprints. One of the reprints was on bipedalism and one of the articles articulated the mechanics of walking upright.
The context of the reprint was on early hominids and what was required for them to walk on two legs. We now think bipedalism was a very early evolutionary development and that some of our ancestors who walked upright were apes with craniums no bigger than a chimp’s. In other words, bipedalism goes a long way back.
What I recall the most, after reading the reprint, was how for the next few days afterward I got stoned on watching people walk. It was if I were witnessing bipedal walking for the first time. I could see the mechanics in action, and the beautiful flow of balance and energy efficiency. (Of course pretty girls made the observation additionally interesting.) It was as if encountering a new idea for the first time, then seeing it applied everywhere.
All this came back to me sharply a few months ago when, getting out of bed in the morning, I’d step on my right foot and gasp at the sudden, sharp pain in the heel. Yikes, what was this? I thought at first I’d bruised it badly somehow, but the heel didn’t, well, heal. It hurt worse and worse as the days went on. So much so I had to grab a cane to walk any distance, and even that was painful.
It turned out I was “blessed” with a common condition called plantar faciitis, in inflammation of the plantar fascia in the feet. For which there is no quick or easy cure. I started walking less and icing my foot at least once a day. It significantly reduced my walking radius which in turn impacted my photography. My doctor told me to be patient, and that I might benefit from custom orthotics.
I did the next best thing. I hobbled to The Running Room where I found generic orthotic arch support inserts. As soon as I tried a pair, the relief was instant. Not a cure, but it made putting weight on my foot somewhat less painful. I bought them, transferred them from shoe to shoe in all the shoes I wore, and continued the ice treatments. My doc also prescribed an anti-inflammatory that helped with the pain.
As a result I began, gradually, to walk more easily. But with a difference. Whereas previously I would hit my heel down hard as I walked, I began to shift my downstride more to the middle of my foot. I didn’t do this consciously — it simply hurt less to walk that way. But it felt awkward, for awhile.
Today as I was walking, relatively pain free, I realized I had a new way of walking. That the small muscles in my legs, ankles, and feet had adjusted to the new stride, and that I was walking very comfortably. Now there are people who posit that walking in shoes is unnatural and that shoes rob us of the natural gait we evolved. This I don’t know the answer to. Perhaps.
All I know is that I felt comfortable, almost floating, and that my mind was rolling on.