This year, Castine resident Katie Frothingham has noticed many more little details as she hikes Blue Hill Mountain and other trails on the Peninsula. The way the light changes every few hundred feet, depending on tree cover and elevation. The way a fallen tree trunk creaks and croaks as the wind shifts around it. The colors of the leaves, moss, and grass, depending on the weather.
She’s had much more time to stop and pay attention to things like that, since she’s spent the entire summer and fall hiking barefoot.
“The typical thing people say to me when they see me barefoot is ‘Wow, you must have tough feet!’” said Frothingham, who is the principal at the Adams School in Castine, where she also teaches social studies and language arts to grades five through eight. “I don’t know that I have tough feet. I don’t have any callouses, really. I do have the right mindset, though.”
Given the opportunity, Frothingham would prefer to be barefoot year-round. She feels that not wearing shoes, and removing the barrier between a person’s body and the earth, helps connect a person to nature.
“I think being grounded to the earth is very important. We live in a culture where it’s really hard to do that,” said Frothingham, a California native who has lived in Maine for ten years, and in Castine for six. “So this was a very intentional thing for me, to try to be grounded and try to be very conscious of every step I take.”
An avid hiker, Frothingham and her husband, Cameron, and seven-year-old son, Grayson, have hiked many of Maine’s mountains. In the past, they’ve raced up and down, getting to the summit as quickly as possible and then heading right back down. With her decision to go barefoot, she’s had to slow down dramatically. It usually takes less than two hours to go up and down Blue Hill — barefoot, it can take twice as long, as you try to avoid sharp stones or roots, or muddy, slippery parts.
“This forces you to slow down and be conscious of every move you make,” she said. “It’s a remarkable experience. Your whole mindset changes. You can stop and talk to people. You can see everything around you. You see things you’d never normally see. I hear sounds that I’ve never heard before, all sorts of birds and animals and things.”
Frothingham’s summer sans shoes has inspired several of her friends to try barefoot hiking, and last week, she and her husband celebrated their tenth anniversary with a barefoot hike — Cameron’s first ever, after Katie had done it for months. Later this fall, they plan to hike barefoot on Mt. Desert Island and in Vermont. And while she hasn’t shared her barefoot hiking stories with her students at the Adams School, she does encourage them to kick off their shoes every once in awhile.
“The world becomes a much more magical place when you stop to look at it,” she said. “It’s good to feel connected to the ground.”