It was late at night and quiet as the desert gets, a little wind flowing through the sagebrush, an occasional scurrying sound of a mouse or lizard and of course the ever-present mournful howling of coyotes. None of which I could actually hear because of the overwhelming call of nature in my ear. Actually, it was more like a shriek. “Get a move-on!” was its message.
I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and pivoted around to drop my feet from my cot to the ground. The dirt was scratchy and rough and sprinkled with small pieces of volcanic rock. Not an ideal environment for my bare feet so I looked for my boots. Unfortunately, they were under the far end of my cot, which would have required me to stretch and lean and reach, all of which were impossible, given everything I had to accomplish in the little time Mother Nature had allotted me.
I struck off barefooted. My destination was about 30 feet away but I only made it 20 when the first goathead penetrated the most tender part of my left foot. Author’s note: In case you’ve managed to live your entire life without encountering goatheads, they are actually the fruit of the Tribulus terrestris plant. Small, hard and decorated with multiple needle-sharp points, goatheads are the reason Vibram soles were invented.
Suddenly unable to put any pressure on the affected foot, I lifted it and did my best impression of a great blue heron, balancing on my right foot as I attempted to extract the evil (curse words here) from my left. I’m not nearly as good as a heron, however, and before I was able to grab the offending seed, I leaned just slightly too far, and began pogo-ing across the desert, trying desperately to keep from putting my injured foot down and driving the sharp points of the goathead even further into the already injured foot.
For just a moment I thought I might be able to bring my sideways bouncing under control, but that was before I stepped on my second, third and fourth goathead, pushing them deep into my poor right foot, which until that point probably thought it was the lucky one.
I can’t begin to describe what happened next. Suffice it to say that when the dust cleared and the cursing stopped, my feet were not the only parts of my body decorated with goatheads. There are times when sleeping naked is not a good thing.
And I still hadn’t obeyed the call of nature. It took me a long, long time to hobble back to my cot.
That experience was particularly difficult because I was not always a tenderfoot. Most of my childhood was spent without shoes. Except for school and church, I was always barefooted, and thought nothing of sprinting across gravel parking lots and hot asphalt. But then came middle school, when I buckled under the two-pronged attacks of peer pressure and a desire to impress girls. It was a terrible time, not only did my once proud, tough feet languish in the dark dungeons of leather shoes, but they had to simmer in their own sweat.
In no time at all I was the embarrassed owner of weenie feet and all three of us have become softer and softer as the years rolled by. I’m not as bad as some of my friends, though. They even have to wear slippers on the way to get their paper in the morning, which I never have to do.
I wear Crocs instead.
Pat Wray writes about the outdoors. He can be reached at email@example.com.