Why I changed my approach to socks and sandals on the beach | Stephen Baxter

When I first met Ric Bayley as he navigated sandal-less mules along a sandy Australian beach, I was captivated, but also annoyed. I thought he was pushing the status quo for barefoot pedestrians at…

Why I changed my approach to socks and sandals on the beach | Stephen Baxter

When I first met Ric Bayley as he navigated sandal-less mules along a sandy Australian beach, I was captivated, but also annoyed. I thought he was pushing the status quo for barefoot pedestrians at the expense of comfort and security. Within the frame, his shoe didn’t offer any protection, and he never paused to apply any sand or sort out the uneven bedding.

He assured me the ends of his hairy, wooden shoes were lined with elastane, the uniform material, to “improve traction and cut down on abrasions”. He didn’t state their durability though, and all I knew is that when he pressed his foot into them, I fainted.

Apart from a couple of slips into the shallows, the sand alone was probably too tough. Mind you, it was still the worst experience I’ve ever had with sandals.

Fortunately, the ensuing two weeks of “wearing mules to work” has now given me context. I could never just wear them to work – because it was so far off the wall I couldn’t bear to live with it. The sole of the shoes peeks around corners – both to avoid the sandiness as well as the occasional foot bend – and feels like thick rubber.

But it was a good experience – particularly when you consider what I wear everyday. On top of my body I wear a low-slung, portable home office (where I work) which, in some areas of the world, qualifies as assaultive. When I wake up in the morning, after a night’s sleep, my nylon-clad feet pop around on the small grey rubber cushion. For me, it isn’t excessive. It’s comfortable and portable. Why should I fret about flogging shoes when I can get my feet onto the great outdoors, in supreme comfort, without having to buy expensive trainers or other durable footwear? And, ironically, a mule is a good fit, even for a beginner. If you are a comatose great aunt whose feet hurt at the best of times, you could be considered a walking safety net at retirement age.

Some commenters predicted I would have to be paired with a croc, or supertrooper-worthy power walkers, but that never materialised. Instead, I discovered that it was difficult and challenging enough on my own. I generally chose a location (with decent terrain and lighting) that suited my laziness, and felt liberated to be “low tech”. For example, during the days when I am hard at work, I find many places to unsettle the local landscape with head-on sprayers, silica grit, dry ice, sledgehammers and cables.

When I had to use the equipment, I found I preferred to work a little differently – a neutral flow, taking my time and using the land as I saw fit. Before I enter the water, I am immaculately prepared. I wear booties, boots and jock straps to keep the stinging new salt water out of my hands – but I also wear three ankle socks. Because each is thick, protective and also covers my shoes, I feel I am protecting my feet as much as possible – which then encourages me to stop hurting the footwear. I had no issues with the rock and salt exposure when on the water.

You do need to reapply an antibiotic treatment to each sock, so don’t forget to do that. In any case, you are stuck on the sand for an hour or so, so why not relax and enjoy the experience?

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