Monday, September 12, 2011

The Fungus Among Us

John Atkinson, and snacks.
Saturday found me in Warren, VT, at Sugarbush Resort's famous Fungi Fest.  (It's not really famous, but I like the alliteration.)

The Fungi Fest comprises a talk by Sugarbush employee John Atkinson, then a walk through the woods at the resort looking for mushrooms, a discussion of the various mushrooms found, and then a dinner featuring mushrooms John found in the woods around the resort.

It was really a terrific event, enjoyed by all attendees, including my 8 and 12-year-old daughters.  It was a pretty good event for both of the topics of this blog, healthy diets and barefoot-style running.

One of the most important things one can do to get your feet ready for barefoot running is barefoot hiking, IMHO.  Both Barefoot Ted and Ken Bob were big barefoot hikers before they tried running.  Barefoot hiking is a much more difficult activity for the muscles of the feet than barefoot running is: I've gotten cramps on three-mile barefoot hikes that I'd run in Vibrams with no problem at all.

On this short hike we showed up in Vibrams, Merrells, VivoBarefoots, and me in my bare feet.

No one batted an eye when we were standing around during John's talk and I was not wearing shoes.  When we walked off to go to the hike, one woman asked me if I was going to do the hike barefoot.  "I am," I replied.  "Are you a barefoot runner?"  "I am", I said again.  She seemed quite excited, as if she'd seen a rare species of bird.  It was very funny.  John turned to me and asked me if I was planning on hiking in my bare feet, and he seemed somewhat skeptical.  I told him I'd brought along a pair of shoes, just in case, and he seemed satisfied with that answer.

So we tromped around near a stream, mostly off the trail.  Stream crossings are, of course, easy when you're not wearing shoes.  Happily my feet have gotten to the point where walking around in a forest was not a problem.  I even spotted some broken glass, which I carefully stepped around.  It was much more pleasant walking around the forest floor than on the rocky trail, but the smooth asphalt while walking back across the parking lot was of course the easiest surface of all.

Everyone else was wearing either trail running sneakers or hiking boots.  Several people came up afterward and mentioned how impressive they thought it was that I had done the whole thing barefoot.  It's pretty amusing, as they one thing that always surprises me about these barefoot hikes is how well my feet handle them, and how uneventful they are.

We found enough mushrooms to completely cover a large table, and John pointed out the few that he thought were definitively non-toxic.  Some folks took those mushrooms home in doggie-bags.  Most of the mushrooms were classed as toxic, which is a good reminder of how difficult being a hunter-gatherer was, and a good indication of the importance of a conservative attitude when gathering mushrooms.  John's attitude was not to eat anything that he couldn't confidently ID, and no one argued the point.
Dinner was delicious, at Sugarbush's Timbers restaraunt.  The woman I sat next to at dinner was gluten-free and on the paleo diet.  She and her husband were reformed pesce-vegetarians who'd now adopted the paleo diet, and he is a neurologist, so we had quite a bit to discuss.  Dinner was gluten-free, happily, and the restaraunt (where we've eaten before), was willing to swap out the beer that was included in the menu for a nice Cabernet Franc.

All in all a great little paleo-friendly event. 

Oh, and I did put the Vibram FiveFingers Treks that I'd brought along as fall-back shoes on for dinner.  I didn't want to cause a stir, and certainly after walking around in the woods for a bit my feet were pretty dirty, although no more so than any of the shoes everyone else was wearing.

P.S.  One of the reasons I went around on this hike was to try and open my older daughter's horizons.  She may well be allergic to all vegetables, and is mycophobic.  Up until Saturday.  She decided she liked the chantarelles, so it was a huge win.

Also, apparently the connective tissue in mushrooms in chitin, not cellulose.  Humans can digest chitin, but cannot digest cellulose.  It's an interesting factoid, although I don't know how useful it is.

I've always loved mushrooms, myself.