Footloose Part 1

NO, THIS ISN’T A PREQUEL to the beloved Kevin Bacon vehicle, though I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood options me to hammer out a screenplay. After all, who better to write it? Ever since the day security officers forcibly ejected a young bike messenger Cait from a downtown Portland architectural firm on charges of “dancing through the lobby,” I’ve always felt a certain kinship to those forced to live in oppressive dance-free religious communities. Much like our man Bacon, I too have Roger Rabbited on the front lines of dance persecution, and one day I will speak my truth.

KB doing my signature "Driving Crazy Knees" move

But for now I have something more important to address. IT HAPPENED. An event more than three months in the making. It all started back in April, when I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and decided—like everyone else who read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall—that I needed to own barefoot running shoes.

You know the shoes I’m talking about. The toe shoes. They look like a cross between Aqua Socks and some kind of sexual protective glove for foot fetishists. Each individual toe is given the unnerving opportunity to sequester itself from the rest of the flock and perform all its functions in secret. Rubbery, neon secret. And now you see the shoes—saddled with the fittingly awkward name “Vibram FiveFingers”—everywhere. How did brightly colored foot condoms start sweeping our nation’s feet?

As you may have guessed, the answer is in McDougall’s incredible, cultlike book. Without giving the full book report (seriously, just read it), McDougall tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians from Mexico’s Copper Canyon, known as “the running people” for their speed and love of long distances. Over the course of his journey to Mexico, he discovers the secret to why certain cultures—the Tarahumara, Kenyans, etc.—excel so naturally at injury-free running, while Americans, with all our fancy footwear design and nutritional science degrees, can’t seem to keep up. We get plantar fasciitis and back problems. Sometimes we even break our knees.

Spoiler alert—THE PROBLEM IS OUR SHOES.

Again, I don’t want to give away the entire book. There’s a lot more to it than the exciting news I’ve just revealed about Vibram FiveFingers, including “the greatest race the world has ever seen.” But let’s just operate under the assumption that the shoes are a good thing, and every sensible runner should immediately start yearning for a pair—like I have, ever since I read McDougall’s gospel and heard the Good News.

So, after three months of coveting this mysterious, amphibious footwear, I bought my own pair of Vibram FiveFingers Bikilas. They were on sale, or in other words I got the “Five Fingers Discount” (badum-cha!) And because I’m in the nerdiest relationship ever, my girlfriend bought the exact same pair.

To be fair, she’s the one who planned to buy them first after reading Born to Run (at my behest) and suffering ongoing knee problems that have kept her from running for months. I’ve actually had minimal problems with the knee that I broke in May 2010, but I wanted to strengthen my feet and possibly even improve my form. So on a recent trip to NYC, we found ourselves waltzing out of the shoe store in these bad boys, carrying our clunky old sneakers in identical City Sports bags.

Another photo that could be used by conservatives to argue against gay marriage. It's a pretty slippery slope to this.

“Twinning.” It’s an unspoken problem in the gay community—certainly on par with marriage inequality, homophobia and teenage bullying. And worst of all, there’s no “It Gets Better” project to address the issue because, to be honest, it does not get better. IT GETS WORSE. Particularly if you’re unfortunate enough to share the same size, first name and/or gender identity as your partner. In that case, give up all hope of maintaining your own distinct identity—you’re about to spend the rest of your life dressed up like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep.

But let me get back to the “magic nerd shoes,” which is what L and I immediately started to call our new Vibrams. Once we kicked off our old Sunday shoes and set out through Manhattan like a pair of sporty lesbian Hobbits, we started attracting attention. LOTS of attention. There was some pointing, some laughing, the occasional foreign-language mystery utterance. But we didn’t care—it felt amazing to be walking through New York in virtual bare feet. We soft-shoed down Broadway like we owned the place. We sashayed through Times Square like it was a Patagonia outlet in Boulder, Colorado. I defy anyone to ever call me a hipster again. These shoes have to cancel out at least one of the fixed gears I’ve owned.

But after all that hoofing around, the one thing we didn’t try is running. See, the reason magic nerd shoes are supposed to prevent injury is that they change your form. No more landing hard on the heel of your foot—“barefoot style” means running the way the Great Cthulu intended. On your forefeet. But it takes a while to even figure out what the hell those are, so you certainly don’t want to start landing on them without proper buildup.

In the meantime, I’m strutting all over the streets of South Bethlehem, using my Vibrams to pick up broken glass and heckles from high school girls. My plan is to walk everywhere until I can work up to running in short 10-second spurts—and even after a few miles of walking, I can definitely feel it. These shoes might not be making my feet any stronger, but they’re certainly building up my resistance to teenage guff.

So stay tuned for Footloose Part 2, where I not only learn to barefoot run in my new Vibrams, but also to dance battle in them. If you have any advice—as long as it isn’t “Cait, please tell me you’re not wearing these in my wedding/house”—I would love to hear it!