When was the last time you thanked your feet? Seriously, how long has it been since you pulled off your socks, gave the old dogs a rub down, and said, "thanks, feet?"
Juneau adventurers finish voyage to tip of S. America 061114 OUTDOORS 1 For the Capital City Weekly When was the last time you thanked your feet? Seriously, how long has it been since you pulled off your socks, gave the old dogs a rub down, and said, "thanks, feet?"

Kanaan Bausler Photos

Kanaan Bausler balances on a branch while climbing trees in Tierra del Fuego.

Kanaan Bausler Photos

Kanaan Bausler's feet balance on a rock near a waterfall in Chile.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Story last updated at 6/11/2014 - 5:44 pm

Juneau adventurers finish voyage to tip of S. America

When was the last time you thanked your feet? Seriously, how long has it been since you pulled off your socks, gave the old dogs a rub down, and said, "thanks, feet?"

We feet do a lot of hard work every day, supporting all your weight, keeping you balanced, getting you from place to place. We are the messengers to the rest of your body. It's a sad thing when you forget about us. It doesn't take much to just stop for a moment to thank your feet. We would really appreciate it. That's right, "we."

We are Kanaan Bausler's feet and we have some stories to tell. We just made it to the southern end of South America. Our stories are from the ground, all the different types of ground we found between Juneau and Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. As the places changed, so changed our physical condition, and the shoes that kept us comfortable. After all, places are felt through the feet first.

On June 1, 2012 our journey began at Sandy Beach on Douglas Island. We wore a pair of Keen sandals specifically made for water sports. After years of preparation for that moment, we were in the perfect shoes for the job, ready to go. Kanaan also had a pair of XtraTuffs in his kayak, so he was ready for anything that might come with a few months of paddling through the coastal temperate rainforest. We were not going to allow ourselves to get cold out there, and when you have so much space to play with in a kayak, comfort is the name of the game.

Kanaan is a pack rat, and with just enough Xtra space in the kayak, he thought, "why not bring them along?"

With time, it became clear that the XtraTuffs were not necessary. Sure, with different weather conditions they may have been useful, but the first three months of ATripSouth were blessed by the sun, and we spent most of our time bare, enjoying the salty sunshine and submergible surfaces. Deep, moist beds of moss, small pebble pedicures, warm mud baths and sun-baked sand were among our favorites.

At the end of those three months of freedom, the other seven pairs of feet who went on the 1,000-mile kayak journey down the Inside Passage ran off to their respective places, leaving the remaining five members of the crew to continue south on bicycles. The bicycles had less space for hauling unnecessaries, so the XtraTuffs were sent north. But the Keen sandals were still in good shape, and by then had been worn into a perfect exoskeleton-like fit, so we kept them strapped on.

Kanaan's idea was to maximize his available cargo potential, so he only wanted one pair of shoes for the bike journey. The Keens were the answer for the first months of riding as we floated through the western states without a care, our comfort breeding confidence. Water shoes were a way of life, and we even got a few opportunities to slip into surf booties and catch waves in the ocean.

Yet, at the southern end of the United States, the Keens came into question. In the overmedicated state of California, Kanaan became convinced that the soft soles of the Keens might be bad for his knees, despite the lack of pain. Along with vaccinations for rabies and yellow fever, Kanaan got over-prepared for Mexico by ordering Keen bike sandals through his sister Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn arrived in Baja California Sur in January 2013, just after Colin's feet headed back north, tired of the bike shoes. We bid Colin's feet adieu and welcomed Kaitlyn's with low-fives and heel bumps before slipping into the new sandals. The narrow squeeze and ankle-rolling exposure was a bit less comfortable than the water Keens for Kanaan, but the new bike Keens were good enough. Multifunctional and well-ventilated with a firm sole, they were a welcoming new home - but they didn't last long.

As we sauntered down a sandy beach in Zihuatenejo, the sound of classic '90s hits from an American pre-wedding party convinced us to skip over and crash the scene. Dancing in the sand was so much nicer without shoes, and after a bit too much fun, we stumbled back to our end of the beach. The Keen bike sandals were still at the wedding party. But the next day, they were not. Our barefoot attempts to locate the stolen shoes proved unsuccessful. Not so surprisingly, the bride was not very helpful on the phone the day before her wedding.

The hazards of going shoeless in a party city were enough to make us worry about our safety, so we had to find a new pair of kicks in Zihuatenejo. As expected in Mexico, the quality to price ratio was a challenge. Since Kanaan didn't want to settle for imported indoor soccer shoes, he ended up going for some sweet Velcro Carioca old man joggers. They were like a gentle but firm handshake-hug from grandpa, comfortable without socks, and seemed like a good idea.

Halfway through Central America, it was clear that the cheap material was not meant for the stress of long rides on gear-laden bicycles. The joggers were completely trashed. They just made it to Costa Rica, where Chris' parents brought down a sweet fresh pair of Nashbar bike sandals. There, in the most developed country in Central America, we stepped into a technologically perfect pair of shoes.

The Nashbar shoes had it all. Wide, stiff sole, adjustable velcro straps in all the right places, good traction, tough leather exterior, silky smooth interior, closed toe, and plenty of ventilation. It was like a daily massage just to pedal around. Now that's how to treat the feet.

The Nashbars stayed in good condition through the rest of Central America, and nearly all of South America. They kept us feeling good through some of the best parts of the trip. Meanwhile, Chris' feet were making us anchor push-ups at each border crossing. They taunted us while wearing the silly foam Jordache flip flops Chris bought in Panama City. Those things just refused to break. Somehow they made it all the way to Peru before falling apart.

In Huaraz, Peru, Kanaan had the terrible idea of taking his only shoes, the Nashbar sandals, on a five-day trek into the heights of the Andes. He made us walk through ankle-deep snow with a fully loaded backpack! After the brain freeze wore off, we punished him hard. We convinced the left knee to start crying in pain, forcing Kanaan to evacuate the mountains. Back in town, we hit it home and got the Nashbars to pop a heel strap. When Kanaan's parents Katie and Karl arrived in Huaraz, they started what would become a monthly ceremony with the first visit to the zapateros, the streetside shoe repairmen common throughout South America.

In an experimental attempt to fix the knee problem, they bought us a pair of handmade shoes constructed from recycled car tires. It was the shoe style of choice for the local shepards, and if it worked for them, maybe it was worth a try. But after a week with the tire shoes the knee hadn't improved, and the straps without socks were starting to irritate our skin, so they got gifted to the hostel. The shoes had been our 25th birthday present, but as they cost about the equivalent of 60 cents, it was all right to let them go.

After 25 years we've grown a bit tired, and healing ain't the walk in the park that it used to be. On the actual day of our 25th year, Chris hopped on a bus, ready for new adventures on his journey down to Ushuaia and then back up to Juneau in time for Thanksgiving. On his Peruvian-dirt infused feet were his Salomon runners; the Jordache flip flops finished. Seeing them leave stuffed in socks was a small triumph after so many lost bets.

We tried to calm Kanaan's left knee down, but it just kept crying all the way to Mendoza. Only after a few weeks of relaxing did the knee finally feel better again. Mendoza is also where Max's feet left us for Ushuaia and their return home to ski boots. They wore the same clip-in bike shoes that he started the trip with, in good working condition, consistent as always like the rest of Max.

Our trusty Nashbars lasted all the way though Chile and the Carretera Austral, just surviving the final section of hiking while pushing the bike down a seven-kilometer dirt trail through the forest. Camping in the mountain wilderness during Patagonian autumn, we started to get cold. Over the past months, many a folk had asked Kanaan and Andrew if their feet were cold in those sandals. We weren't, we were fine.

But there at the end of the Carretera Austral, transitioning toward winter for the first time in ages, we finally felt the freeze like an itchy cough that awakes between dreams. So we sent an idea up Kanaan's legs, crawling up his spine until it popped into his head: Maybe it was time for some new shoes.

In El Chalten, Argentina, while documenting the local recycling program, Kanaan found what he was looking for: a nearly new pair of Quechua hiking boots sitting in the dumpster. With a new pair of laces, a bit of glue work, and some scrubbing they were as good as new. Wearing socks for the first time in years was a bit strange, but the new warmth was kind of exciting, like the first day of school.

Andrew's feet were determined to get back to a comfortable summer climate. We had been begging for that nearly forgotten feeling of sliding on snow, inspired by the oncoming winter. Thus The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sandals was done. Andrew's poor feet took off in sandals for the final cold push to Ushuaia while we kicked it back in the boots.

After a year of wear and thousands of miles, the Nashbars found their final resting place in El Chalten, next to the Mocassins. Oh yeah we forgot to mention that part. You know that idea to keep it simple with only one pair of shoes? Well, that never really rang true. The entire bike trip Kanaan carried his rock climbing shoes, the Mocassins. Like we told you, he's a pack rat. Ninety-eight percent of the time those shoes were a waste of space and weight. But every now and then we found a great rock to climb and the feeling of awakening the muscles with active stretching was totally worth it.

In El Chalten the "worth it" percentage went way up, with non-stop climbing opportunities in all directions. But ever since Huaraz a hole had been developing in the right toe of the Mocassins, putting us at risk of gruesome pain with the wrong foot placements.

So at the end of our time in El Chalten, we convinced Kanaan that the rock climbing season was over, that we needed new climbing shoes anyway, and that there were plenty of hikes to focus on until we got to Ushuaia.

With one new pair of shoes on and two old ones off, ATripSouth then became a solo endeavor for Kanaan. Sometimes we even kicked off the boots, realizing the pleasure of barefoot trail running. Allowing our complete sensory surface area to interact with the richness of information on the ground gave us a much more complex connection to Southern Patagonia.

As the land cooled and transitioned into hibernation mode, the pace of our travels followed suit. With our skin bare and open to stimuli, we better understood the essence of these places.

The rest of the time, Kanaan pedaled and hiked and jumped and swam and danced and worked those Quechua boots all the way to the end of South America. We hopped up and down with excitement as we tromped through fresh snow in the final mountain pass to Ushuaia.

Dodging slush pits in a typical early winter coastal rainstorm the next day reminded us of home. We finally arrived in Ushuaia and dismounted the pedals for the last time. And here, sitting on a bench in the city that calls itself "the end of the world" Kanaan looked down at us and said, "Thanks, feet."