I did a little barefoot hiking in May while rafting the Nile - we stopped at an island for lunch, had to walk the raft around an unnavigable Class VI, and hiked up a cliff at the end. It hurt. A lot. Rocks and sticks do not feel good when your delicate feet aren't used to it. And you feel every single pebble.
But I have to admit, it felt kindof cool to feel the mud between my toes, and to accept that there was nothing I could do about it - I had to stop worrying about diseases, or tiny creatures that crawl under your skin and lay eggs there (Bilharzia? Oh, it happens in Africa ALL THE TIME if you're not careful. Ewwwww.). But if you're thirty kilometers down a raging river from your shoes, you stop worrying about it and start realizing how much of nature we miss in our sanitized lives.
We're really good at protecting ourselves from discomfort in the west. We have air conditioning and solid roofing and pasteurized milk and e-coli-free spinach. These things aren't bad. But there's nothing like waking up to a breeze off the lake, or cool rain on your sunburned shoulders, or the taste of something that hasn't been processed or sprayed with chemicals or frozen for months on end. I got used to not having a lot of these things in Congo, and since I've been home, I've found that I'm less worried about them. Air conditioning makes me cold most of the time, and while I wouldn't trade in the roof over my head, sometimes it's nice to take a walk in the rain.
Maybe the barefoot hikers are onto something. They're pondering a very basic question, after all: with all our conveniences and all the things that keep us safe from the world around us, what are we missing out on?