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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Boots

Part 1: The Dynamic Duo

by Tamia Nelson

Boots? What do boots have to do with paddling? You thought this was a canoeing column, didn't you?
Right. Well, like it or not, we paddlers do a lot of walking. Launching our boats and landing, loading our gear and unloading, scouting to find the line through each drop. And—you didn't think I'd forgotten, did you?—lugging our canoes and everything else we've brought with us around unrunnable rapids and between watersheds. There are lots of routes where you carry your boat almost as many hours as it carries you, after all. The result? Sooner or later, on almost every trip, you'll find yourself keeping time with Kipling's British infantryman: "Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again...."

OK, then. If you paddle, you're going to do a lot of walking. You better have good boots. But what sort of boots? Whitewater wizards usually settle on some type of fabric shoe – wetsuit bootie combination. You know what I mean. What people used to call "sneakers" or "tennis shoes," worn over a sort of rubber sock. Nowadays, of course, the sneaker is a structured, multi-element, dynamic-lasted "sport-shoe," with a $100 price tag. The rubber sock's moved up-market, too. It's now available in colors, and sometimes even boasts a hard sole and toe cap, so you can dispense with the sneaker—sorry, sport-shoe—altogether. This is known as progress. Or maybe just good marketing.

Whatever you call it—I like "dynamic duo," myself—the combination usually works well for whitewater day trips. You've been there, I'm sure. You drive three hours to the put-in wearing comfortable clothes, change into your paddling kit in the parking lot, and play the river for three hours or so. Then you shuttle the boats and gear, change back into your comfortable clothes, and climb into your truck for the three-hour drive back home. The sport-shoe – neoprene bootie combination keeps your feet warm on the river, and protects your toes when you hike along the bank. What can I say? It works.

On longer trips, however, this combination is less than satisfactory. If you're in your boat six to eight hours a day, day after day, the dynamic duo gets tired fast.

Why is that? Comfort, for one thing. In the good old days of Imperial China, small feet were thought to be very, very sexy—in women, at any rate. But girls' feet get bigger as they grow up. Not so sexy. No problem, though. The feet of young girls were bound up in tight bandages, and the bandages were kept in place until the girls were fully-grown. The result? Small, sexy feet. Not so good for walking, perhaps, but then no well-off Chinese woman had to walk. On the rare occasions when she went out, she was carried from one place to another in a sort of chair with handles. Problem solved.

It doesn't sound very comfortable, though, does it? Foot binding, that is. (Being carried about in a chair wouldn't be so bad, I suppose—provided that you're not one of the ones doing the carrying, of course!) By all accounts, it wasn't. Thank goodness women today don't have to put up with this sort of thing. Or do they? Spend three long days in a canoe wearing the dynamic duo on your feet and you'll begin to think that you've been transported back to the Imperial City. Of course, your male companions will feel just as uncomfortable. That's some compensation, I suppose. Still, you don't get points for being miserable on a canoe trip.

There are other problems with the sport-shoe – neoprene bootie combination. From the first time you step in the water to launch your boat in the morning, till you strip off your wetsuit booties at the end of the day, your feet are always wet. That's why those rubber socks are called wetsuit booties.

So what? At least your feet are warm and wet. That's good, isn't it? Nope. Not always. If your feet stay wet long enough—even if they feel warm—you may develop something very much like "trench foot." The name is bad enough. It was coined by the soldiers who lived (and died) in the flooded trenches in World War I. The condition itself is worse. In full-blown trench foot, your feet become red, swollen and painful. Putting on your boots in the morning will bring tears to your eyes, and your feet may be extra-sensitive to cold for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, trench foot takes time to develop. Four or five days, at least. And it's most likely in cold, windy weather. But then, cold, windy weather is normal in much of North America's canoe country, even in high summer. Better not rely on luck. Prevention, however, is simple and easy. Keep your feet dry, and change your socks frequently.

Simple, yes—but it's not so easy if you're wearing the dynamic duo. There has to be something better. Happily, there is.

© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999

That's it for now. Tamia will be here next week. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and questions to us at sameboat@paddling.net. (No attachments, audio clips or family snaps, please!) I won't promise that we'll answer each letter, but I can promise that we'll read every one—and we will. 'Nuff said.









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