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. Andyou 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: "Bootsbootsbootsbootsmovin' up an'
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 sneakersorry,
sport-shoealtogether. This is known as progress. Or maybe just
Whatever you call itI like "dynamic duo," myselfthe
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 sexyin 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
supposeprovided 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 enougheven
if they feel warmyou 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
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, yesbut 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. (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 oneand we will. 'Nuff said.