Shoes and Socks, By Request

A few weeks ago, at Relay for Life, a couple of my adult students asked me about blisters.  One of them had been walking all night, and had blisters on her feet.  She wanted to know how to get rid of them.  I told her that I couldn’t help once she had blisters, but that I could help her prevent them the next time.image2

In my first few years of trail racing, I suffered from many blisters, especially after running in the wet, and from a few lost toenails.  The solution to both of these problems is shoes and socks.  I could go on forever about the need for the least amount of shoe possible, and the need to stay away from the evil marshmallow shoes, but that’s a topic for another day. You can read here  how to find the best fit.  Most people are surprised to find that their shoes are really too small. The easiest way to fit shoes, is to know that you need to be able  to fit the width of your thumb between the end your your big toe and the front tip of your shoe. image4

And socks.  Forget everything you were taught about white cotton athletic socks.  Cotton is about the worst material for socks, as it holds water, from sweat, rain, or puddles, and then all that wet fabric rubs against your skin and makes blisters.  And white socks just look silly, especially tall ones. Socks should be either black to hide the trail dirt, or the brightest colors you can find (personal preference :D).  And they should never be made of cotton.  Wicking polyester is good, along with nylon, spandex, and a bit of acrylic.  I like thin socks, thick ones ruin ground feel. Here are some examples of good socks.  img_3326

Please try not to buy your socks in 12 packs at a big box store.  The price seems good, but they will wear out quickly, give you blisters, and slide down into your shoes (I hate that!!!). Better to spend a bit more money and buy good socks.  There are a few nice Coolmax socks to be had at the local big box, but this is my favorite place to buy socks.  Sign up for the mailing list, they send coupons. These black socks are my favorites for running, and the blue ones for biking.  They are both made by Wigwam (in the USA).  My favorite socks for karate, and just walking around, are the Smartwools pictured at the top of this post.


So, find yourself some great socks, and some well fitting shoes.  Then go outside and play!  The weather is still pretty nice.



More Green Places in NYC


You all know that my daughter lives in New York City (the Bronx ), and hopefully you’ve all read my post about Van Cortlandt Park.  Well, the last time I went to visit, we found a smaller, but even more amazing park in northern Manhattan, called Fort Tryon Park.

The park is located at the northern tip of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River, with views of the George Washington Bridge.  It was the site of a Revolutionary War battle, and later, many wealthy New Yorkers built mansions in the area.


In 1917, John D. Rockefeller bought one of these mansions, and decided to transform the property into a park.  He also purchased land on the New Jersey side of the river, to preserve the views of the Palisades.  Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (the grandson of one of the creators of Central Park) spent four years transforming the rough landscape into a park full of walls, paths, staircases, and gardens, with beautiful views of the river.


In the middle of the park, there is an awesome museum called The Cloisters.  It’s a branch of the Metropolitan Museum, and houses a collection of Medieval art.  The museum looks like a huge old church. and has many cloister-type gardens and courtyards.




The museum is home to treasures from many old European churches, including stained glass, doors, fountains, and art.  Here is just a small sample.  There is also a famous collection of Unicorn Tapestries at the cloisters.  Personally, I thought they were pretty creepy, and didn’t even take pictures of them.


So, if you find yourself in New York City, and need some green space along with your culture and sightseeing, check out Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters.  Get outside (and a bit of inside, too)!


What’s in Your Pack?



Everybody  calls it a Camelbak, even though it should be called a hydration pack.  Camelbak is a brand name.  It’s like calling a tissue “kleenex” or an adhesive bandage a “bandaid”.  But we do it anyway.  So what’s in your Camelbak?

I would really prefer not to carry a pack. It’s heavy, and hot in the summer.  But there is a lot of stuff you need to carry when you mountain bike (and I need even more because of the epi-pens).  And I would rather not hang a bunch of little bags from my bike, and then wear a jersey with pockets full of more stuff.  So I have resigned myself to carrying a Camelbak.

Start with the bag itself.  My pack has a lumbar reservoir.  That means the water bladder is low, so the weight is over your hips instead of between your shoulders – much more comfortable.  First thing that goes inside is epi-pens, because they might mean the difference between getting home and not.  Then my phone.  I don’t usually make calls in the woods, but Strava is pretty entertaining.  The phone goes into a waterproof bag, not because I worry about rain, but because falling in the river is always a possibility.

Tools, pump, and tube might make the difference between riding all afternoon and pushing my bike home (never fun).  The little purple thing on my keys is a tick key.  It’s a neat and easy way to remove ticks.  I rarely get bitten (I probably taste as bad as the rutabaga I had for dinner), but it’s tiny and might be useful.

Next come first aid supplies.  You need to find a balance between fixing every boo-boo, and portability. I could easily carry a huge kit with gauze pads, roller gauze, ace bandages (there’s the brand name thing again), and many sizes of splints. But for the sake of weight, I’ve settled on a basic kit, with band-aids (not really the brand name ones), gloves, gauze, a bandana which can be used for all sorts of bandaging, and a clotting sponge, in case I or somebody else gets impaled on something sharp.  Little hurts can be bandaged and then you can walk or ride home.  Big hurts or broken bones can’t be walked out, and we may as well let the EMTs carry the stuff to treat those things.


This neat little tool roll came with my pack.  It’s full of stuff that you might need in the woods.  Bandaids are obvious and duct tape fixes everything.  Zip ties can hold your bike and it’s cables together.  Allen wrenches and a knife can fix your bike, cut your duct tape, or trim zip ties so they don’t get caught on stuff.  The little orange doohickey is to save your disc brakes from ruin, and my tire levers are pink because Anna got them for me (and they’re pink!).

The newest addition to my tool roll is the white rectangle marked TB-2.  It’s called a tire boot.  It’s easy enough to carry a spare tube in case you get a flat.  (The patch kit is in case of a second flat which would really be a bummer).  But it’s not really practical to carry an extra tire, and sometimes this happens:


You can’t carry everything you might ever need, but the trick is to figure out what you are most likely to need in the woods in case of flat tire, breakdown, or injury, and carry things that give you the most use for small size.   So what’s in YOUR pack?

Play(s) in the Park


Central Park.  What does that make you think of?  Big city?  Huge crowds?  A really big park?  Shakespeare?  Wait…Shakespeare?  Yup!  Shakespeare in the Park.  And it’s free.

I spent the weekend with my daughter who lives in NYC. She said we should go to Shakespeare in the Park.  I was more than a bit skeptical, but it was free, and it was outside, in a park.  Might as well check it out.

The plays have been put on by The Public theater in Central Park for over 50 years.  There are two ways to get tickets.  You can line up in Central Park for distribution starting at noon the day of the play.  Apparently, people start lining up at 6AM.  This was not an attractive option on a 95 degree day.  There is also a lottery downtown from 11:30 until noon. Find out how to get your own tickets here. This was a much better option.  We scored 2 vouchers in the third pull from the lottery bucket.


You can redeem your vouchers for tickets between 5 and 7:30 for the 8PM show.  Fortunately there is soft ice cream, and a huge park to entertain you while you wait.


By city standards, Central Park is pretty big.  Compared to my usual woods, not so much.  The parts I’ve seen aren’t particularly wild, and there are a lot of people around.  But when you’re in the city, you have to take your green and dirt where you can find them.  And there were certainly some pretty views.



The theater was pretty big for outside, and almost completely full. It was HOT, about 94 degrees, with heat lightening in the distance.



Oh yeah, the play.  Saturday’s production was “Troilus and Cressida” which seems to be one of Shakespeare’s more obscure works.  And it took a while to figure out what was going on.  Honestly, I’ve always considered plays and poetry to be punishment rather than something partaken of voluntarily.  But this was very well presented by a professional cast, and of course it was outside.  I enjoyed it enough that I would go back again.

Moral of the story?  Try something new, and take your outside where you can get it.  Go play (yes that was on purpose).


To Clip or Not to Clip


When I bought my first mountain bike, 20 years ago, (ya I know I’m old), it came with these bizarre little cages attached to the pedals.


The guys I rode with said they were called toe clips, and that it wasn’t safe to ride without them because my feet would slip off the pedals, and I’d lose control of the bike.  Well guess what?  It’s not safe to ride with them, either.  They’re not too bad on flat, easy places, but those places don’t cause your feet to fly off the pedals.  But on hills?  OMG!  They’re gonna make you die!!!!

When you ride with a group, often everyone stops at the top of the hill.  Then they walk around, and look at the hill, and decide the best way to ride it.  Then people go, one at a time, with the rest of the group cheering or laughing, as needed.  Well, it’s easy to get the first foot into the little cage before you take your turn down the hill.  Then, as you fly down, you have to figure out a way to get the second foot in.  You need to use your toe to flip it right-side-up, and then slide your foot in.   While you are doing this, you’re flying ever faster down the hill and over bumps and roots, which flip the pedal back upside down.  If you watch the pedal, you can’t see where you’re going (bad).  If you don’t get your foot in, the little cage hangs upside down and gets snagged on stuff (worse).  In either case, you end up running into things (worst).

Enter clipless pedals. These pedals have clips (clipless, right!) that hook onto cleats on the bottom of your shoe.


So why are the called “clipless”?  Especially since you say you are “clipped in” when riding with them.  Because they don’t have toe clips?  Confusing or what??

The problem with this system is you are stuck to your bike.  (There is a theory that they make you pedal more efficiently, but that’s another discussion.) Stuck to the bike is bad.  It means when the bike hits a tree or tips over, you do the same.  You can twist your feet out of the pedals, but that never seems to happen as fast as the crash.

So when I started mountain biking again at 50, I decided that clipless was not healthy for my old bones and joints.  I tried riding in running shoes, but my feet kept slipping on the pedals…still not safe.  Then I saw this video.  Danny Macaskill is amazing!

And he wears shoes, real shoes, and rides down crazy things.  So I decided to find shoes like his.


Here they are.  They look like skate shoes, and have sticky rubber on the bottom.


And you use them with pedals like this.  They are low profile, and have screws sticking out of them to grab the bottom of the shoes.  Downsides?  A few.  If you get your legs caught on the pedals, they take off lots of skin.  I usually wear minimalist shoes, and these shoes are heavy and stiff.  So they are not comfortable off the bike or to drive.  Which means taking an extra pair of shoes for driving or walking around.  But that’s a small price to pay to get rid of clips and clipless, and the confusion that goes with them.

So, pick whatever system of shoes and pedals makes you happy.  But please get outside, and be the most happy.


Pedal to Work




I’m lucky to have a job where nobody cares if I arrive to work bit sweaty. (And it’s only 5 miles from home).  I teach martial arts, and by the end of class, everybody else is sweaty too, so I fit right in.  The bonuses are more fitness, less wear and tear on my car (we only have old cars at our house) and less money spent on gas.  I often go 3 or 4 weeks without having to put gas in my car.  The downside (and I only see one) is winter.  I’ve told you before that I hate everything about winter, the cold, the dark, the snow. And you really get to experience the cold on a bike.  Still worth it to ride to work, though.

A few years back, I got a nice flat-bar road bike.  I rode all over town, and my daughter and I rode rail trails all over Massachusetts.


Panniers made it useful for taking stuff to work, and as a bonus, it’s pretty bike.  But (and this is a big but) those narrow tires make it really scary to ride in traffic.  Always worrying about hitting a bump, hole, or patch of sand that will throw  me out into the path of a car.

It seemed that my mountain bike would be better for riding to work.  But a rack on a mountain bike seemed like a bad idea.  It would interfere with the rear suspension and get caught on stuff in the woods.  So, I decided to get a hardtail mountain bike, and set it up with a rack and panniers to use for commuting and running errands.  Besides, there’s this. You know, n+1 and all 😉


So, a bit over a year ago, I got a new commuter bike.  It’s not as pretty as the first one.  (I think all bikes should be black.  Pops of color are okay, but the main color should be black).  This bike is white.  Not as bad as a pastel color, I guess, and it has neon green trim which is pretty cool.

Some towns are great places to bike.  When my kids went to UMASS, I was jealous of the great rail trail there, and all the bike racks in Northampton.  I have to take my bike in with me everywhere (bank, post office, CVS, grocery store) because there are no bike racks.  (The lady at the center post office does NOT like my bike inside). And lots of cities have bikeshare.  But there is a move across the country to increase safe cycling.  Some of the leaders are at MassBike and Bike League. Check them out.

It’s easy to ride in the summer.  Shorts and a tank top, and I’m ready to go.  (More than ready, I love everything about summer!)  Spring and fall are not too bad, but never as good as summer.  Winter though, is a different story.  I had an adult student tell me one day last winter that I was crazy, and it was too cold to ride.  (On the flip side, the parent of one of the little students told me last summer that it was too hot to ride and I was going to die of heatstroke – not a bad way to go.) But seriously, how cold is too cold?  If you say that below freezing is the cutoff, what do you do when it’s 31 degrees out?  That’s not much different than 32.  From there, it’s easy to stop riding because it’s “too cold”.  And I really do enjoy riding.

Dress for it.  Liner leggings, fleece leggings, underarmour, fleece, parka, liner socks, wool socks, winter bike shoes, liner gloves, heavy gloves, balaclava, helmet.  Takes a long time to get out the door on a cold day.  It probably would be really hard to start the habit of bike commuting on a cold, dark day.  But start now, get used to the ride, and what you need to take.  Then as the weather gets colder (did I say I hate winter?) you just start adding layers and adapting.

I’ve also found that bringing extra uniforms to work on days when I drive, makes the biking days easier.  And I do drive sometimes.  I  go grocery shopping after morning classes on Monday, and I’m still a bit too afraid of traffic to ride at 9pm.

Using a mountain bike to commute, also has a huge side benefit – trails!!!  On the way to work, I ride the last mile on trails.  And coming home, I ride the first mile on trails, and then, about 2 miles from home, I drop into the woods at Greenbrier, and ride as much as I want (or as much as I tolerate without lunch!) At first, the pannier messed with my balance a bit on the trail.  But once I got used to it, it’s gotten easier.  I stay off the more technical trails with the pannier though.

Try it for yourself.  See the benefits of more exercise,  and less gas used.  Plus, being outside everyday is good for you.  We tend not to get enough outside time in the winter, just going from one heated space to the next.  (Although I guess people do the same with air conditioned spaces in the summer).  I realize you don’t all have ideal conditions to ride to work, but please try to get outside every day.  Thanks.





Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’my mind

Do this, don’ do that

Can’t you read the sign?

                               ( Five Man Electrical Band)

Here is the sign at the top of the dam.  There are things happening here that aren’t on the sign, like running, and disc golf.  This got me thinking about all the sign in the woods.

A few years back, I was running with a friend, and we saw two teenage boys dragging their BMX bikes through the brush.  We asked what they were doing, and they said trying to follow the red and white trail.  What they didn’t realize, is that the red and white markers aren’t a trail, they’re the Corps of Engineers boundary markers.  Well, that explained why they were having such a hard time staying on the trail!  Helps to know what you’re looking for.


If you look really hard, sometimes you can find little poles marking the boundaries, too.

I talk to lots of people in the woods.  (Ya, really.  And no, I didn’t teach my kids not to talk to strangers either.)  It’s funny how many people think they are following the blue trail. or following the orange trail.  No such thing.  All the trails on the east side are marked with blue blazes.

And all the trails on the west side are marked with orange blazes.

Black dots in the middle of the blaze mean you’re heading back toward the dam.  No dot, means you’re heading away (usually north).  Funny (well maybe not so funny) how little attention people pay to where they’re going.  I’ve been asked directions many times by hikers who say “I was on the blue trail, but it disappeared and now I’m on the orange one.  What happened?”  When I reply that they crossed the river, they will often deny it.  Well, you know that big metal bridge you went across?  Ya?  Well that was over the river.

The Midstate Trail runs across the Hodges project.  The trail is about 95 miles long (that changes sometimes when re-routing is done due to changes in conditions. The Oxford section was re-routed when the Rocky Hill bridge was built).  It starts at the NH state line, and runs all the way to RI.  Find out more about the Midstate Trail here. The halfway marker is in Treasure Valley Boy Scout camp.  The midstate markers are yellow triangles.  Some are just painted on trees, but many are very professional looking markers nailed to the trees (wonder how the trees feel  about that?)

Some of the signs are warnings.  The trails run close to a quarry, and trail users and big dump trucks need to watch out for each other.


Some of the signs are handmade.  I know a trail dog named Sammy, but I don’t think this is his trail.  So whose is it?


If you just barrel down the middle of the trail, with your only goal getting to the end, you will miss so much.  Slow down, look at what’s around you, and take some pictures.  What can you find in the woods today?