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.



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?

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.


Milkweed and Monarchs


One day last week, riding down the railbed, I noticed these weird, reddish, flowery things.  So, of course, I had to stop and take a picture.  As I pulled my phone out of my pack, 2 butterflies landed and stayed to pose for pictures.

Turns out the plants are milkweed, and the butterflies are monarchs.  I spend a lot of time in the woods, and see many more moths than butterflies, but suddenly, it seems that there are butterflies everywhere.  Well, monarchs can be found almost everywhere in the US, and their food of choice is milkweed.

I always thought of milkweed as plants with puffy, white seed pods breaking open in the fall.  But this is what they look like earlier in the year.  I took this picture last summer, and didn’t realize what it was.  IMG_1691.JPG

Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants, and when the eggs hatch, the little caterpillars eat the plants.  When they transform to butterflies, the adults eat nectar from many plants, including milkweed.  Milkweed plants are toxic, so please don’t eat them.  The toxins remain in the butterflies (so please don’t eat them either ;)).  The monarchs’ orange color is a warning to predators that they aren’t good to eat.

It would be easy to go out into the woods and focus only on the ride, run, or hike.  But there is so much more than that.  Most of us will never be world class athletes, so a few minutes break from a workout isn’t a big deal.  So tomorrow, when you’re out in the woods, stop and smell the flowers.  Or in this case, check out the flowers…and the butterflies!