Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Talk of hiking boots and walking shoes

Mrs. Sarah Neville of Dresden [Ontario], aged 80 years, walked 17 miles from Dresden to Chatham yesterday, to renew a writ in the county court clerk’s office. Mrs. Neville has been doing this once a year for three years. She does not care to ride on trains, because she objects to tobacco smoke in the depot and the cars. (From the Intelligencer, Bellville, Ontario, June 11, 1910. The newspaper did not say whether Mrs. Neville walked back to Dresden for a 34-mile (55-kilometre) the same day).
     A good fairy brought me a pair of featherweight power walking shoes for my 79th birthday. Fabulous! Even the Greek god Mercury, with his winged heels, was never shod with anything as good as this to help speed him on his way. Too bad Mrs. Neville never had walking shoes like mine!
     They are the same as shoes used by runners but have all the features of good walking shoes, as described by the Mayo Clinic booklet, Walk Your Way to Fitness. There is an Achilles notch to reduce stress on the Achilles tendon. An ankle collar cushions the ankle and ensures a proper fit. There is an insole, a midsole and a gel pad to provide support, comfort, cushioning and shock absorption. A roll bar stabilizes the foot and keeps it from rolling inward when it hits the ground. A roomy toe box helps prevent calluses. The bottom sole has grooves and treads to provide traction. Above all those soles, much of the upper part of the shoe consists of a mesh material that provides ventilation and minimizes weight. You can see daylight through the mesh.
     My power walkers will augment—not replace—my lightweight hiking boots. The walkers are for pavement; the boots for gravel, rocky or more difficult trails. I’ll wear the walkers on my September marathon; the boots on my October hike to Haliburton; and I’ll use both as I continue to train. I don’t want to wear out these costly runners before the marathon. Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a former marathon runner who publishes a weekly eZine primarily for seriously active athletes, advises runners to throw away their running shoes after six months. All those different soles are apparently quick to break down.
     My canvass-topped hiking boots are the lightest boots I’ve ever owned. On our bathroom scales, they weigh precisely two pounds. The new walkers weigh half as much—one pound, eight ounces each.
     Mrs. Neville certainly never had boots like mine, let alone these walkers, to ease her 34-mile tramp from Dresden to Chatham and back. Like everyone else, she almost certainly walked in good, black leather boots. Heavy boots, stiff with solid leather soles half an inch thick; no cushion to provide comfort, support or shock absorption; no Achilles notch, no roll bar, no jell pad.
     Mrs. Neville was born and grew up before railways arrived in Ontario. Most people walked wherever they went, near or far. Our first settlers began clearing the forests in remote areas beyond the reach of stagecoaches. When the clearings grew into farms with horses, they were workhorses. When the horses weren’t busy pulling out stumps or pulling plows, they pulled wagons to haul in supplies and haul out produce. Country people sometimes rode in such wagons, together with chickens and grain or a month’s supply of groceries, but more often walked. In the cities and towns, the affluent had horses and carriages; working people rode horse-drawn streetcars when they could afford the fare, and otherwise walked. Well into Mrs. Neville’s era and beyond, a 20- or 25-mile walk in those clodhopper boots was nothing out of the ordinary.
     In the West, it was a little different with cowboys. My father had been an Alberta cowboy in his younger years. He maintained that a cowboy would rather saddle up than walk across the road, but we had no horses when I grew up.
     My brother and I grew up in the same type of boots as our settlers, on the family stump-studded, West Coast oceanfront-property. When our boot soles wore thin, Dad fit the boots over a shoe anvil and hammer on new soles. Sometimes an errant nail would work its way through the sole of a boot into the sole of a foot, and would have to be hammered flat. If the boots became too tight as we grew, Dad would expand them. We had a goat and chickens, which were fed wheat. Dad would fill a pair of tight-fitting boots with wheat, add a little water, and the swelling wheat would expand the boots. That practice ceased when, on one occasion, the wheat swelled too much and completely burst the sides of the boots.
     The summer I was 17 I worked as a logger and liked to swagger in my heavy, high-topped logger’s caulk boots. Alistair MacLeod in his best-selling novel, No Great Mischief, erroneously refers to these as cork boots. That was possibly because caulk boots are, for some reason, pronounced cork boots. The caulks—sharp spikes at the bottom of the boots—help loggers scramble over or along often wet and slippery logs without falling.
     We wore high, heavy hiking boots when Joan and I raised our family in Calgary and spent summers hiking on many of the 2,000 miles of hiking trails in the four Rocky Mountain national parks to the west. Frequently there were mountain streams—cold, clear, fast-running and bolder strewn—that we had to either ford, or turn back. The streams could look intimidating. The water was usually less than knee deep but too deep to splash through wearing boots. On at least a couple of occasions I resolved the issue by taking off my boots and throwing them to the far bank. No turning back.
     Today, my featherweight power walking boots should enable me to complete that 42-kilometre September marathon within the 6.5-hour qualifying time limit with no trouble.
     Not so. Not at my age. On my second walk in my power walkers I clipped along a measured 16.5-K street route as quickly as my old legs would take me that distance. It looks like it will take me more than eight hours to do the full marathon. So what? It will take whatever it takes. Who cares?


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