Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Black hat best for hiking—unless it's a white hat.

On the trail in my black baseball cap.

Not on the trail, but in my white trail hat.
(Photo by Charles Cooper).
For tramping along the splendid rail trails of the Kawarthas I have augmented my black baseball cap with a fine, white, broad-brimmed straw hat that once was stylish but is now rapidly becoming battered and sadly out of shape.
     For me, the black baseball cap is the perfect headgear for hiking—unless it’s the white hat.
    It is the best baseball cap I have ever owned. My granddaughter gave it to me; surplus headdress from her closet. Much too mannish for an attractive young lady. It is made of durable cotton-polyester blend and ventilated with the requisite half moon opening at the back, plus an array of six small red button-like dots with tiny holes. The visor is heavy but flexible plastic covered with the black cloth.
    A label identifies it as an “American Needle Quality Headwear.” That means it was made in China, which is confirmed by a much smaller label.
    It’s an idiosyncratic cap. On the front, above the visor, red lettering bordered by white proclaims “CANADA.” Above that a crest with a maple leaf depicts a hockey player chasing a puck. A hockey icon on a baseball cap? Only in Canada, eh! Those clever Chinese understand that baseball sits far down below hockey on the totem pole of Canadian passions.
    It’s an American hat, made in China for Canadian craniums. Now, that’s globalization.
    Only fools and tenderfeet set out on decently long hikes in the country without headgear. You need a hat to protect you from the sun, help shelter you from the rain, and keep the flying bugs off your head and out of your hair.
         There is no better headgear than a baseball cap for protecting you from the sun. Nothing on your head will shade you as well from the sun’s blinding glare. That’s why baseball players wear baseball caps.
         Exposure to a blazing sun is also exposure to its burning weapons. It doesn’t take long for the sun to burn your skin. Its ultraviolet rays can give you skin cancer. It can make you dizzy and sick before you finish a day’s walk. It can knock you down with sunstroke.
         My baseball cap not only helps ward off the burning weapons, it also helps shelter my bean when it rains. The raingear in my packsack is a plastic poncho. It has a hood that fits neatly over the baseball cap. It would not fit over a broad-brimmed hat. The cap’s protruding visor provides extended shelter from the rain.
         It is in protecting me from bugs that the baseball cap fails. While a black hat helps cut the sun’s glare, that dark spectrum attracts mosquitoes, tiny black flies and bigger, more vicious deerflies and horseflies. Those flying bugs instantly find the half moon opening.
         The bugs are as smart as hikers in knowing the best time to be up and out on hot summer days: very early. They like early morning when the world is calm; the breeze has not begun to whisper, nor the sun to blaze. They love low-lying wooded areas where water lies still in ditches, marshes and sluggish streams.
         The flying bug armada is out in force early in June when I set out from Bethany on the 28-kilometre walk along the rail trail to Lindsay. The bush that borders the first two thirds of the trail, and hems a few marshes, blocks any glimpse of rolling hills or farmland. I was alone with the bugs.  Especially the deerflies. Every five minutes or so I felt an urgent need to swat myself on the back of the head, hitting the half-moon opening. With every bang on the head I killed at least one big fly. Sometimes as many as three. I swatted them on my hands, my legs, my face, but nowhere as often as on the back of the head.
         I improvised protection. I tucked a handkerchief under my cap to cover the half moon hole and hang down the back of my neck. Not quite as romantic a picture as the French Foreign Legion troops depicted in old movies, marching across desert sands in their pillbox caps, with rigid visors and the ducktails to shade the backs of the their necks.
         A few kilometres later I removed my cap to scratch my head and aerate the hair. I found that the handkerchief had fallen off, and presumably lay on the trail I know not how far back. I didn’t walk back to look for it.
         I’ve been walking now with my white, broad-brimmed, fine mesh white straw hat. Soon the cooler weather of September, and perhaps even an early frost, will banish the flying bugs. As I venture into abandoned bugland, I will again wear my black baseball cap.
     TAGS: Walking. Clothing. Hats.

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