The Great Adventure, Travel

1,400 Mile Shoes

My long quest for shoes is finally over. So after all the tests and ideas, what did I go with?

Requirements

I had something very specific in mind. Because of injuries I didn’t want to go with a totally flat thin sole as many runners and hikers now favor. At the same time, my tests allowed me to feel firsthand why a jacked up heel is unnatural and potentially dangerous. I looked for a compromise that leaned toward the minimal sole end of the spectrum—a suggestion my readers came up with very early on in the process. My ideal shoe would have a padded sole with arch support but very little heel support.

Other factors also matter. The shoe needs to hold up to lengthy wear and tear, be suitable for nearly 1,400 miles of biking (the first leg of the trip, through New Orleans, will be on bike) and be relatively lightweight. Low tops preferred, and if possible, it slides on instead of lacing. I figured that last one was pie in the sky though. Ideally, it also looks good.

I looked at five different shoe stores including the shoe department of Gander Mountain (moderately helpful staff) and local outfitters Midwest Mountaineering (the best staff I have ever dealt with). Thanks to the experts at Midwest Mountaineering I found a shoe that matches all of my criterion.

The Patagonia Cardon

Cardon by Patagonia is not a hiking shoe. It was in a separate area at Midwest with the casual shoes. Nonetheless it is built to last. It came up when discussing my needs with the sales person.

The Cardon features a sole with 8 mm of heel padding, enough to do the things a padded heel is supposed to do and yet still so thin it’s officially categorized as a “minimal” sole. It offers arch support as well, and if you remove the insole and look at it you find it’s built just like Superfeet inserts. Unlike the hiking shoes, my salesman suggested I would not need inserts with the Cardon (though I have some anyway, just in case).

Since I’m starting on bike, coolness/breathability and comfort will be important considerations. The Cardon wins in these categories. It’s incredibly comfortable and it’s hard to overheat in them. It loses out compared to good hikers in terms of handling water—the Cardon will take longer to dry out. It also wouldn’t work well for 8 hours of hiking with a heavy pack, and would leave my feet sore. I expect to need to buy new shoes by the time I start doing that.

The Cardon is also incredibly rugged and durable. The seams are double-stitched and everything is well made. They can take years of wear.

One of my favorite things is that they look like classic shoes. Originally soft, suede-like nubuck, I’ve treated them with a wax waterproofing product making them a darker walnut color with a smoother texture. They look professorial and I could wear them to more formal events, a boon since I won’t have room in my gear for dress shoes.

I’ve been wearing them for nearly two weeks now and I love this shoe. It’s an all around winner and does everything I want. You can check out the Cardon here (and like all my recommendations, that’s not an affiliate link).

Runner Up

It’s worth mentioning the other pair of shoes I really like, the Cardon’s biggest contender in my book. These are the Chameleon Stretch by Merrell. Although uglier they offer an amazing sole and construction, and are indeed perfect for lengthy hiking with a heavy pack. They’d handle getting soaked better, too. I’ll likely switch to a pair of these after New Orleans, for hiking and kayaking.

Bargain Option

I spent $140 on my Cardons, made possible by my wonderful donors. The investment was definitely worth it and I feel good about having professional quality shoes to start my Adventure with.  But I should note that Midwest Mountaineering’s discount store, Thrifty Outfitters, also offered some great footwear. For about $40 they had a pair of hikers very similar to the Chameleon Stretch. The sole and heel in those weren’t quite what I wanted, but anyone bootstrapping an expedition should know there are lower-cost options.

Many thanks again to everyone who donated to the Gear Drive. I have virtually everything I know I’ll need… making me wonder what kinds of surprises I’ll run into and how my gear will change with time. Any guesses?

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Adventure, The Great Adventure, Travel

Gear Drive Results

Over the past few weeks I’ve run a gear drive here on Rogue Priest. The purpose of the drive was to raise half the cost needed to purchase high quality, reliable gear for the Great Adventure.

I’m pleased to announce that the Gear Drive was a complete success.

In the original post I set a goal of $860, and you exceeded that goal with a grand total of $870! The other half of the money needed for gear was saved by yours truly.

Over the past week, I’ve purchased the following items, thanks in part to all you wonderful donors:

  • 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad notebook computer
  • Hennessy Asym Classic camping hammock (this has built-in mosquito netting and a rain fly, outperforming most bivies and tents for comfort on the trail)
  • Apple iPhone 4, lightly used, for a bargain price of $265—and not tied to a service plan!
  • Sleeping bag rated to 25° (plenty for the places I’m going)
  • Circuit backpack from ÜLA, holds 69 liters and up to 35 pounds
  • Rope, carabiners, dry sack and other odds and ends

Of course there are still items to pick up—shoes and water bottles are high on the list—but the biggest items are taken care of and the rest are on the way. This week I’ll be setting up the hammock and testing it out.

None of this would have been possible without all the support that dozens of people showed throughout the gear drive, and my sincerest thanks go out to each and every one of you. And thanks also to everyone who tweets, shares, comments and follows along. You guys are an inspiration to me.

If you weren’t able to make a donation, there are plenty of ways to get involved. The best is to live the adventure yourself: travel freely, seek your legend and live for your ideals. If you can’t go yet or you already found your dream, help a traveler next time you have a chance.

The road is as cheerful as the people we meet.

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The Great Adventure

The Gear Drive So Far

We’re on week two of the gear drive. Time for an update!

Gear matters. That’s me in 2002!

Goal: $860

Raised so far: $810~

This is amazing progress. I want to give my most heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s donated. And of course if you haven’t yet, you still can! Your gift will help me secure the equipment needed to stay as safe and healthy as possible as I undertake the upcoming Great Adventure, crossing two continents under my own power.

But time is getting short. In less than a week I’ll be heading to the outfitter to make my final gear purchases. The money raised here, along with what I’ve personally saved toward gear, will determine what I can get.

Since we have only $50 to go to the goal, there’s no doubt that every donation counts. Even small gifts add up quickly, and there are still postcards and meditation sessions available for you big spenders.

Could your gift be the one that pushes us past the goal?

Thank you!

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The Great Adventure

Gear Drive

Here’s what scares me. It’s not just walking, biking and paddling farther than most people drive. It’s not the Mexico border, or the Amazon rainforest. It’s that it all starts so soon.

To calm myself I’ve been assembling my gear. Recently, readers asked what exactly I’m taking with me. What do you take to walk 8,000 miles?

The answer isn’t clear. I’ve priced everything out and I have a wishlist, but the money I’ve saved isn’t nearly enough. There are going to be some tough choices. 

Photo by Beth Varro.

Here’s the dream team:

Shelter

$160 — OR Highland Bivy (like a tent coffin!)

$180 — 20°F rated sleeping bag, for my toesies.

Backpacking

$225 — ULA Camino Backpack (designed by backpackers, for backpackers)

$30 — A week of food… very, very simple food.

Gear

$60 — “MyBottle” water bottle with purifying straw. Sexy.

$45 — Gerber super lightweight hatchet. Perfect for home defense.

$140 — Shoes! Final pick TBA (so suspenseful)

$27 — Outdoor Research Drysack. Keeps my laptop dry even underwater!

$7 — Every adventurer carries rope.

Electronics

$300 — Smartphone. (My first ever, don’t tell anyone.)

$485 — Smaller, lighter notebook computer. So’s you can still read these blog posts.

Grand total: $1659

I’ve saved $800 toward this, leaving $859 to go. And I’d like to ask you to help.

One of the things I’ve learned over and over from experienced backpackers is that gear is vital. The right equipment keeps you safe from injury and lets you tough out the worst conditions.

To help secure that gear before I go, I’ve started a donation page. Many of you have asked how you can help as I get ready to leave, and if you’re able, this is the best way. Please click below and help support the Great Adventure.

Any size gift helps. You can sponsor a specific piece of gear, or give your lucky number. The amount is totally up to you.

As a special incentive…

  • If you give $50 or more I will send you handwritten postcards from three cities: Minneapolis, St. Louis and New Orleans.
  • If you give $100 or more I’ll give you a private meditation lesson. We can do the session “in person” by Skype. And you get the postcards, too!

Gifts of any amount are truly appreciated, and will help me out every day. Thank you!

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Adventure Prep, Uncategorized

Upright Sleeping

When my sister lived in a Buddhist retreat, she slept in a box.

This is not the first thing that comes up when you ask what it’s like to spend three years completely sealed in retreat. And as she prepares to take her ordination as a nun, it may not seem like the most important part of her spiritual practice. But for 1600 nights in a row, if she was closing her eyes to sleep it was in the confines of about a 3′ × 3′ wooden container.

It’s not as awful as it sounds. The point is, essentially, that lamas should sleep sitting upright. This way they can do their nighttime practices in the full lotus posture, sleep right where they are in front of their shrine, and wake up to start their morning practices without moving. Or something like that.

But to most people it has no appeal. It’s hard to explain that the box is not a crate, or that it’s quite comfy when you add some pillows. Before her retreat I suggested she stop mentioning this particular part of what she’d be doing. It makes it sound like some kind of extremist cult.

The past few weeks she’s regaled me with the reality of sleeping upright. Several times I watched her peacefully drift off to sleep in improbable places. Her back is board-straight and she moves with grace. It has its perks.

Then I began to think about the applications of sitting upright to sleep. I have no intention of sleeping in a box, but I have this whole “walk 7,000 miles” thing. It will include a lot of nights sleeping outside—probably about 1600—and I’m open to anything to make that easier. Some of the benefits of upright sleep:

  • You stay warmer. The vertical orientation of your body is far more efficient heat-wise.
  • Warmer means no sleeping bag. One lap blanket is all you need. When backpacking, that means less weight to carry.
  • If you wear glasses you can leave them on while you sleep, handy if you need to get up suddenly at night.
  • You can use a smaller tarp over your head and less mosquito netting (no tents here).
  • You develop strong neck and back muscles.
  • When you wake up you’re completely lucid, never groggy. Zangmo and I can’t figure out why this works, but it does.

These are powerful incentives to see if I can acclimate myself to upright sleeping before I start the Adventure. But that’s just two months away! Challenge accepted.

My kid sister Zangmo in her box.

Zangmo told me that when she first started it took her about three months to get used to, and involved intolerable pain and stiffness. However, we don’t believe that’s necessary to learn to do it right: she resisted upright sleeping for a long time, and had bad posture at first.

So I set a piece of particle board against one wall of my room, culled through the pillows and cushions in the house, and fanaggled about an hour of consultation with my resident lama. I’m going to try it for myself.

How will it go? Expect an update next week. In the meantime, has anyone else ever slept sitting up (by choice or out of necessity)? Do you have any other unusual sleep methods that might be of use to fellow adventurers? Hit the comments and speak up. I’d love to learn.

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Adventure Prep, The Great Adventure

Shoe Comparison: Off Road

Today I continue my shoe comparison. With the road test complete the next step was the Off-Road Course.

The course runs roughly as follows: an estimated half mile walk on level asphalt road, then another estimated half mile down a trail through the woods. The trail is poorly maintained, covered with bare dirt or grass and weeds. It’s uneven. From there I strike off into completely trackless woods. After perhaps a quarter mile I have to ascend a steep wooded hill, still with no trail. I estimate an elevation of 300 feet and a slope of up to 60 degrees.

Atop the hill I walk along a wooded ridge for unknown distance and down a gentler slope on the other side. Finally I meet up with a grassy foot trail which takes me down to a paved country road. The country road is the halfway point; then I turn around and do the whole thing in reverse.

The distances here are only approximate, but since the course was the same both times that doesn’t matter.

It’s important to note that while off road I estimated my heading by the sun. This means I may not have taken the same course step-by-step but the terrain was identical. In fact, the second time through I encountered visual landmarks just before coming back down the 300-foot slope. That means I took the exact same route down the hardest slope both times, which will be important when interpreting the results below.

As with the Road Course, I did the two tests a number of days apart, at roughly the same time of day, with the same warm ups and exercises beforehand and the same cool-down period afterward.

Road Results: Steve Madden Canvas

Conditions: Partly cloudy, warm, strong breeze

Distance: Unknown

Time: 1 hr 45 min

This walk was a joy. I found that my flat, thin canvas shoes were extremely comfortable even on uneven terrain and out in the thick brush and leaves. The walk was invigorating and it was nice to be off-road again. Climbing the steep slopes was serious cardio, but relatively easy. I never scrambled or felt I would fall. Unlike the Road Course, the lack of padding was no issue on the softer ground and there was no soreness or callous-building this time around.

I encountered, to my surprise, zero ankle stiffness all that evening or the next morning. I found these results shocking.

Road Results: Chuck Taylor All Stars

Conditions: Cloudy, warm, moderate breeze

Distance: Unknown

Time: 1 hr 45 min

Walking was a chore. By the time I made the top of the ridge I was sick of the walk and only kept going for the sake of the experiment.

Walking on uneven ground with these shoes is not easy. I didn’t consciously notice this at first, I just noticed how tiring it was. I don’t think it was only the weight, but also the angle they force my feet to meet the ground at. With a padded ankle and arch support my feet have no option to splay, tilt or follow the angle of the ground beneath them. This makes off-roading in athletic shoes quite energy-intensive.

The comfort issues didn’t stop there. I started to get twigs and other junk in my shoes. I don’t remember this happening in the Maddens. Looking at the shape of the shoe, as a lace-up it has a long slot on either side of the tongue. I suppose that branches can easily catch in it, break off and work their way in. Since they are tied it’s hard to take them off and remove such garbage. This is not a fault of the padded soles, but it means that if a padded athletic shoe turns out to be a good overall choice then I’ll need to seek out a slip-on, lace-free version for hiking.

In a similar vein, the laces came untied no less than five times during the test, presumably from snagging so often.

The most significant problem occurred on slopes. Climbing the slope was much harder in these shoes. I had to take several segments on all fours to scramble up. Grabbing trees and other handholds became much more important. On the way back down, despite taking the exact same route, my feet went out from under me and I fell on my butt four different times.

I experienced mild to moderate ankle stiffness that evening and the next morning, similar to the results from the Road Test.

Interpretation

The first conclusion to draw from this comparison is that if I plan to go off-road on my hike I can’t mess around with laces.

The second conclusion is that padded athletic shoes perform like crap on slopes and uneven ground. My first thought with the sliding and falling on the slope was to check the treads of both shoes. Maybe I was just getting better traction with the Maddens?

No way. The Maddens, made with minimum treads in the first place, have been worn almost totally smooth. The Chucks however have thick, deep treads and they’re practically pristine. If the game was “who can stop quickest on ice or sand,” Chuck would win every time.

So we can’t blame traction for the problems on the hill. Given such near-identical conditions, I have to blame the different design of the shoe. When your feet are already coming down on an angle they don’t need an additional angle built into their heels. And when they need to turn, stretch and twist to accommodate rough terrain, they shouldn’t be forced into a set position for every step.  In these conditions the padded shoes work against the body.

Remember though that on the level Road Course the padded shoes actually performed slightly better. Although there’s still one test to go I already find myself asking: is there any way to reconcile the pros and cons of both designs into a single shoe?

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, The Great Adventure

Shoes or Barefoot: The 7000 Mile Question

Last summer while camping with philosophers I read the book Born to Run. This book has sparked quite a buzz among adventure types. It looks at super-marathons—runs of fifty miles or more in a single go—and suggests that running barefoot is healthier and safer than wearing shoes.

Alternately, foot condoms.

That’s actually not the main point of the book, which is more about how humans evolved to run long distances, and the search for the people who still do it (safely) today. During that quest, author Christopher McDougall found evidence that modern athletic shoes increase running injuries by weakening the foot. The solution he suggested—citing a number of sports doctors and coaches—is to wear thin-soled, unsupported shoes or no shoes at all.

People have fixated on this.

Barefoot running has become quite a trend. Before you sprint out and try it, let me warn you: suddenly switching your running routine to barefoot will lead to a stress fracture. Try downgrading to thinner shoes first. Start with a short jog. Slowly build your way up.

But the real issue is, is it worth it?

The Theory

The reasoning offered by McDougall and others is simple. Padded, supportive running shoes with thick heels are relatively new. Even 30 years ago they didn’t exist. But we’ve been running marathon+ distances safely for tens of thousands of years.

So what do these shoes do?

According to the theory, they over-cushion and support our feet. The muscles don’t have to work as hard because the shoe restricts them. The foot muscles weaken and injury results.

That makes logical sense, but where’s–

The Evidence

To support this, McDougall mainly relies on time trend analysis. Padded shoes are supposed to prevent injuries, but do they? He compares the injury rate of professional athletes before the modern running shoe, to professional athletes today. If the best modern running shoes help prevent injury, we should see a decline in injuries over time.

But injuries haven’t declined.

The implication is that athletic shoes don’t do anything to help prevent injuries. Barefoot enthusiasts point to this as proof.

They’re wrong.

A time trend is an interesting reason to look into something, but it’s not proof. Many factors could affect running injuries over forty years. The evidence McDougall gathered is an interesting starting point, but that’s all.

This is a hot issue, so surely more studies must have been done, right? I decided to…

Ask An Actual Doctor

This issue matters to me because I’m going to be walking, say, 7000 miles or so. And, oh yeah, I have a busted ankle.

So as long as I’m hanging around a straight-talkin’ ankle/foot specialist, I thought I’d ask about barefoot running (or hiking).

“Wear some fucking shoes,” my surgeon told me. “I don’t mean those five-fingers. The best athletic shoes you can afford.”

I worried he was biased. “So have studies been done that actually show that? More padded shoes lead to less injuries?”

He sighed. Shit was getting serious.

“No. It’s a big debate with smart people in both camps. So far, no research has shown us a clear answer either way.”

Iiiinteresting.

The Seven Thousand Mile Question

I always prefer to make my decisions based on science. Science is hands-down the best tool we have, followed closely by rational philosophy, then instinct, then personal experience, and somewhere way down at the bottom of the dredge, hope and faith.

But in this case, science fails to answer my question. So I have to make a judgment call.

Do I wear thick, supportive athletic shoes? Or thin canvas shoes and sandals? 

(I’m not literally going barefoot so those are your options.)

This is the seven thousand mile question. Choosing correctly could make my journey safer and more comfortable. Choose wrong, and I might be crippled when I’m 40—or laid up and suffering halfway to Brazil.

What do you think? If you knew you have arthritis in your ankle, and will be walking across two continents, what footwear would you equip for the journey?

I have some thoughts of my own on what to choose, but I’m eager to hear your opinion first. What do you say?

Update: You can see the shoes I finally chose—and why—in 1400 Mile Shoes

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