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?

Standard
Personal Development, Primitivism

A Year in the Woods

In 2006 I learned to live in the wild. It was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had. People often ask what it was like, and I almost I can’t tell them. The only way to understand is to do it, and no one ever does it.

Or so I thought.

A Woman of Action

Last week I got an email from Clair. I’ve known Clair for years; at first she was the silent, thoughtful woman who attended events at our Temple. I began to talk with Clair and, bit by bit, discovered that she’s not exactly your average woman.

Clair has a commitment to living naturally. Not just buying organic, but actually changing her lifestyle. Last time I saw her she was living on an organic farm and learning how to work the land. She came to my going away party and gave me a jar of her own home-made drawing salve. It’s already proven its worth more than once by removing splinters and insect stings.

But somehow I still wasn’t expecting her email.

Clair announced that she’s going to Teaching Drum Outdoor School, the same wilderness school where I lived in 2006. Whereas I was there for less than a month, Clair will be going there for a year.

Teaching Drum has long offered a year-long wilderness program. Participants are taken to a remote section of wilderness. On Day 1 they make their own clothing from hides. They are shown how to make shelter, how to gather food and how to live as a small community on their own. In the winter they live in the snow; in the summer they live in the heat. Slowly over the year their food drops are reduced until they rely totally on their own hunting and gathering.

Bringing Together Families

For many years, the yearling program was small: you can imagine that not many people are bold enough to try it, and many drop out before each year ends. But this year Clair and the Drum are taking it to an unprecedented level, with 40 people—adults and children—forming a true, working tribe in the woods.

Clair writes:

[We will] learn how to live in the wilderness as a multi-generational clan. Many of the families and some singles are coming from overseas and the rest are from here in the States. We will be living in a community supporting and learning from each other what it truly means to be a human living in the circle of all our relations. We will also gain practical skills in fire making, shelter building and food gathering without modern equipment.

Clair’s group has started collecting for a scholarship to make sure no one is turned away. They seek to raise US $11,000 before May to underwrite the cost of attending this program and make it accessible to everyone.

I just made my donation, and I’d like to ask all Rogue Priest readers to consider donating too. Much of this blog is about having the determination to change your life, to transform yourself by embracing challenge. Clair is doing that in a remarkable way, and she and her tribe are making it a priority to help others do the same. They need your help.

There are two great ways you can support Clair’s yearlong group:

  • Make a direct donation to Teaching Drum through the yearlong’s web page. You can use Paypal, or donate by phone or mail.
  • If you love flowers, purchase some through Flower Power Fundraising. 50% of every single sale will benefit the yearlong program.

This program does amazing things and your donation will help to change lives. Please tweet and Facebook share this post so we can get the word out to lots of people. Thank you.

Standard