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Of Hiking Shoes and Expert Blues

There's no winning when an expert gets involved. This is absolutely true, if you yourself are not the expert in question.

(It may also be true when you are the expert; I don't know. If I'm ever good enough at something to tell other people how to think about it, I'll let you know. But I'm not holding my breath.)

I was reminded of this rule of life today. In two weeks, the missus and I are going to Montana to hike around some glaciers. Because this is a thing that people do, apparently, for some reason. Good for Montana, I suppose, but we live in Boston. If we want to trudge over an enormous block of ice, we just wait for January and walk outside. I know. I've done it.

My wife tells me that this "glacier" thing is different, somehow. It's bigger or colder or flavored like a Sno-Cone or something; I didn't really catch the details. But she also said it's melting, which means it won't be around to climb on for very much longer. And that makes it imperative to get out there, like yesterday, and scamper around it while it's still there.

(Let this be a lesson to everyone -- get out there and enjoy these sorts of things before they're gone. Ride a mastodon. Fry some dodo wings. Follow Amanda Bynes' career.

Oh. Sorry. Too soon?

Yeah. I still get pretty torn up about the mastodons, too.)

Anyway, glaciers.

Evidently, one does not simply hike onto a glacier. At least, not in "those ratty old boat shoes with a stupid hole in the bottom". Or so I've been told. Repeatedly.

So we went shopping for shoes. Hiking shoes, specifically. And Montanan glacier hiking shoes, if such an uber-specific thing were to exist.

(Apparently, it doesn't. Which is a shame, because that would have made things much easier.)

"And also, hiking isn't a sport; it's a chore that people who don't own cars have to put up with until they can afford a bike."

My wife had already bought her hiking paraphernalia -- shoes, socks, hat, fashionably purple canteen, bear repellent, mosquito confuser, liquid Moose-B-Gon, the usual -- so she hooked me up with her supplier. That turned out to be a store in our neighborhood named EMS, short for "Eastern Mountain Sports".

I pointed out that technically, a glacier isn't a mountain. And Montana isn't "east" of anything but Seattle. And also, hiking isn't a sport; it's a chore that people who don't own cars have to put up with until they can afford a bike.

She insulted my shoes again, and we went to EMS. Some people just don't want to hear the truth.

It was at EMS that we ran into the Expert™. She was a lovely girl, friendly, helpful -- and she knew a lot about things you put onto your feet outdoors. Like, a lot. She probably had a Ph.D. in insoles or something. I bet her thesis involved arch support of sandals depicted in 15th century Flemish paintings.

I was in trouble from the very beginning. I explained what I was looking for, and she nodded and hrm'ed, and told me to take off my shoes. Now, I'd tried to do the right thing, and wore a pair of sneakers, so I could also wear a pair of tube socks. Socks with the boat shoes (and shorts) is strictly verboten in males under the age of eighty-seven -- and anyway, I didn't want them hearing any more bad-mouthing. They're sensitive enough as it is.

So I took off my sneaks, expecting the Expert™ to measure my feet or put me on one of those Dr. Scholl's pressure gizmos or to lop off a toe for DNA analysis, in the interest of providing the perfect shoe.

None of these things happened. Instead, she told me to stand up I stood up. She looked at my besocked feet, nodded, and asked me my shoe size. I told her, and she went off to fetch fourteen boxes of footwear from the back to try on.

For some people -- traditionally of the female variety, but I'd rather not generalize -- this would be heaven. Two hours of trying on shoes, fitting and lacing and twirling all twee in the mirror. I am not one of those people. I would have been far happier ordering one pair of possibly ill-fitting shoes online, suffering through the hike, and being done with it.

But no. I was now starring in my own shoe shopping montage in the middle of some outdoorsy chick flick. Sex and the Glacier. The horror.

Also, the adventure didn't even start with the shoes. As I prepared to hoist on the first pair, I asked lady Expert™ whether trying on one shoe of a pair would suffice. As it has, say, in every single shoe store I've ever had the misfortune to enter.

She gave me a sad, pitying look. An "of course not" look. A "when will people learn?" look. A look that tore right through my soul and into the inner holey boat shoes within. And then she gently but firmly insisted that I should try on both shoes in each pair, because each foot is a different size, dummy.

(The dummy was implied. But it was there. Oh, yes.)

My fate sealed, I hefted the first woodsy hiker toward my foot. And she dropped the other hammer.

"Oh, you shouldn't try them on with those socks. Cotton socks are very bad to hike in; they'll give you blisters."

I had done one thing to help -- one thing. And it hadn't helped. It only raised the specter of ouchy blisters, and got me a trip to the "sample sock" bin, where I picked out a lovely mismatched pair of (apparently) non-cotton socks which had no doubt been sported by fourteen other pairs of sweaty urban feet that day already. Plus the day before, and really -- do they ever wash those things? They're for the clueless non-expert doofuses who don't know about glacier hiking blisters. Let them wear sock!

Eventually, we made it out. I'm not sure how long it took, exactly. I half-expected to walk out of the store into three feet of snow, which would have given me a good chance to try out my new shoes, assuming I still had the energy to walk. Which I didn't.

On the good side, I'm told I now own the appropriate footwear with which to hike a glacier in Montana in two weeks. We may spend less time actually hiking than it took to buy the damned things, but I have them. They're mine. Right here.

Of course, I don't know what's going to happen when it's time to go, and I inevitably forget to pack them. I just hope my holey loafers have earplugs. Because I think we're all going to hear about it.

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