Monday, August 31, 2009

Lizard Feet

Gear post!

The topic of the day: Vibram Five Fingers.

There was an excellent article about these babies in the New York Times on Saturday. I've had a pair for a couple of months now, and I adore them.

I wore them as my camp shoes when I was a field guide and found them to be perfect, not as unwieldy or heavy as Chacos or Tevas, but tough enough to protect against sharp rocks and thorns. I wore them rafting, for which they proved ideal - they stick and provide traction even when wet. I have friends who've worn them climbing, and though they're not quite as effective as climbing shoes, I'm told they work well enough as long as you're not trying anything too crazy. I even hiked in them; interestingly, I came to prefer them to hiking boots because I tend to roll my ankles a lot and I'm convinced they helped me avoid that. With hiking boots, if you step on something wrong, there's only one fulcrum point: your ankle. Wearing the Five Fingers, I was far more aware of what I was stepping on to begin with, and then my whole foot was capable or curving and wrapping around whatever wobbly rock or loose log I was stepping on. Very prehensile.

Finally, I've been wearing them running. The New York Times piece I linked to gives a pretty clear picture of the barefoot running vs. cushioned running debate. As the article allowed, most people have different needs when it comes to running, so what works for me may not work for everyone. That said, I'm surprised and delighted by how well they've worked for me. The first couple of times I ran in them, they made my calf muscles extremely sore because of the way they force you to run on the balls of your feet. That wore off after a few outings, leaving only a beautiful sensation of extreme lightness and the sense that this is how I was meant to run: unencumbered and agile. They've actually made me more excited to run.

A side benefit is the reactions you get when you wear them - reactions from New Yorkers, no less. These are the people who are supposed to have seen it all, the people who are fazed by nothing. A lot of incredulous stares, sure. A few disgusted comments: "Dude, they make you look like a lizard!" I mean, they are undeniably freaky-looking things.

But mostly, I've found that they are a fantastic conversation starter, the ice breaker of all ice breakers. I've made more random five-minute friends in the short time that I've been a Five Finger owner than the previous 23 years combined. Everyone who catches sight of them is gobsmacked. They feel compelled to say something and find out why the hell you're wearing rubbery toe socks on the subway. When I wore them to Trader Joe's on 14th St. (a crunchy Manhattan hotbed if there ever was one), I thought they were going to make me their queen.

A bonus: if you walk through a field, flowers get stuck between your toes.

It looks like Five Fingers can be found in at least eight locations throughout New York. You can check the store locator here.

The Friendliest Place on Earth

Hello. I'm Emily. I recently arrived in New York City after spending the last couple of years happily exploring the wilds of the great American West. I worked a series of odd jobs, many of them seasonal in nature: forestry researcher, ski lodge dining room server, brewpub jack-of-all-trades, freelance writer, wilderness field guide. Not only did the mountain air and the smell of sage work their way deep into my heart, I fell madly in love with the culture I will hereafter call "crunchy."

You know. It's not precisely "hippie," but it's definitely granola. "Dirtbag," when spoken with a great amount of affection and pride, is also an acceptable term. We can often be found working in fields relating to wilderness, education, holistic health, music, or psychology. Many of us have a bad case of a travel bug that is more likely to take you backpacking in South America or Southeast Asia than wining and dining in Paris... though we aren't above enjoying the finer things in life. At the risk of further pigeonholing this lovely bunch of people, I will add that if you attend an ultimate frisbee pickup game, odds are that you'll run into a few of us.

I've come straight from Durango, Colorado, a sort of dirtbag heaven on earth. Located in the Four Corners at the exact point where mountains meet desert, there is ridiculous climbing, dirt biking, skiing, and kayaking in the area, much of it actually within the city limits. Many of my friends live out of their trucks year-round because when they aren't field guiding, they're off on a road trip to Utah canyon country or backcountry snowboarding in Wyoming. Plenty of my old coworkers at the brewpub moonlight as rafting guides on the Animas River and have been known to wax rhapsodic about the trip to "Gnar-nia" their new tele skis took them on. The big expenses in our small budgets tend to revolve around gear and music festivals. So leaving that for the bright lights of New York has been interesting, to say the least. You know that part in Crocodile Dundee when Mick arrives in Manhattan in his outback finest? And looks spectacularly uncomfortable and out of place?

Well, it's actually not like that at all. I'm from Massachusetts originally, have spent a fair amount of time in cities, and am incredibly stoked to be here. I am, however, experiencing a few pangs of nostalgia for the stars, which I won't be seeing for awhile. I miss showing up to work in torn Carhartts and Chacos. And there's a lot I'd do to breathe in the scent of a ponderosa pine. Mostly, I miss the people and the lifestyle.

In this blog, I'll write about all the outdoorsy, adventurous things I can find to do in this urban wilderness. I'll talk gear a bit for all you gearheads out there, and if I see or hear about a sweet band playing in the area, you'll definitely know about it. Any tips about inexpensive and/or awesome outdoor getaways and activities would be great. This is New York, and it has a little of everything. I know that there's a little crunch to this Big Apple, and I intend to find it.

"That's incredible. Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth." 
~Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee