Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wet Feet

A slight change of direction. This blog started out as a way to ease the boredom and to record my recovery from a climbing accident. It moved on to bits of climbing and then in the last fifteen months or so, the lead up to and recovery from a total hip replacement. So to (belatedly) avoid becoming stale the focus is shifting to individual facets of my general activities rather than a blow by blow account of the activities themselves.

Most sports require gear and the participants in those sports tend to accumulate and compare gear. Now these aren't gear reviews with their "this only weighs xxx grammes" and "You can really feel the extra strength in ...", they are reviews about gear. While makes and models might be mentioned, that's more to stress a particular point than praise or damn the kit.

On Saturday we were in Ambleside for a group ride over in to Langdale and round Tarn Hows and Loughrigg - here's the Strava trace. At this time of year you have to take whatever weather gets thrown (literally) at you. Cath had been in Manchester for the week on a course so I drove up to meet her at Windermere station. I was on time but the connecting train wasn't so she was an hour late. The weather was horrible, driving rain at just above freezing, the UK speciality. On the way back from the pub the skies had cleared and the pavements were already icing over.

Crinkle Crags and Bowfell from Waterhead

The morning dawn crisp and clear with the temperature well below zero. The car park was patchy black ice - lovely. We set off at roughly the designated time and managed to stay upright and by the top of the first climb it was snowing. Over the course of the next few hours we road through snow, slush and water and by the time we got back all seventeen of us had very cold and wet feet. The YHA drying room was a popular location to get changed!

We'd all got a variety of shoe/sock combinations from dedicated mountain biking shoes to full on hiking boots; wool socks to Sealskinz; some had overshoes. So basically nothing had worked or rather coped with the conditions.

The mountain biking industry is dominated by North America - not surprising really since it's the largest market - so a damp corner of north western Europe is not going to figure highly in the design of products. I'm reminded of a conference call we once had with a supplier of safety sensors (who were based in Israel):

Us: The sensor's fine except for one point, the casing doesn't protect it from horizontal rain.

A moment's silence ...

Supplier: You don't get horizontal rain.

Us (in a resigned voice): Oh yes you do.

In a country where the limited rain falls straight down why would you even think that it could come at you from any direction. In a similar manner much of US designed kit is designed for dry dusty conditions, consequently it struggles in UK conditions.

I was wearing Sealskinz inside Merrill walking shoes - in my switch to flat pedals I haven't got round to purchasing a cycling specific flat shoe - which I thought would stand up to the conditions. Obviously not. I'd used a similar setup when training for my Bob Graham Round, on one occasion we started from Wasdale in rain, climbed through sleet to above the snow line then spent the day climbing and descending through the freezing level and yet still had dry feet. Something was obviously different.

What I think caused the difference was that my running shoes have little to no padding and they are designed to let water out rather than keep water out. Newcomers to fell running often ask about waterproof shoes thinking they would be ideal. If the shoe is "waterproof" then if you get water inside the shoe it has no means of escape. In the case of walking shoes and MTB shoes it then soaks the padding from the inside. Now rather than being damp, the foot is continuously immersed in water.

So ...

What should work is a lightweight shoe that is oversized to allow loose fitting socks so as not to restrict circulation, mesh outer so that water can get out. Something similar to a fell running shoe but with a flat sole that can engage with the pins on flat pedals. Add either a loose fitting overboot or a gaiter to keep wind chill down.

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