Sometime around May, as the days start to get longer and the nights begin to shorten, most people look forward to the onset of summer with thoughts of picnics, pool parties, summer vacations, and walks in the park. Not me. As the warm weather approaches, I think of one thing only: time to seal up the sock drawer.
Yes, as long as there isn’t snow on the ground, you’re not likely to see me wearing socks anytime between May and October. I’m fortunate enough to have a job at a University where there isn’t much of a dress code. Professors by their nature aren’t huge proponents of mandated anything, so us little people get to enjoy the benefits too. So, out come the sandals, and away go the socks all summer long for both work and play.
It’s not that socks are bad. In fact, my wish is for everyone else to wear them to keep their ugly dogs covered. Me, on the other hand, well, I just can’t get used to the idea of wearing little sweaters on my feet.
BUT! My old dogs have learned of some new trick socks. Yes, the company that made us all say: “doh, why didn’t I think of that?” by introducing a sandal with a built-in ‘toe bumper’ now makes socks.
Although a bit on the expensive side, KEEN socks are a sizable improvement over all other socks I’ve tried.
The model I have, the Bellingham, is made primarily of very soft Merino wool, which, aside from being very comfortable against the skin and quite adept at wicking moisture is also a natural fiber with the added benefit of being sustainable and renewable.
They’re thin and unobtrusive in non-contact areas, and thicker (but not too thick) in the heel, toe, and ball area to provide a small amount of extra padding in high-pressure areas.
What seemed like a gimmick at first glance turned out to be one of the features I favor most about these socks. They are specifically designed to be worn on either a left foot or a right foot, and they’re marked to indicate which is which. In addition to fitting the arch better than any other sock I’ve tried, this asymmetrical shape fits all five toes perfectly with none of the alternating tight and loose spots inherent in socks designed to fit either foot. Bravo, KEEN.
There’s still more, and I saved the best for last. These are without a doubt the smoothest, flattest seams I’ve ever had the pleasure of standing on. The only seam I can feel at all with my fingers traverses nicely under the bridge of your toes and goes completely undetected while wearing. You absolutely will not be rubbed wrong no matter how many miles you may hike in these socks.
But honestly, as much as I think KEEN has raised the bar for other sock makers, it’s hard to say how this will affect my penchant for swaggering sockless. See, for all the nifty improvements KEEN has made, they still haven’t cleared the biggest hurdle… these socks STILL don’t launder themselves!
As a yearly ritual, I’ve gotten used to spending the better part of February poring over the REI catalog in anticipation of the arrival of my yearly dividend. This ceremonial pondering isn’t completely free of enjoyment, but this year when KEEN announced they were going to make an SPD-compatible sandal, tradition was abandoned; this year’s decision was easy.
Sometime back in the ’90s, Shimano made an SPD-compatible sandal. For those of us who had road shoes and clip-less pedals way back in the day and wanted a way to tool around town without sounding like a drunk Fred Astaire at the local ice cream parlor, they were a godsend. And if the Shimano offering was a bit too blue-light-special for your taste, John Fluevog also put out a significantly more haute couture SPD-compatible shoe that in a pinch could be worn with a tux if you happened to be commuting to a wedding and forgot to bring your Florsheims.
Sadly, it seems, what started as a great idea lost its momentum, and quite a few years passed without much choice in a casual cycling shoe. In part, I’m sure, to the emergence of mountain style SPD shoes, which started to incorporate lugged rubber soles that protruded beyond the cleat and made walking slightly less clumsy. Even so, they lacked style and still weren’t something you’d want to want to wear to the office.
So, thanks to KEEN for giving new life to an old idea whose time was never really past… it just needed a toe bumper.
With eyes shut tight against the powerful sun, she lies back in the sand, though is somewhat surprised at the willingness of the grains to rearrange under her body. It’s a comforting feeling. It’s a familiar feeling. She’s been here before. Sometimes in reality. Sometimes in dreams.
Stretched out on her back at the edge of the world where the solid earth abruptly melts into liquid, she’s free to think. But she can’t. Thoughts no longer form. Physically the location is not new; spiritually it is.
Her days here as a young girl were invaluable. Then, she need only lie back, open her mind, and let the thoughts and feelings flow. A gentle offshore salt-filled breeze quickly carried away the worst moments life could produce.
Things have changed. She’s no longer a little girl. Gentle winds are now powerless to carry away the feelings of despair and emptiness she carries with her as a constant reminder that her abandoned soul is slowly dying.
A deep, dark, nameless, aching hole of dimensionless proportion has expanded inside her taking with it the hopes and dreams that used to flourish in the previously fertile garden.
She’s stuck. She’s drained. Time has raced. Time has stopped. Numbness envelops her. Her body tingles. She doesn’t trust. She doesn’t trust herself. She feels empty and powerless. She relinquished her power to someone else. Her boundaries are blurred. She can no longer feel the distinct separation between her self and the external world.
Her tightly closed eyes no longer able to hold back the welling tears, she sits up with her face in her hands, shaking. Jaw clenched tight. Ribs constricted. Her muscles brace against a consuming rage she’s powerless to understand. Her skin is etched with lines of tension and time.
She’s afraid to turn around. She’s afraid to look at the sand. She’s terrified there will be no imprint. There is an imprint. She does exist. It’s not too late. Maybe the garden will grow again. It’s up to her.
In the year 2000, on the 17th of September, 24 year old Nicole Reinhart was poised to capture one of women’s cycling’s most coveted prizes. Having graced the top step of the winner’s podium in each of the first three of four races in the series, The BMC Software Grand Prix title, and the quarter million dollar prize for winning all four, looked almost certain to be hers.
Her display of dominance during the first three races left everyone convinced that the fourth was more of a technicality than a test. Reckless speculation may even leave one wondering if her name may have already been on that hefty check long before the starter’s gun put the final race into motion.
To nobody’s surprise, her dominance continued through most of final race, and with only two remaining corners standing between her and the checkered banner, victory now seemed absolutely certain. But, as the old saying often reminds us, only two things in life are certain. Victory is not one of them.
The double-edged sword of unpredictability that creates some of life’s sweetest moments also has a brutal way of reminding us that the bitter ones are never far behind. On that second to last corner, for reasons still not known today, Nicole lost control of her bike. Just off the edge of the course, a cold and unforgiving Maple stole both her chance of victory… and her life.
More recently, on the 12th of March 2003, the world of cycling was sent another reminder that even the superheroes of this extremely competitive sport are no match for the Grim Reaper. With 40 kilometers remaining in the second stage of this edition of Paris-Nice, Andrei Kivilev tangled with a couple of other riders, causing them all to go down hard.
Tragically, the injuries Andrei sustained in the crash left his wife without a husband, his children without a father, and his fans without a hero. But his death also left many looking for people to blame and places to point fingers.
During times of tragedy, individuals often lose their ability to judge with clarity the facts of a given situation, and this unfortunate instance is no exception. Long before their tears had dried and funeral arrangements had been made, spectators, teammates, friends, families, and coaches were calling for mandatory helmet usage among the pro ranks.
This issue is not new. The world’s greatest bike race—the Tour De France—was dealt a painful blow in 1995 with the loss of Fabio Casartelli on a spine-tingling mountain descent. Casartelli’s death created an emotional juggernaut that almost instantaneously brought to life a new rule in professional cycling—mandatory helmets. But the rule was put to death as hastily as it was brought to life thanks to the absolute refusal of the riders to ride until the rule was no more.
Deaths in professional cycling are extremely rare. I could bury you with facts and figures to demonstrate that with or without helmets, professional bicycle racing has a much lower mortality rate than other extreme sports that employ rapid motion as a competitive factor. However, I’d prefer to view this issue from another perspective.
Helmet usage, as I see it, is a no-brainer. Today’s helmets are extremely light and well ventilated; sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re wearing one. For these reasons, I never leave home without one. But if ten, no, if a hundred or even a thousand professional cyclists died every year from head injuries, my belief that every pro cyclist has a right to make the decision for himself would not change.
I was raised on the premise that man’s most precious gift is his life. But that gift has value only when accompanied by the freedom to decide how that gift is to be used.
The number of people this issue of choice directly affects is very small. There are only a few hundred pros whose lives will be forcibly changed, so why should the rest of the world care? The rest of the world needs to care because the helmet issue isn’t simply a problem; it’s also a symptom. It’s a symptom of a world of people whose desire to control the lives of others is resulting in the loss of control of their own. One cannot decide the path of another man’s life without forfeiting the right to decide the path of one’s own.
The helmet issue interests me personally, but its implications and effects can be applied anywhere. For example, millions of people die every year as a result of what they put in their mouths. People drink, people smoke, people eat things from McDonalds that bear a closer resemblance to a grade school science project than to what I call food. But does my abstinence from these destructive tendencies put me in superior moral position to those who choose to partake in these vices? Should I decide what other people eat? No, of course not.
This struggle may continue forever. Some will not rest until helmet usage is unquestionably enforced. I ask: what then? Where does it stop? Are helmets the panacea their proponents would have us believe? If the deaths don’t stop with helmets, what next? Eliminate the more dangerous mountain stages? Then what? Speed limits? Training wheels? Where does it end?
When I ask these questions, I don’t get valid, rational, well thought out answers. I get well-intended emotional wishes. I get: “Andrei would still be alive today if helmets were mandatory.” But is this true? Is there any way to know for sure? No, there is not. What about Nicole Reinhart? Would she be alive today if she had been wearing a helmet? That question leaves no room for speculation. Nicole was wearing a helmet.