THE URBAN SHERPA
TRIED & TRUE HALL OF FAME
photo: Gary Beechey
photo: Gary Beechey
The Urban Sherpas
The Urban Sherpas are a loose group of keen hikers who often accompany Hiker Mike on his adventures at home and away. We will be introducing these folks to you as we get along with this website and occasionally we might get an opinion from any one of them on a favourite hike or valued tool or item of clothing etc. Watch here for more.
- THE TRIED & TRUE HALL OF FAME -
To quote the Mountain Equipment Co-op article, "The Right Stuff", "The four tools you need to bring (into the backcountry) are the right attitude, the right knowledge, the right skills, and the right equipment."
The whole point of the Hall of Fame is to feature hiking gear such as clothing, boots, backpacks, hardware etc. that the Urban Sherpas have found work well. The 'Sherps' are not beholding to any sponsor so we can try any equipment and give an honest appraisal of its worth. If it's good we use it - and you, gentle reader, will be the first to know.
EXAMPLE: Hiker Mike wore Merrell Boots to Everest Base Camp on two separate occasions and it wasn't until Novak's Hiking Centre in London Ontario offered Mike a pair of Salomon Extreme Winter Hiking Boots that he found them to be a better fit for his type of hiking and for his feet. The same can be said for Smartwool Socks distributed by Michael Maysell, vice-pres of Daymen Outdoor Marketing, Canadian distributor of Lowe Alpine Packs and Mountain Apparel. Hiker Mike had worn Icelandic Hiking Socks for years but always experienced cold feet after the hike. Smartwool Socks wick the moisture away from the feet and keep them warm and dry even after hiking!
Urban Sherpa Dave Bradstreet is often out on the trail with Hiker Mike and has always been a fan of well made and designed gear where form and function are paramount. You can always count on Dave Bradstreet to have a pocket knife or compass handy and is always on the prowl for the perfect pack, jacket, hiking boots and accessories. He is knowledgeable about this equipment and is often seen falling down hills, taunting 'gators or getting a soaker in the nearest river - you know, for research...
So - that's the kind of report we will be offering here. Send us something and your gear too may end up in the Tried and True Hall of Fame.
Hiker Mike: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adventure and sport activities, whether engaged in inside or outdoors, involve inherent or other risks and dangers that can lead to injury, property damage or even death. Instruction is required to develop the technical expertise necessary to participate safely in many outdoor activities, such as climbing and hiking. When purchasing gear or taking hikes that we have recommended you accept and assume the inherent risks of outdoor recreational activities. Participants must understand that they are responsible for their own safety, and assume all responsibility for injuries or other loss resulting from the inherent risks of recreational activities. The wonderful rewards of participating in outdoor recreational activities are based solely on skill, knowledge and judgment.
MONTRAIL Susitna XCR GORETEX® Dry Shoes
This is a great pair of shoes. Period.
Wear these on the winter trail or summer run. They are extremely comfortable, rugged, blessedly waterproof and a bit quirky looking which appeals to me. Hey I bought a Saab in '74 - I know quirky. But like a well designed car, these shoes are great in the corners and fabulous in the straightaway. The built in gators are perfect for rain - not so great in the snow - but will keep your feet very dry in a downpour. Here's what Montrail has to say:
MONTRAIL - Susitna XCR
TerraFlex RD Sole Platform
DryShell design with GORE-TEXÆXCR repels water from the outside Internal fit construction provides support and optimal control with an extremely comfortable feel
Durable, high-traction outsole smoothes ride for more efficient running over changing surfaces
Custom gaiter attaches quickly to form a waterproof barrier from the ankle down.
We finally got a chance to use those beautiful light snowshoes that GV sent Dave Bradstreet and me from Quebec! GV makes a light neoprene trampoline-type shoe, stretched on a thin aluminum frame. The swivel under the balls of your feet give maximum forward striding movement which came in handy as we put in many miles trekking over the frozen glassy surface of Haliburtons Leslie Frost Wilderness Lakes.
GV snowshoes have sharp, metal, spike-like crampons under your feet, which dig into the ice and also make it possible to walk up snowbanks without falling back down. Which brings us to the main feature of these particular shoes.
GVs float like a butterfly over the deepest snow. I couldnt believe it. Only the slightest depression on the lightest of powder. I felt like JC himself walking on top of the frozen water.
We hiked over land and lake for two hours until we reached an old trappers hunting cabin back in on Knife Lake. We unhitched the bindings to set free our boots so we could kick up and lie in the sun while sucking on oranges and smoked oysters. Then, sliding once again into the easy bindings, we sashayed back from whence we came. I thought Id feel a whole new set of aching muscles the next day because of the snowshoe walking, but here I sit, 24 hours later, with nary a sore body part for my trouble.
Hikers, four hours on a pair of snowshoes is a somewhat extreme introduction to the sport, but GV snowshoes made it fun and painless.
GV snowshoes.com - like Gorgeous Vivian - gullible and vivacious - check them out on the net. Theyll send you a catalogue if you email them. Tell them Hiker Mike sent you.
Way back in the misty past, before I started hiking, I used to run the 10K. I would never finish anywhere near the front of the pack but I did finish - always finished - a lesson that I try to impress upon my 3 babes when they chose to listen. Three or four times a week with a quiet regularity Id strap on my New Balance Marathoners and head up the Poplar Plains road into the Winston Churchill Park and 48-54 minutes later Id be sitting at my kitchen table back home re-hydrating myself with a few Molson Canadian.
The 10K run was the only rigorous exercise I found to offset the great amounts of abuse I was then merrily heaping upon my corpus. Well thank goodness those days are past. The Bacchanalian lifestyles gone, the bone jarring running is no longer practiced, and replaced with the kinder gentler hiking, and the hangovers are gone but the New Balance running shoes remain in the form of a great hiking boot out of Boston - home of the Marathon - Massachusetts. Dunham Boots.
a.k.a. "Stormcloud Sevens"
photo: Gary Beechey
Some months ago my friends over at the new Balance Flagship Shoe Store at Yonge and Delisle Streets, a block north of St. Clair in downtown Toronto gave me a pair of their Dunham Green Mountain hiking boots to take for a spin on our Southern Ontario trails.
The green Mountain hikers were built in Boston for the rugged and wet Vermont and New Hampshire countryside, and I found that they worked equally well on the Bruce Trail with its rocky limestone outcroppings, the soles of the boots made with sticky rubber called Absorb which clings to the rocks and mud like glue. So when I started to plan my B.C. Blitz Day hiking expedition to Vancouver, Whistler and Tofino, it was only natural that I call Clarence Rosevear, the friendly boot rep at New Balance, to see if he had the proper boot for the BC mountains and rain forest.
Clarence gave me a waterproof hi-top red boot made of rich Corinthian leather, actually the most soft and supple leather built on top of a true traction sole that not only adhered to the most difficult B.C. trail, but these Red Boots looked quite smart and stylish when out searching for salmon steaks at some of Whistlers more sophisto restaurants. Whistles and catcalls aimed directly at my feet. Most embarrassing. But the true test for these Dunham Red Boots came into play out at Long Beach, south of Tofino on Vancouver Island, on an exceedingly wet afternoon. In order to get to the beach from the parking lot, Kayak Mike Allison and I had to negotiate a giant log jam - mammoth smooth and slick barkless logs all cross-hatched in a mishmash, sometimes piled high 10-15 feet, above the rocks and sand.
There was nothing to do but navigate very carefully along the length of these logs, sometimes jumping in the rain from one to the other. Lack of traction for one second could have sent me careening down through the logs to the rocks below, breaking bones the only reward for my foolhardy efforts. But it just didnt happen hikers. I felt like a professional log roller, tap-dancing my way, albeit very carefully at first, then more confidently, as I began to trust the traction these Dunham 5700 Red Boots afforded me. We hiked 6-8 hours a day for a week on our B.C. Blitz and my feet never got sore, my Achilles heels didnt flare up as they are apt to do on long treks, and my little toes didnt get all squinched up on the lengthy downhill sections of the rough and tumble trails. And I didnt go over on my ankles, not once.
So will you please help me welcome these great Dunham New Balance 5700 Red Boots to the Tried and True Hall of Fame on the hikermike.com website. And you can check them out by calling 1-800-THE-BOOT. Theyll send you a catalogue.
Or go into the New Balance Store at 1510 Yonge Street at Delisle, one block north of St. Clair, and Scott or Sean, good looking hiker-biker guys will take good care of you. 416-962-8662. These 5700 Red Boots are waterproof and good looking and perfect for the parks, ravines and waterfront trails of Megacity.
Try them hikers. Youll like them. Hiker Mikey likes them.
DUNHAM 5700 BOOTS - www.dunhambootmakers.com
I think that secretly we define ourselves by our footwear. Different boots or shoes can change our mood, give us confidence, make us feel attractive or just plain nimble. Admit it, there's a little Imelda in us all. So in an attempt to ward off angry blisters and cold tootsies I purchased the DUNHAM 5700 Black Boots - the best boots I have ever put on my feet. These are a full leather, waterproof boot - worthy of following Hiker Mike into a swamp or river, you know, to "re-establish bearings". They're lightweight, multi-purposed, waterproof hiking boots with full-grain, smooth leather uppers that breathe along with compression-moulded EVA midsoles. Incredible traction is provided by the Tru-Trak rubber outsoles - they have small round buttons that literally grab ice and maintain your balance. Ankles are well supported too - I have never gone over on my ankles in these babies. So if you're looking for a boot to hike six hours and then go out to dinner - this is the pair for you! Most of the Urban Sherpas wear these great lightweight boots and they stick to the trail like yaks. Great looking in two versions: red/brown and for the art crowd, black. Like most Dunham Boots they are available in a variety of sizes for men and women. Men's: D, 4E (7-14) - Women's: 2A, B, D (5-13).
SMARTWOOL SOCKS - www.smartwool.com
Now the perfect complement for these great boots would be an equally great pair of socks, right? For me there is only one choice - SMARTWOOL. Michael Maysell up at LowePro gave me my first pair and I've been a fan ever since. These are made with Australian Merino wool that will keep you warm and dry under the most challenging situations. SmartWool technology wicks moisture away from the foot and evaporates it quickly. Your feet stay comfortable and dry all day long and they will not itch or shrink - they guarantee it. I have taken these socks into the freezing rivers of Northern Ontario and the funky swamps of the Everglades and they always come up smelling - well, feeling good. They are a bit pricey ($20CAD), but worth every penny. I have five pairs that I rotate and seriously, I use no other socks. And they last forever. I'm still wearing the socks that I took to Australia for the big Millennium Walkabout over a year ago. (What, are these homing socks?) The Light Hikers work well in the warmer months with sneakers or hiking boots, and the Expedition Trekkers will get you comfortably through winter. So say g'day to these great socks. You won't feel sheepish buying these beauties or regret the extra cost one bit.
Mountain Equipment Co-op - Toronto
Well folks - what to say about my favourite outdoor store? In my opinion, not only does this company provide the best quality and value in outdoor gear and clothing, they also have the nicest staff and the most pleasant store that I know. (The check-out system works well too.) Situated on King Street at Spadina in Toronto even the architecture is a fine contribution to our city's cultural fabric. Walking into the bright and airy store, it becomes immediately evident to the customer that this is no-nonsense shopping - something that us hikers truly appreciate! Where most other stores are pushy, cluttered and crowded, the MEC Toronto store is well organized and a truly relaxed and fun place to shop. And more often than not, there is a display of the latest environmental issues with helpful information. The lower floor has everything you need to camp, cycle, canoe, kayak, climb, hike etc. If you are looking for bug-off or a crampon, it's all there! Then up the beautiful staircase to the second floor where you can find the exact item of clothing or boots that you need for any activity. I have been an avid fan of MEC through many years, three different store locations and miles of hiking with Hiker Mike. These days, most of my clothing and gear comes from the wonderful folks at the Mountain Equipment Co-op.
So my MEC Polartec hat is off to this great outlet and in my opinion the MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CO-OP wins the Best Outdoor Store Award on the Tried & True Page!
Click here to go the MEC Website...
Become a member!
Vision 40 Pack
Hikers, my backpack holds my life in its folds. Its my office, my wardrobe, my library, and my kitchen on the trail.
If youve ever heard me play whats in my backpack? with John Donabie on CFRB in Toronto, you know how rugged, waterproof, versatile and comfortable my backpack must be.
And so it was with great pleasure that I accepted a Lowe Alpine Vision 40 backpack from Michael Maysell at Daymen Outdoor Marketing. Michael called to thank me for recommending the Smart Wool hiking socks that Ive been using with great success, and suggested I try the Vision 40 expandable backpack.
Up to now I have been a big fan of the Mountain Equipment Co-Op day pack - one big compartment with a zippered pocket for wallet and keys etc. But I am a tall man, and the Lowe Alpine Vision 40 not only boasts a long thin line, but also the back padding connects with, and runs down, the muscles on either side of your back bone, leaving an air groove, so your spine can breath free. And when you do up the chest and waist buckles, the Vision 40 fits to your body like a comfy old sweater. Three zippers in the top flap, for radio, keys, wallet, and your novel. A long pocket zips down the front of the pack for maps and a cell phone, and deep water bottle pockets on the bottom side of the Vision 40 makes it easy to reach down and back for a quick drink in mid stride.
Bonus Alert. The Vision 40 is expandable - loosen the straps on the side of the pack and it accordions outward to form a large backpack able to carry 25-30 lbs. - tighten the straps and youre back to a day pack.
The only down side is I didnt agree with is the choice of color, and thats personal. You got your lime green, Halloween orange, bright gold or cobalt blue. The upside is, the wildlife will see you coming and run for their lives!
Its the best damned backpack that anybodys ever given me. The Vision 40 from Lowe Alpine takes its place in the Tried and True Hall of Fame.
So congrats to Michael Maysell and Daymen Distributing for the Lowe Alpine Vision 40 - the snuggle bunny of backpacks.
Made in Canada
Short - 41-46L - 1.2kg
Regular - 43-48L - 1.4kg
Tall - 47-53L - 1.6kg
I love this one! For me, best so far for overall comfort, usability and durability. I take this and the Arc'Teryx Blade 21 on the road which carries all my gear for sustained travel in any condition. Here's what MEC has to say:
"This multi-featured ski pack has enough capacity to store all your snow safety gear and carries extremely well, thanks to the thermo-formed suspension system and Y-shaped internal frame. The main pack fabric is X-Pac, an open weave 50-denier nylon, laminated to polyester cord in an X-grid pattern. This is laminated to a 210-denier polyurethane-coated nylon to form a tough, tear-resistant, and weatherproof material that absorbs little moisture.
X-Pac main fabric.
630-denier nylon reinforcements in high-wear areas.
Fixed top pocket.
Adjustable, removable, ice axe loops and retainers.
Thermo-formed, contoured shoulder straps provide superb comfort.
Hypalon quick-release ski attachments.
Hipbelt utilizes hipbone-protecting SquashPods.
Thermo-formed back panel follows back contours.
Modified kangaroo pouch holds skins, mitts, and most shovels.
Stash pocket on front panel provides easy access. A WaterTight zipper keeps everything dry."
Blade 21 Backpack
Made in VIETNAM - 1.1 kilograms - 21L.
This is my choice for a day pack. Like all Arc'Teryx gear, it is very well made. This is my briefcase and short hiker and always goes with me everywhere and companion to my main pack, the Khamski. The stiffener is rare in a pack this small and makes all the difference. I can get more in this 21 litre pack than in a comparable 30 litre and I have no idea why! Here's what MEC has to say:
"The Blade is rugged enough to slip on your shoulders, ramble to the top of your local lookout, pull out your laptop and record your elevated thoughts. Flip it sideways and grasp the comfy handle, and the Blade becomes suitably urbane for commuting and business travel. Made with 1260-denier ballistics nylon, 630-denier superpack nylon, and rugged Hypalon. Comfy dual-density shoulder straps. Thermo-formed back panel. Supportive and protective high-density polyethylene (HDPE) framesheet. Zippered side access for files and laptop. One outside front pocket, one internal stash pocket, one top pocket. Pen pocket holds three pens. Cellphone slot. Key clip. Top and side grab handles. Hypalon® Zipper Garages prevent leaks at the zipper ends."
The easy to use Sherpa an altimeter/barometer/hand held weather station.
You must know by now that Hiker Mike's hardy band of inveterate trespassers is called the Urban Sherpas, who hike the parks, ravines and waterfront trails of Megacity. So it was with serendipitous surprise that the folks at The Brunton Company sent me an ingenious little tool called the Brunton Sherpa. This oval-shaped gage of space age plastic fits in the palm of your hand and is worn on a cord which wraps around your neck and provides the hiker with the following services:
The Brunton Sherpa gives you the time, the temperature, the barometric pressure for the last 5 days to the present which is pretty helpful for those hikers who can't feel the weather changes coming in their bones. The Brunton Sherpa also reads the wind speed, and my favorite, it gives you the present altitude, or how many feet or meters above sea level.
This is a lightweight and sturdy tool with plenty of pertinent info, so please welcome the Brunton Sherpa to the Tried and True Hall of Fame.
Brunton Eclipse Compass
Recently I had the pleasure of hiking the Coastal Pine forest of Maine, around Camden. Due to the lack of an available trail I decided to grab my Brunton Eclipse Compass and head straight into the bush. It was perfect spring weather - just my nylon jacket provided plenty of warmth. It was easy to move through the brush as the early growth had not yet started. Of course, I had the advantage of the ocean on my right and the sun in the clear sky for navigation, and if I had really needed a compass on a day like this then I would have to hand in my Urban Sherpa badge!
However, I was glad to have the Eclipse along. This is much more than a simple compass. Hidden in the rubber shoe which provides good protection for the beautifully suspended magnetic needle disc with a big red N, is an amazing ten page booklet. There is an astonishing amount of information from using maps to safety tips to medical emergency first aid techniques. Also youll find out how to tie knots, build a shelter and purify water. This unit also includes a built-in Clinometer to let you know the angle of the hill you are about to fall down. The sight cover and mirror complete the instrument. The manual is an education into how to REALLY use a compass and if you happen to take topographic maps with you, there'll be no excuses for being lost. Plus - this is a truly beautiful looking and feeling piece of hiking gear.
Hikers, in my opinion this is the most complete mechanical companion you can take on a hike. Next to an adventurous spirit, this is a must-take if you like to get out there and boogie in the wild woods. ( This the big brother of the Brunton Classic Compass - also a tough, accurate and highly functional compass. If you like simplicity, this one might work for you too. ) Thanks to the folks at Brunton Canada for sending this to us. See the full line of Brunton products at: www.brunton.com or check with the Mountain Equipment Co-op in Toronto if you'd like to see one up close.
We are also testing the Brunton Sherpa Atmospheric Data Center - a wonderful lightweight digital device that measures temperature, windspeed, altitude and air pressure (barometer). This will go with us on various treks around North America and we'll let you know how it stands up to the rugged use of the Urban Sherpas!
Also watch for the upcoming review of the Silva GPS unit.
Swiss Army Knife
I always admired my Grandads fascination with detail. He always carried a penknife and was constantly sharpening and cleaning it. He was the kind of guy that loved to make things, and when I was a kid he made forts and petrol stations and toy horses and so forth. And always using his pocket penknife. It was always a labour of love for him and it was the excuse I needed to hang around him as much as I could. Add the fact that he was the kindest man Ive ever known and the fact that I am the same physical size, its not hard to see that he was a great influence on me and still is. I learned the love of gadgets from him and I still have his knives, albeit quite thin in the blades now after so many years of sharpening. I remember him with his wet stone, sitting there telling stories of an era that is starting to have much in common with our present day - involving items of quality that last.
So it was with this background that I originally fell in love with the Swiss Army Knife. The first one I had was a simple four or five blade model but it was the first item of high quality that I owned. It was different from all the tin-feeling pocket knives that I had systematically destroyed by throwing them into wooden posts. I was in such awe of the calibre of engineering that I would never think of using it as a throwing knife, and for a kid of 12 or so, that was heavy self discipline. It was with me through many years of travel as a singer, all over North America during the height of the Folk Scare of the 60s. It taught me how not to lose things and how to travel light - it taught me the value of multi-purpose tools, and pointed the way to self-sufficiency. I retired that one when my new wife bought me a new Swiss Army Knife in 1976 - The Explorer. Unfortunately I left that one on an island in Georgian Bay after an afternoon of youthful exuberance. And so I replaced it with the knife I now rely on every day. I feel incomplete if it's not in my pocket or pack.
The features of this one are not as important as the idea that the knife imparts, so I'll let you hikers explore the Victorinox website for the details. Im sure that when they dig up this civilization in the next millennium, theyll find one of the millions of Swiss Army Knives (they ship 77,000 each day in Ibach-Schwyz, Switzerland!) that will tell much about our Y2K culture.
Resourceful, ingenious, self-sufficient, multi-purposed, durable and attractive. Not a bad legacy for a simple red pocket knife.
Thanks Grandad for showing me the magic...
Have a look at the entire line and learn a bit about the history of these world famous knives at: http://www.victorinox.com
Salomon Boots = True Stories
Howdy hikers. Im Hiker Mike and Ive got a true story to tell you. I wouldnt be hiking the trails today without my Salomon hiking boots and Ill tell you why.
I was hiking the western ridge of the Boyd Conservation Area up in Woodbridge last Sunday morning, when I ran out of path at the top of the ridge. Erosion had washed out the high trail, and now there was no where to go but straight down into the rocky river valley some hundred odd feet below.
The vertical looked pretty steep - no path, just loose earth and the occasional tree, possibly to help me down by slowing my descent. So I planned my route and jumped over the side and it wasnt long before I picked up an alarming alacrity in my pace.
Pretty soon I was running full out, heading for the rocks below me, so to slow my speed I leaned out to grab a passing tree, and the tree broke off in my hand, and the dust from the disintegrating tree got into my eyes. So now Im flying blind.
By all rights, I should have crashed and burned and broken every bone in my body.
I was totally out of control. So imagine my surprise when I found myself standing upright at the bottom of the ravine with whats left of the tree in my hand. I had just gotten away with murder. My own.
So give credit where credits due, right? And thats just what I did. I bent right over, put my hands on my knees and blinking away the dusty tears, said, Thank you to my Salomon Hiking Boots.
Hikers I was a Merrill Boot guy for over 10 years. Wore them twice to Base Camp. Great fit, no break-in time. But I always seemed to be going over in them and you know what that means, either take the dive or break my ankle, but since this near death episode on the Boyd ridge with my Salomon Extremes, I have never gone over, not once! I have never lost my footing. Knock wood.
I had the opportunity to work for 3-4 hours the other day in the snow, in those same Salomon boots. Hard work it was carrying heavy equipment knee-deep in snow and the labour was continuous and arduous.
We had no time to stop and think or take a break or change our clothes. We got very hot and sweaty, waterlogged from the knees down. My Salomon Boots and SmartWool socks were soaked.
What happened was very interesting. The smart wool kept trying to wick away the moisture from my hopelessly wet feet. There must have been some kind of reaction set up, because somehow there was warmth being produced.
Although my feet were soaking wet, they were nice and toasty warm on the ride home. The combination of Salomon Boots and SmartWool socks will keep you warm under the worst conditions.
Leatherman PST II
Well here it is folks. THE pocket tool from America. Made in Portland Oregon, this Leatherman Tool is a great example of the ingenuity and craftsmanship now evident in top-of-the-line equipment from the good ol' USA!
It is ALWAYS on my belt - even my tux! My favourite gift to give as well.
Please visit their site for more info: http://www.leatherman.com
I had just returned from a trip Downunda when this article caught my eye. My Leatherman tool was in constant use there - on the trail, on the road and even in the kitchen! Here is a Tool Tale from the archives of Leatherman Tool Group that illustrates what a fabulous pocket tool this truly is...
A Tool Tale from Australia
Peter Eland, Australia
I was walking with a friend along the Murrumbidgee River in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, in Southeastern Australia. It was early in the morning, the sun having just risen. We walked over a small shrub-covered rise, towards an open area surrounded by thick bush. As we reached the open area we spooked a small group of grazing kangaroos, previously hidden from our view. There were a number of females with Joeys in their pouches, along with juvenile kangaroos just old enough to fend for themselves. Upon seeing us walk into their grazing area all the kangaroos panicked. There were kangaroos hopping in every direction trying desperately to escape to the cover of the surrounding trees. One of the juveniles was separated from his family unit. In a desperate attempt to reach his mother, he jumped headlong into a wire fence. His hind-leg was caught in the fence, held fast by two strands of wire. The small kangaroo was thrashing about wildly trying to escape. My friend decided to take off his T-shirt and quickly wrapped it around the kangaroos head, to quiet him down. I pulled out my Leatherman and used the hard-wire cutters to cut through the wire, which released the kangaroo from the fence.
The kangaroo regained his balance and bounded-off into the bush. I am sure that without my Leatherman, I would have been unable to release the kangaroo. My Leatherman will be coming along on every future bushwalk!!
Article and photo - Copyright ©1999, Leatherman Tool Group, Inc.
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Hand Me Down My Old Walking Stick
"Hand Me Down My Old Walking Stick" by Big Joe Williams is one of a number of versions of this traditional song that speaks to the virtue of one of the oldest and dearest tools that mankind has ever invented - The Walking Stick.
So why is there so much resistance to this wonderful innovation? Why, when coming upon a fellow hiker carrying a Moses rod, do the words "nerd", "dork" or just plain "dumb-lookin'" leap to mind for most North Americans? I really don't know, but I suppose it's a fashion thing, or fear of looking old in this perpetually youth-oriented culture. Whatever the reason, for the folks that have discovered its virtues, it's a heaven-sent hiker's companion.
A couple of years ago (has it really been that long?) I broke my hip. Not exactly the hell that Stephen King went through after being struck by a van, but serious nonetheless. I broke it in ten pieces and I now sport a few extra pounds of shiny stainless steel in my butt. My wife calls me the "BadAss Weatherman" because along with the obvious discomfort and the career-stalling effects, it gave me the uncanny ability to sense a change in the weather PLUS - it taught me how to use a cane! Cool.
Now I had one of those really neat fold-up ones, you know the kind that looks like a weapon sticking out of my backpack. Along with the alarms at the airport security because of my bionics, I also raised the suspicions of the gun-toting border folks. Frankly, I was glad to see they were on their toes, although some of them could try poking and prodding with a little less glee. Of course, these days we are all very thankful for their diligent efforts. However, when the bells and whistles go off around me, I take great pleasure in showing them the picture in my Palm Pilot of my posterior hardware and explaining "the weapon" away because my family knows how to buy for me really nifty foldy things. (I'm a gadget freak and proud of it!)
So after healing in record time, thanks largely to Hiker Mike who got me up and hiking again, I attempted to hit the comeback trail. Luckily I discovered the joys of the cane on these hikes. Now I had three legs! What balance and agility I discovered - what a handy stream hopping device this truly is! It wasn't until our Urban Sherpa pal, Captain Karl Pruner, showed up one day with TWO walking sticks that I thought "to hell with the fashion gaff, if it's good enough for handsome Karl, it's good enough for me!" As he disappeared into the distant horizon, his stride double mine, I vowed to be a Stick Guy too - not only just to keep up, but also to minimize the Gear Gap with Karl.
Now comes the technical stuff...
After surrendering to the walking stick, I started the research. I was surprised to learn that a single walking stick can reduce the weight on your legs, hips and knees by TEN TONS PER HOUR! That's right dear reader, no typo here - 10 tons an hour. Think about it. If you push down on the stick with, say, 5 pounds per step, at 60 steps per minute that's 3600 steps per hour and that's - okay that's 9 tons, but pretty good ehwot? If you walk a bit faster and push a little harder - there's yer ten tons! Okay now multiply by two sticks and you have enough saved kinetic energy to pull a Range Rover out of a North African quicksand!
Now let's talk a bit about the balance and agility. For the skiers among you, I don't have to tell you that having four legs is better than two. Just watch Rupert the Malamute as he looks over a 200 foot cliff. My stomach is somewhere in my left ventricle as I watch him extend his head over for a peek, as he hangs ten on the edge. I realized on a recent trip with Mike to the Adirondacks that Rupert, although seemingly dangerously close to his maker, had the majority of his huge dog body still well planted on solid rock - clinging claws and all. In all my years of hiking with this great pungent dog, I have never seen him fall over anything. The same cannot be said for poor ol' Dave Bradstreet or even Hiker Mike for that matter - we are both on very intimate terms with face-rushing dirt.
I recall crossing a stream with another of our Urban Sherpa friends, Linda Sorensen. As daunting as rushing water can sometimes be, I have learned to surrender to the occasional soaker, taking it all in stride as it were. But Linda was determined not to get even a drop on her shiny new hiking shoes. Using a couple of fallen branches for balance, she deftly picked her way from boulder to boulder with Mike and I , cheering her on from the far shore. She made it gracefully, and as we continued on our trail, we were serenaded by the squishing sound of our four wet male feet with the counterpoint of Linda's soft percussion of two dry female ones. Another lesson learned, gender bashing aside.
So I now am the proud owner of a sparkling blue, collapsible, Mountain Equipment Co-op walking stick. The next time you encounter a fellow hiker, probably European, with his/her state-of-the-art hiking sticks, remember: not only will you save wear and tear on your ambulatory gear, and gain grace and balance, you are also getting one hell of an upper body workout in the process. I finally have the arms and shoulders of Jane Fonda.
One final note...
On a recent trip to Base Camp Everest, Hiker Mike took along his handmade hiking stick complete with carvings by his wonderful kids. He was somewhat reluctant to take it, as he is taking anything - including a backpack. (I'm usually the one with a fully loaded climbing pack - compass, camera, first-aid etc.) But as luck would have it, and luck is so much a part of our adventures, he stashed it, just in case. Well as some of you know, the trail up to Everest can be very arduous - and narrow. Before he could alter his direction, Mike was confronted with a pack of yaks who insisted on taking the inside track. So there he was, rudely pushed aside and sliding down the mountain to certain death when at the last second, he rammed his trusty walking stick into the dirt, braking his descent! Tah dah!
So there you have it folks. The Life-Saving, Body-Building, Soaker-Reducing, Third-Leg-Balancing-Act... WALKING STICK!
Nerd or not.