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A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident

Two Ponds is my favorite trail at PEEC. Its water is horizontal. My wife prefers Tumbling Waters, where the water is vertical. To me, it should be called Tumbling Hiker. I find it too challenging, not for my knees or heart or lungs, but my brain. I often fail to find the right place for my next step. 

Our last visit to Tumbling Waters was worse than usual. A hard rain fell two days previously. We did not anticipate that shaded parts of the trail would still be damp. Like a road still dangerous when slightly wet, the trail was a laborious one-step-at-time-it-might-be-slippery experience. When a shady portion happened also to be exposed shale, my uncertainty increased. I decided, since I could not replace my knees, heart, lungs or brain, I would replace my boots.

My erstwhile “new boots” were ten years old. The tread was dead. A visit to outdoor supply stores enlightened me about Vibram. When I tried the boots on, I wanted to test them on an incline that resembled shale. A small and reasonably slick little incline was available. I ascended. It felt like my feet had suction cups. If I didn’t feel secure as Spiderman, at least I no longer felt like the Silver Surfer.

In 1935, Vitale Bramani lost six friends in the Italian Alps who could not descend quickly enough, perishing in a sudden storm. The soles of hiking boots then were leather or felt with hobnails or cleats. Mr. Bramani surmised that rubber, treaded soles would enable quicker and safer climbing, as rubber tires improved upon wooden wheels. Italian tire magnate Leopoldo Pirelli provided the capital and Vibram soles were launched. They were an immediate success and still make the sweetest sole music on many surfaces, including trails and mountains.

I would never think of driving around my part of the forest on worn tires, but I had been hiking on worn soles. On my next hike, whether the water is vertical or horizontal, I will be more confident I will be vertical.

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