Mad River Path

It’s Trekkin’ Season!

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For those of us up here in the Green Mountains, we’re finally just starting to find Spring popping up all around.  While today’s blustery winds brought a mix of snow and rain and there are still small heaps of ice and snow coating the wetlands behind my house, the flocks of birds at the bird feeder and blooming crocuses in my front yard let me know the end is near.

We had a long winter this year and some unusual thaw and freeze patterns.  That mixed with the recent floods and thunderstorms has done some real damage to my most trekked trail along the Mad River.  While I was sad to see the downed limbs, broken branches and layers of debris spread along the almost-washed-out path, I couldn’t fight back the urge to come out of my cocoon and get my butt back outside!  It’s not surprising that it was just about a year ago when I started barefoot running.  Today, I received my second pair of Vibram’s in the mail.  It’s true, I’m hooked.  This time I picked up a shiny pair of the new Vibram Fivefingers Treksports.

My KSO’s are holding up beautifully, despite all the running, swimming and hiking I put them through last year.  However, there were several reasons why the Treksports lured me in.  I recently started working with a personal trainer.  Naturally, I brought my KSO’s with me.  The first day, I took her spinning class prior to my personal training intake and I immediately regretted my decision.  The pedal of the bike I was on rode right on my arches, the softest most vulnerable part of the foot (aside from, perhaps, in between the toes).  I was visibly in pain,  My trainer moved me to another bike with a wider pedal, which helped, but overall I found the KSOs were just not the right choice.

My main reason for seeking personal training right now is that I have some big plans in mind for my summer.  Now that the weather is warming up I’m just itching to be outdoors as much as possible and I really want to push myself this year.  Running was fun, but I’m not necessarily looking to run as much this year.  I’m thinking of trying climbing and taking on more adventurous hikes.  I also need a shoe that can continue to play with me while I kayak, canoe, and splash around in Vermont’s rivers and lakes.

While the KSO’s did a fine job of keeping up with my water-bound activities last year, the Treksport’s plated midsoles and lightly cleated outsole really appealed to me.  I never fully felt comfortable using my KSO’s on adventurous hikes because of those few moments of stabbing pain on my arches when I hit a rock at the wrong angle, and the fact that I slipped quite a bit in mud.  For running, they were perfect.  For hiking, they just weren’t beefy enough.  However, the kangaroo leather upper on the KSO Treks didn’t jive well with my love for water or my being slightly put-off by wearing kangaroo hide on my feet.

So, on to the part you’re probably most interested in: a picture comparison. Disclaimer: keep in mind my KSOs are a bit worn.

The first time I slipped the Treksports on I definitely felt they had more continuity, but I still felt a firm connection with the ground and easy articulation.  My first test was to wrap my arches around a pointy piece of wood and the plated arch definitely works!  More on that later.

Let’s start by talking about the posterior difference:

As you can see, the Treksport have some padding around the Achilles.  This triangle-shaped pillow rises from the heel and makes the heel look wider than the KSOs in this picture, but when worn it hugs the heel nicely and provides additional stability.  Both feature the same strap design and both have a loop on the rear.

From the front there are some fun differences.  The Treksport toes have additional texture to them and the tips of the toes are reinforced:

While I haven’t experienced this with my KSOs, several folks online have complained that their non-reinforced toe Fivefinger shoes show signs of wear and ripping on the tops of the toes.  In the champagne color Treksports, the reinforced toes are clear and shiny.  I’ve read other reviews that the dark colored models have black reinforcing.  Regardless of the color, this is an important feature for those of us who really want to put our Vibrams through its paces.

Laterally, there isn’t a huge difference between the KSO and the Treksport with the exception that the Treksport sits a bit higher on its cleated sole.  It also appears that the outside rubber comes up just a hair higher on the Treksport.

Medially, there’s a noticeable difference between the two.  The KSOs actually have greater coverage on the medial part of the sole which causes the Treksport to appear to curve more at the arch.  While I haven’t played around with these enough to know yet, it does appear that the Treksports have more arch support whereas the KSOs are fairly flat with just a mild curve for the arch.

Now here’s the real money shot:

Oh, let’s see that up close!

The biggest visible difference between the KSO and the Treksport is the sole.  While my KSOs are a bit worn, the texture on the bottom of the KSOs are minimal.  The Treksport has noticeable grooves and mild cleats to provide better traction and grip in various terrain.  I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want the Treksport if I was new to barefoot running.  “Real” barefoot runners already poo-poo us Fivefinger folks, and the Treksports push that line further.  Yes, it’s still much less padding than a sneaker and one can certainly run in them, but it wouldn’t be my choice.

However, with the additional grip and the reinforced arch I will definitely feel more comfortable trying the Treksports out in environments I shied away from with my KSOs.  One other thing to note is that the midsole is much thinner on the Treksport.  I have narrow feet and after walking around in these for a while I felt no discomfort or insecurities.  If you have wide feet you might want to really try them out in a store before making the investment.  I’ve only read positive reviews on the midsole width so far, but it’s something to take note of.

I’m super-stoked to take my new Fivefingers out for a ride!  Now that I’ve come out of winter hibernation, expect to hear more of my Treksport adventures!  Let’s hope they can keep up with me. 😉

Oh, and for those of you who are only here for the dog stories, here’s Toby and his new buddy, Charlie, enjoying some VT April showers.  Seriously, this white death falling from the sky has got to stop!

Barefoot and Covered In Glitter

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For anyone who hasn’t caught on yet, this is more than just a running blog.  It started as a place for me to explore the C25K program along with Vibram FiveFingers and, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s also a place to discuss other “barefoot” activities.  Running, hiking, swimming and playing in my Vibrams often leaves me wanting to discuss my physical experiences but also the spiritual/emotional/intellectual experiences that come from being outside on the trails.  Today’s entry is not about running, it’s about glitter.

I mentioned in my previous post that when I ran on Friday I was alarmed by the massive amount of silver glitter poured all along the trail.  Without exaggeration, many areas of the trail resembled sheets of glitter; I seriously don’t want to know how much money was spent on all this glitter.  I became more and more upset as I ran the trail and found that the glitter extended for close to a mile!

I initially believed the glitter was related to the Story Walk event, sponsored by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, that many of the trails in Vermont are participating in.  Story Walk is an awesome program in which a children’s book is photocopied, each page is laminated, and the pages are staked alongside a trail so people can read while they walk.  I love the idea of promoting reading and exercise and think this is a phenomenal children’s event.  I couldn’t understand how polluting the trail with glitter was part of an educational event.  It turns out it wasn’t.

Waitsfield had terrible storms Sunday night into Monday; strong enough to down trees along the path.  When I ran on Monday I noticed that the bulk of the glitter had been washed away (most likely into the corn fields and Mad River) but the path was still saturated with sparkles.  When I got to the gazebo I picked up the guest book with the intention of writing a comment when, to my chagrin, I noticed the last comment was from someone praising Story Walk which began with, “I LOVED the glitter!!”  Really?!  REALLY?!  You double-underline-LOVED the glitter?!  Ignorance is not always so blissful.

I’ve lived in enough cities that I know I shouldn’t be surprised by people littering without thinking about it.  While it’s always bothered me, I find I get much angrier when it happens in areas that pride themselves in being eco-friendly and “green”.  I feel those of us living close to nature should somehow know better, really, everyone by now should know better, but I am obviously wrong.

So, I wrote a letter.  I wrote to the Mad River Path Association and to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library complimenting them on Story Walk and expressing my concern for our new glistening path and wondering what the clean-up plan is.  I explained that glitter is not only incredibly difficult to clean up, but it does not biodegrade and in the area it was spread it is likely to be washed into the Mad River which can cause death to small fish, tadpoles and other wildlife that is attracted to eating small shiny objects.  Even without making contact with the river, there are several species on land who could suffer ulcerations if they digest the glitter (including curious dogs).  Since I also like to have sources beyond myself, I quoted a nice summary of the environmental impacts of glitter from Wikipedia (there are several other in-depth articles on this if you Google it, but I really liked Wikipedia’s brief synapsis):

“Because of its small size and durable nature, glitter is a persistent environmental pollutant. Glitter is commonly made from[2] copolymer plastics, aluminum foil, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, bismuth oxychloride and other materials. These materials are not readily biodegradable. Being heavier than water, glitter sinks to the bottom of waterways and contributes to toxic sludges. Most glitter is used only briefly. At the end of each use it is showered off, entering waste water systems, or swept up for disposal in landfill. Glitter is not recovered or recycled in any way. Because of its small size, down to 15 micrometres, glitter is often lost or spread by humans throughout their environment. Insects and other small organisms are unable to deal with glitter, as it is inedible. Larger creatures can ingest it involuntarily, allowing it to enter the food chain. Because of its metallic nature, static electricity effects can cause it to stick to body parts or habitats. Some of the oxides glitter is made with can be reactive when combined with other waste streams, particularly in water. Glitter has very sharp, hard, edges which are uncommon in nature, are also a problem for very small life. When the same material as glitter occurs in industrial situations as swarf, it is considered a hazardous contaminant, for which extensive safety measures are required. Micro pollutants in animal bloodstreams can have significant health effects.”

I was pleased to receive an email back from the Mad River Path Association the very next morning.  They were as surprised as I was about the glitter and immediately began investigating.  As I mentioned earlier, it turns out this was not a part of Story Walk, so my apologies for assuming it was.  That leaves all involved wondering where the glitter came from and why.  Was it a prank?  Was it someone’s ignorant attempt to make the path more “magical”?  Who’s responsible for this random act of glittering and how the heck do we clean it up?

Many of those questions will never have answers, and the clean-up question is really the only one that can be realistically focused on.  Speaking of which, do you know any way to clean up glitter from grass and mud and rocks spread out for almost a mile?  I’d love to hear your ideas. 🙂

I’m not beyond seeing the humor in all of this.  I can see in some teenager’s mind that turning our path into a silver version of the Yellow Brick Road might seem like a brilliant idea, especially after smoking some Vermont Green.  That said, as a culture I believe we’re past the point of laughing off environmental blunders.  The Mad River Path brings joy, wonder and relaxation to hundreds if not thousands of people every year.  It, along with all of our natural resources, needs to be respected and cared for.

The world right now is outraged by the BP Oil Spill, but few people seem to care if someone drops a gun wrapper or a cigarette butt on the ground.  Where do we draw the line and when do we as a society stand up to educate ourselves on how the small environmental impacts we make every day accumulate in massive ways?  I’m standing up for glitter.  Hey, we all have to choose our battles, right?

Part of the glittery Mad River Path after several huge storms.