I walked onto the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder last Friday and a Denver Voice vendor looked down at my sandals, laughed and said,
“Oh man, you must be from Colorado.” Hey, it was October 5th, far from winter, and it was still 35 degrees outside.
Lots of people talk about fall being their favorite season, because of the changing colors, or the anticipation of ski season. Or they love summer for the long days and ample after-work daylight to go mountain biking. In my life, there are two seasons:
- The time of year I can wear Chacos (typically early March through late October)
- The time of year I can’t (typically late-October through early March)
We can rationalize buying ourselves a hell of a lot of different kind of shoes: boots that support our ankles when we’re carrying a heavy pack, shoes with sticky rubber for slabby approaches to rock climbs, shoes for all-day rock climbs, downturned shoes for super-techy rock climbs, cleated shoes for riding road bikes but not for walking anywhere, cleated shoes for riding mountain bikes, shoes for running on sidewalks, other shoes for running on trails, shoes for running through so much water that it has to drain out the sides, and the super-cute heels that really only go with that one dress I have. Well, not the dress I have, but you know what I mean.
You know what’s nice? Telling your feet, “Toughen up, bitches, we’re doing this hike in sandals.” Because I’ll tell you what: You do enough stuff in sandals, and your feet will not whine to you, “We need arch support, lacing technology, all the crap to keep us from overpronating or oversupinating or underwhatevering …” You look down at the dirt between your toes during a long hike, and your feet are screaming up at you, a la Mel Gibson halfway through Braveheart, “FREEEEDOOOOMMMM!”
I like to call my Chacos “The Air Jordans of Colorado.” The company started making river sandals in Colorado in 1989, based out of the tiny town of Paonia. Of course they got big, sold to a larger company and gradually moved manufacturing operations to China — but the Z-series, the model I’ve worn for seven years now, was the last to be produced overseas, in 2008. I have heard Chaco now makes other types of non-open-toed footwear, but my toes are not so interested in that.
I once put up a first ascent of a V1 boulder problem in a pair of Chacos. I’ve ascended and descended slot canyons in the San Rafael Swell in them. I have taken a couple dozen frigid alpine lake baths wearing nothing but Chacos on my feet. My happy place is somewhere in the desert in November or March, wearing a puffy jacket and waiting for the sun to come up high enough to warm me, drinking a cup of coffee and wiggling my Chacoed bare toes. Sometimes waiting for the blood to come into a couple kind-of-numb toes.
I’ve tried other types of open-toed footwear. I never learned to walk very fast in flip-flops. Keen sandals just feel a little too constraining, with the toe cap. They’re like a holding cell on the way to Foot County Jail.
I remember this one time I broke a pair of Chacos … wait, no I don’t. I’ve never broken them. They sometimes smell so bad I wish they would break, but that’s not their fault. When the soles finally wear out, Chaco will resole them for $40. (They’ll re-strap them for $20.) One time, my friend Brian re-soled his using an old car tire. They were heavy, but radder than hell.
Fact: Chacos are not waterproof, but good news: Your feet are. You step in water, your feet get wet. You walk some more, they dry out. Sandals are prone to getting rocks stuck between the sole and the bottom of your foot, but you learn to only stop and remove the big rocks. The other ones are just exfoliants.
Sometimes I get hints that river sandals are not fashionable, or that, gasp, men don’t really wear sandals in other parts of the country. This summer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a story headlined “Men simply can’t wear sandals.” The article went on to offer tips for men who do want to wear sandals, including “Get a pedicure” and “Don’t wear sandals to work.” I mean, that’s cool and all, but I think some of my Chaconian brothers in the western half of the country might offer other tips for men who want to wear sandals, such as:
- Get a job guiding rafts full of people through Class V rapids in the Grand Canyon
- Pair your sandals with dirty Carhartts and a puffy jacket with duct tape over the holes
- Make fire in them
- Approach climbs at Indian Creek whilst wearing them
Or, you know, I guess you could get a pedicure.