I thought I was being careful, gingerly hike-jogging down the snow-covered trail, when both my feet suddenly slipped a few inches on the bulletproof ice under the snow. Both my arms shot up in the air in an instinctive attempt to reclaim my balance.
Whenever this happens—when I slip on ice—part of my life flashes before my eyes. Not in that moments-before-death way people talk about, but a sort of highlight reel of ice-related falls I’ve had in my life. It’s my brain’s way of saying, “Hey, you think this one is going to crack your All-Time Top Three?” as I do that sort of spasmodic dance to stay upright, maybe yelping out something like “Waaaaayoaooah!”
No. 2 of all time: I was walking to work at the newspaper along Colfax Avenue in Denver during the winter of 2006-2007 after it had snowed a ton and then stayed cold, leaving ice everywhere for a very extended, un-Denver-like period of time. I was walking fast, on the sidewalk in front of the 7-Eleven at Colfax and Ogden, and I think I might have even had my hands in my pockets, when both feet popped out from underneath me, like a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel, and I’m sure my entire body went parallel to the ground for a half-second before I dropped, slamming onto the icy pavement. I remember thinking in midair, “I hope some of these people driving by get a kick out of this,” because I knew it was going to look funny—I mean, as long as I didn’t hit my head. I didn’t, and I carefully picked myself up and kept walking to the office.
No. 1 of all time: I was sitting in a classroom on the second or third floor of my college’s business building, doing very poorly on an Operations Management test I hadn’t studied properly for, probably because I was partying. I got halfway through the multiple-choice test and just gave up, circling “C” on every answer, and then walked up and handed my test to my professor and bolted out the door. I was mad at myself for not studying enough for the test, and for not caring enough to study for the test, and I was probably fishing around in my pocket for a pack of cigarettes as I pushed open the building’s west door to storm back to my apartment.
I knew the door opened onto a ramped sidewalk that traversed downward in front of a set of floor-to-ceiling windows in front of a lounge where a dozen or so students were usually studying in comfortable chairs and couches. What I didn’t know is that it had been raining lightly while I was in the classroom taking my test, and the air temperature was low enough that the rain had formed a slick sheet of ice over every concrete surface on campus.
A pissed-off me popped out the door, took two very determinedly angry (at myself) steps, and immediately realized I had made a mistake, sliding on the soles of my shoes, then flailing. For the next 60 to 90 seconds (it felt like), I frantically waved my arms and gyrated my hips like a man whose clothes had caught on fire, picking up speed as I shot down the sidewalk. Finally, after what must have been something like 20 to 30 feet of sliding completely out of control, one of my feet slid off the sidewalk, caught the grass, and I flipped over, mercifully ending my slide. As I slid my messenger bag around my back and clambered back up, I wondered how many people had just watched through the mirrored lounge windows as I ate shit.
Up until a few years ago, I used to write outdoor gear reviews, or attempt to write outdoor gear reviews. I don’t think I was very good at it. There are people who are fantastic gear reviewers who love to get into the minutiae of materials and features and explain to the rest of us what works and what doesn’t, and I am grateful for those people. I am not one of those people. My friends have to tell me when my skis are too skinny, or the boots I have are not responsive, or that my bike is too heavy, or whatever. And then I usually forget. I just want stuff that works well enough for a below-average skier/runner/cyclist (me) to have fun (usually not a problem). My gear reviews are more like “these shoes seemed pretty good,” “this air mattress leaked,” or “the kayak did not sink.”
Sometimes, since I have some outdoor magazine bylines and some publication names in my LinkedIn bio, public relations folks will send me cold-call emails about new camping stoves or tents or backpacks or jackets, and sometimes offer to send me a piece of gear to review for a publication. I’d love to help them out and get some new (free) gear, but I am just not up to the task, unless someone wants a review that says,
So I don’t do too many gear reviews anymore.
But this winter, I got really into my microspikes, or winter traction devices, or whatever you call the things you pull over the soles of your shoes so you don’t slip on the ice and fall on your ass. I think they’re great. We had a pretty snowy winter where I live this year, so I put in some significant miles running on ice- and snow-covered trails and sidewalks. Is that kind of a dumb hobby when you live in a town with good access to nordic skiing, backcountry skiing, and downhill skiing? I asked myself the same thing dozens of times. Yeah, maybe. Without winter traction devices on my feet, significantly dumber. I paid 60 bucks for mine a couple years ago and I think I’ve probably put 150 miles on them since then, maybe 200. Several companies make winter traction devices, and I have a couple pairs. I wear these most of the time. They’re nice. They work for me. They have some features. If I were a better gear reviewer, I would be able to say more about them, and do so closer to the beginning of winter, when most people are thinking about buying things like winter traction devices.
But the main point is: They kept me from falling on my ass all winter. Including the instance described at the beginning of this piece, in which I found myself sliding out of control on an ice sheet on one of my favorite trails. I’m happy to report that I made it to the bottom of the trail unscathed. Back at the trailhead, I removed my winter traction devices for the remaining two miles home.
And, then, about eight blocks from my house, as I was glancing around deciding whether to turn onto 4th Street or 5th Street, I tripped on a chunk of pushed-up sidewalk and ate it HARD. In front of someone’s house. I don’t know if anyone saw me, but I would not have blamed them for laughing, as long as they waited until I popped up and started running again, which I did within approximately 1.2 seconds, winter traction devices folded up in my left hand.