I went hiking with a few guys from work last winter. It would have been a great day, but I couldn’t keep my toes warm, and so try as I did to just enjoy myself, the weather, the outdoors, being with my friends, I couldn’t shake the feeling that way down, at the lowest point of my physical being, there was this little area that not only refused to be warm, but it denied comfort to the rest of my body.
My torso was fine. The hat on my head kept everything on top nice and toasty. But my toes sent dramatic distress signals ringing throughout the entire system, “Help! We’re freezing! It’s so cold down here! You’ve got to do something about it! You’ve got to help us out! No time to focus on anything else but right down here! Cold! Cold! Cold!”
And finally I couldn’t take it, I had to stop for a second, I told the group, “Guys, I need a minute, my toes are freezing, I’ve got to warm them up,” and, naturally, everyone stopped, but they kind of looked around at each other, like seriously? This guy’s going to sit here and, what, start undressing because his toes are cold?
And I could tell what they were thinking, so I needed to find a way to get the attention off of me, I asked my friend Doug, “Doug, your feet aren’t freezing? I don’t know what I’m doing wrong here. My boots are waterproof, not that it’s raining, but still, it’s just that, I have two pairs of socks.”
My other friend Pete fielded the question, “Two pairs of socks? You’ve got them both on at the same time?” I nodded. “That’s your problem right there, your feet can’t breathe. We’re doing all of this walking, your feet start to overheat, they sweat, and that sweat starts to get cold. It’s a temperature drop spiraling out of control, and those waterproof boots probably aren’t helping, no ventilation, it’s like a greenhouse in there, but one that’s not at all strong enough to withstand the outside temperature.”
That was a lot that he just said, and I really badly wanted to counter with something, anything, because, first of all, I was asking Doug, and yeah, I did pick Doug kind of randomly, but Pete could have at least let Doug fumble around a little bit, a, “Yeah … I don’t know …” before butting in like a know-it-all. If Doug didn’t have an immediate answer, at least I wouldn’t have looked like I’m the only one not knowing what he was doing. But now, Pete, calling me out on the double socks.
That was only the beginning, “And what do you have there, cotton socks? Wool?” Was this a trick question? “Cotton,” I answered, and I should have said something else, I should have thrown him a curveball, like synthetic, but I didn’t, and Pete would’ve probably been able to tell anyway, this guy apparently knows everything there is to know about socks, he was shaking his head, “No, nope, nope, you gotta have wool socks. The cotton, all it does is absorb the sweat. That’s not going to happen with wool.”
Then he kind of turned around to address the group, like he was giving a lecture, a sock symposium, “I’m telling you guys, all I have is one pair of good wool socks, and I’m fine, my toes are really warm.” And everyone else just nodded in agreement, meanwhile I was sitting on some log, undoing the knots in my boots. “Easy Rob,” Pete was still on a roll here, “I know your toes must be really cold but don’t take your boots off. It’s much colder outside, even though it doesn’t feel like it. And even if you do manage to warm up your feet with your hands, it’s going to be even worse when you have to put them back inside those damp cotton athletic socks you have there.”
Couldn’t he just drop it? Did he really have to throw in the word “athletic” socks? Hiking is athletic. You need a little bit of athleticism, right, to hike? “Actually,” Pete continued, “I think I have an extra pair of wool socks in my bag,” and that was all I needed, I took off my boots, yes, it was a lot colder out in the air, I couldn’t believe it. But I started massaging my bare feet, I don’t know if it felt good, because my feet were so cold, it was like they were transferring that chill to my hands. Were my hands going to be cold now?
“Ooh, sorry buddy, I must have left them at home. Well, let’s get going, we’ve got a lot more trail to cover.” And everybody started walking ahead, I had to put the wet socks back on, they had accumulated a slight layer of frost after having been laid out beside me. It was miserable. I don’t know why Pete couldn’t have sent out an email the night before, “Hey guys! Since I know everything there is to know about socks, I figured I’d pass along some friendly advice: get a good pair of wool socks!” would that have been too much? A text message? Something?