The Makings of a Born Again Gearhead

Everyone has that friend who is into gear. For me, this is my friend, Ned.

Ned, the king of gear

When we went snowboarding as kids, Ned would often have on a new jacket or goggles, the latest model board and bindings, and he’d likely be carrying some crazy gadget with GPS that could track the altitude, distance and speed of our session.

I think he is also the world’s largest proponent of Sorels.

Our friends would usually give him crap for it, but he always insisted on wearing his ridiculous Sorels around town after snowboarding to keep his feet warm and dry in the snow. We may have only been driving down the street to grab burgers but Ned prepared as if we were embarking on an Arctic expedition.

I, on the other hand, have always been on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

I’ve owned the same snowboard and snowboarding outfit since I was 16. I once moved across country with nothing more than a carry-on bag, and in an almost cartoonish fashion, I’ve pretty much worn the exact same pair of jeans everyday for the last two years (no one has ever noticed).

My move from Chicago to SF in 2011 consisted of a single carry-on bag

When Ned and I decided to train for our first marathons around 2007 — 2008 we couldn’t have looked more different. Ned was decked out in runner’s shorts, short socks, dry-fit shirts, and a Garmin GPS watch. I started training in what I could find in my drawer: a pair of ten-year-old soccer shorts, crew socks and cotton t-shirts. (Although I did get a Garmin to track my distance.)

In retrospect running in cotton t-shirts was a bad idea
Under the banana costume I had on the same soccer shorts I did all my runs in. Interestingly enough in this race in some ways I had on more gear than others and in some ways less. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the race not wearing pants. I’m also 99% positive I was the only person wearing ski goggles.

Flash forward eight years: not much had changed. Up until a month ago, when I would go to the gym, I looked like something from another era. Or perhaps another planet — Planet Dad.

Amongst a sea of people in their colorful Nikes, ankle socks, and spandex everything else, I would typically have on a cotton t-shirt, black Adidas gym shorts I got at Marshall’s for $7.99, a pair grey Acsics that Brittany calls my ‘dad’ shoes and mismatched socks with one, a crew sock that comes up to around mid-calf and the other one, a tube sock that would come all the way up to my knee if I didn’t scrunch it down to around the same length to match the approximate height of my other sock.

I couldn’t find a picture of me at the gym but my gym outfit is pretty much the same as my bike outfit except swap out the shoes for a more dad-ish pair and make one sock higher than the other.

Call me pragmatic or perhaps more accurately call me cheap, but I’ve just never understood the logic of spending money on fancy gear. It’s just always seemed so unnecessary.

That is until our trip to South America. Now, I finally get it. I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m a believer! It’s hard for me to admit but I think I might be a born again gearhead.

The Transformation

Before our South America trip, we knew we would be doing a fair amount of outdoor activities — back country hiking and mountain climbing in places like Patagonia and Peru where temperatures and climates can be extreme.

We knew we’d have to buy some new gear for it. We waited until there was a big sale and then went to REI and bit the bullet. We bought synthetic down jackets, microfiber thermals, the whole nine. I even bought two pairs of go-go gadget, hightech hiking underwear.

The crown jewels of our shopping spree were matching Goretex winter shells.

Mine was on was on sale for 50% off and it was still $180. When I saw the price tag I nearly collapsed. I half expected there to be a flat screen TV hidden somewhere in it. I checked all the pockets. There was no TV. It was just a jacket.

Later that week, I tested it out in Chicago and was pretty underwhelmed. It provided zero warmth against the 30 degree weather. I was mad at myself for wasting so much money. This $180 jacket kind of sucked.

But once we got to Colombia and started climbing a volcano, everything started to make sense. Over four days of trekking, we would hike for over 40 hours. About six or seven of those hours would be in the rain, eight hours in the mud, four hours at near freezing temperatures, an hour and a half in a biting wind, and 15 minutes in a hail storm that appeared out of nowhere.

The entire time I was warm and dry.

On our last night on the trail, a young couple who had just graduated from college entered the kitchen of the farm where we were all staying. They were shivering, drenched to the bone, looking half dead. They had just finished the treacherous ten-hour, 4000 foot vertical climb through the mud that had pushed Brittany and me to our very limits on our first day. But unlike Britany and I, who had done the hike in hiking pants, rain pants, hiking boots and waterproof Goretex jackets, they did it in gym shorts, running shoes and non-waterproof windbreakers. As miserable as we looked and felt when we had finished the hike a few days prior, this young couple looked three times worse. That is when I realized that my $180 jacket, even without a hidden flatscreen in it was worth every penny. This was the moment I became a true believer.

Now, shoes are an entirely different topic.

When we had been at REI I tried on new boots but ultimately opted to stick with my existing pair. Some of the boots were insanely expensive — like $400 or $500. I thought to myself “who the fuck buys $400 boots??”

Now I know. It’s people who aren’t into frostbite.

On the first day of our trek, my $90 pair of so-called “waterproof” Merrill hiking boots soaked through completely. For the next three days and thirty hours of hiking I wore shopping bags inside my shoes just so my feet would stay somewhat dry. It was somewhat miserable.

Each morning as I put my shopping-bag covered feet into my soaking wet boots images of Ned fluttered through my head. I looked at my wrist for my imaginary WWND (What Would Ned Do?) bracelet and cursed the fact that I didn’t spend more money on my shoes.

For all the crap we used to give Ned, all I could think about over and over in my head was “man, I really wish I had a pair of those Sorels right now.”