In a few months it will be twenty years since I first strolled into this crazy place called Fairbanks. That said my sister and I only spent the night (at the Super 8 which is still here) as we were on our way to start our new seasonal jobs at Denali National Park. We were only here for the summer but both of us returned the following year. It took me until 1995 to realize that I needed to stay. I have had a lot of great times and have learned one resounding lesson; to live an active life in Alaska requires a ridiculous amount of footgear. It does not really matter what you do (for work or play), how (or where) you live, the fact remains you need a lot of damn shoes.
First there is the fundamental indoor/outdoor question, I for one am not comfortable wearing boots sitting around the house or office. Conversely I am not fond of sneakers outside much of the time (ugh, I just caught that terrible pun…sorry). This issue is further complicated by our extreme seasons; yes I know most of you deal with changes in the season… bear with me here. So, 40 degrees below Fahrenheit requires something a bit more than your average winter boot, for both safety and comfort. So too does 90 degrees above. Then there are the shoulder seasons; break-up in the spring and freeze-up in the autumn. Plus there is the rainy season sometime during the summer and of late there has been these weird thaw seasons mid-winter. All of these conditions involve environmental variables which require some consideration of what one chooses to put on one’s feet in order to move about, both comfortably and safely.
Then of course there are occupational considerations and depending on what one does for a living, one might have to consider all of the above variables when preparing for work. I certainly can fumble about the office in my mukluks or Xtra-tuffs or slippahs (the Hawaiian term for “flip-flops” and one that I have adopted since visiting the islands a couple years ago), but all might look silly on say your average lawyer. Likewise, all might be dangerous or in fact forbidden for your average food service or warehouse worker. To be perfectly honest I do not really like to wear shoes in my office at all; my feets get too hot. That said I normally do not wander about the building in stocking feet and so keep a pair of shoes at work. However, as I have alluded to in the past, my work life is a bit bi-polar in that I oft-times of a summer will venture into “the field”. This of course requires a whole different set of footwear considerations and these are necessarily based on the type and location of the field work. Will there be rafts or some other boats involved? Will there be extensive hiking? Will there be small planes or helicopters? What is the landscape going to be like? Will it be primarily remote or road accessible? Will we be tenting or staying in some sort of more permanent shelter? Typically I bring three sets of footwear on all field excursions; one pair sturdy hiking boots, one pair of Xtra-tuffs, and one pair of comfortable shoes (sneakers, sandals, or slippahs depending on the details).
Then there is the issue of recreation and here is where things really start to get redonkulous. So, just for myself, in the time that I have been gallivanting around this state I have fancied myself a back-country hiker, a mountain climber, a rock climber (yes there is a difference, especially where footwear is concerned), an bicyclist, a martial artist, a hunter, a gardener, a skier (both classic and backcountry, again there is a difference), a sometimes jogger, and of late a curler, and now a CrossFitter (not sure if that is a proper term…). I expect I have left something out. Oh yeah, I also like to get dressed up now and again so there is that, plus I got some ballroom dance shoes (non-marking soles dontcha know) a few weeks ago. SO, while some of these activities might overlap most times the shoes do not.
Most days there are three different pairs of footwear in my office; the ones I wore to work from home (dependent upon the season), the pair of comfy but somewhat ratty sneakers that I kick around in, and the rubber slippahs used for showering (communal shower at work…keeping in mind that I live in a dry cabin). In my main entryway at home there are at least three (usually four, often five) pair; two to three pair of outside shoes (dependent upon the season) and one pair of “house shoes” (also dependent on the season). So currently there are actually six; my “light” winter boots (good until about -15 or -20 and mostly for short adventures), my mukluks (for temps below -20 or for extended outdoor adventures), one (sometimes both…different types for different adventures) pair of ski boots (sometimes these end up in the arctic entry… where, in summer the mud boots stay), the cross-trainers that I use for curling along with the Teflon “slider” that allows them to function as such (which need to be replaced eventually with proper curling shoes), the basic gym shoes that I wear to CrossFit (which need to be replaced eventually with proper CrossFit shoes), and finally my fuzzy lined fake crocs. Oh yeah, there is also a pair of slip on ice cleats acquired for extra traction during the great “icepocalypse” of 2010.
Then there is the garage. Right now there are two pair of Xtra-tuffs (one pair leaks and so is only good for gardening or yard work), two pair of hiking boots (one “light” for trails or easy outings and one “heavy” for extended backpacking or light mountaineering), one pair of genuine Hawaiian slippahs, one pair of goofy slip-on plastic sandals that are great for boating and that sort of business, one pair of beat up old crocs that need replacing, one pair of beat up old leather slip-ons that need replacing, one pair of specialized rock climbing shoes, and my dress shoes. The “new” dance shoes are still in the house somewhere, as is this pair of wool “cabin socks” with leather soles that are really cool, but make my feet crazy hot; both need to make it out to the garage at some point. Also in the garage are one pair of snowshoes and four pairs of skis.
Then in the shed I have my “heavy” full-tilt plastic mountaineering boots as well as my crampons for steep snow and ice climbing, one pair of steel toed shoes that I was required to get for a particular field job and which I keep around just in case, and one pair of “heavy” winter work boots (like my mukluks but not really comfortable for walking long distances but rather more for yard work and such in cold temps). Finally I have a back-up pair of warm winter boots in my emergency kit that lives in the back of my truck all winter. I have no idea how many pairs that adds up to and I do not really care. I think you get the point. I have no idea what I will do should I ever leave this place…
One might, I suppose, say that in addition to shoes I have worn a lot of hats. I have quite a few of those hanging around as well… but that is another story.