Ice road tracker

I don’t know much about the guy who invented Yaktrax. But I do know one thing for sure: I love him more than life itself. And, since he has saved my life more than I can count, I’m pretty sure my husband would be OK with me confessing my devotion to this wonderful, genius of a man.

For those of you who winter somewhere warm, dry and predictable, Yaktrax are indispensable footwear on Rangeley-type terrain. Superior to cleats, which only help navigate across glare ice, Yaktrax are metal coil-encased rubber boot-bottom straps that provide better traction over the wider spectrum of frozen surfaces I might need to negotiate on any given day. Strip me of my long underwear, my thick socks or my Yaktrax this time of year, and I’d be moving back south faster than a Canadian goose with ice on her fanny feathers!

According to an article by a fellow devotee in The Seattle Times, Yaktrax were invented by a teacher/climber/entrepreneur named Tom Noy. The idea came to him during an Everest expedition when he became determined to design traction that wouldn’t shred his tent and sleeping bag when he wasn’t gripping on to a sheer precipice. I only rely on mine for good old-fashioned walking—my exercise of choice, my way of getting fresh air, natural vitamin D, and a chance to wave to my neighbors. Especially this time of year, my daily walking ritual maintains my fresh outlook and keeps me from (as my friend from Down East would say) needing to strap a “wide load” sign to my backside. While my expeditions are a bit more tame than scaling Everest, most days the foot gear it inspired is the difference between me getting outside and vertical, or staying sprawled by the wood stove.

Once I’m out there, keeping myself vertical is still my main challenge. My physical therapist once said I have “gravitational insecurity”—a kinder, more gentle way of explaining why my family calls me Queen of the Flying Trip. The various ways I’ve managed to keep that crown on my head while sailing parallel to the pavement from Manhattan to Grand Cayman will need to be covered in a separate post (maybe more). But, for right now, let’s just say that I could’ve been the poster child for those bright yellow “Watch Your Step” falling stick figure signs you see anywhere there’s the slightest possibility of mis-stepping. Been there. Done that. In all those places and then some!

My Outward Bound instructor daughter, who gets paid to help people buck up and figure out what they’re made of while outside their comfort zones, says my brain just needs more confidence in what my lower torso can actually manage. “Read it and run it,” she tells me. That’s whitewater lingo for studying what lies between you and where you want to go, and having faith that instinct, guts, and the good sense that God gave geese will get you there in one piece. Come wintertime, with the accumulation of white-on-whiteness that obliterates any obstacles on my path, I’m less about “reading it and running it” and more about peering at it and tippy-toeing nervously toward and around whatever it is I think might impede me. Thanks to my Yaktrax, my confidence, speed and performance have vastly improved. Even if I fail to read my terrain, at least they let me spend most of my time perpendicular to it instead of sailing spread eagle over it.

My next challenge is to figure out exactly what indoor surfaces will still keep me safe while wearing my Yaktrax. Technically easy to remove and put back on, the practicality of doing so is, however, not an exact science. Unlike cleats—which turned me from nimble ice fisherman into a floor shredding stumble bum when I’d forget to take them off outside—I can leave my Yaktrax on while “running” errands. In theory, I can even wear them out to dinner. Knowing this was especially handy on my recent anniversary trip to the Old Port. So romantic, it was, muckling onto my husband of 33 years—filled as much with love as I was with fear that those ancient sea-sprayed brick sidewalks slanting down to the waterfront were going to be too tricky for my Yaktrax. I did look really classy from the ankles up and, not wanting to spew salty, gritty slush on the other diners in our favorite posh restaurant, I opted to leave my Yaktrax on. My secret was safe under the table. But I think I turned some heads when, a couple Margaritas later, I decided to negotiate  intermittent tiled surfaces on my way to the ladies’ room and my trusty boot grippers became roller blades. When I wasn’t half slipping, I was making a clumsy clicking sound across the floor like a Sea World penguin on skates. So romantic.

All in all, though, Yaktrax give me the confidence to keep forging ahead that coordination and good eyesight didn’t. Soon, I’ll be forced to graduate to snow shoes. Meanwhile, I can’t help but imagine as I track up and down my private ice road that my Yaktrax have turned my boots into the Rangeley version of those toning sneakers advertised on TV. All I have to do is keep trudging along and, by March, my buns will be as chiseled and toned as the boulders along the Penobscot, right?

Plus, now that most of my fear of face planting is gone, I can relax, tune into the gentle clickety-clackety rhythm of my body in motion, and let my mind ponder life’s greater mysteries. For instance, part way home the other day I got to contemplating the age-old question: “If you could invite any three people to lunch, who would they be?” The first two never change. They’d have to be my mother, God bless her soul, and Bono. But the third guest changes from Oprah, to Obama, to Thich Nhat Hahn—depending on my mood, the state of world affairs, and how competent I feel to make meaningful lunchtime conversation. Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s got to be the Yaktrax guy, God bless him. I just hope they all pick a restaurant where I can leave mine on without killing myself!

4 thoughts on “Ice road tracker

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