Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Feet Means Happy Paddler

Our feet take a lot of abuse on portages, which is only fair to
treat them with the utmost respect. "Who wants to
massage my feet tonight? Hello!?!"
Photo: Marylou DiRienzo

Ever since I was a young kid, I always dreaded walking for long periods of time. Even the excitement of going to an amusement park was dampened by the thought that my feet would ache throughout the day and many times long after. My parents took the due diligence to have me checked out, but even the doctor at the time didn’t know what the problem was. My parents probably just assumed I didn’t have good feet for walking or I was a wuss, so nothing more was really done about it other than the odd foot/calf massage with Rub A535 (Remember that!). It was tough as a kid, since I always loved to tromp around all day in the fields, forest, rivers, and ponds, despite the discomfort.

This by comparison is much better to portage on then a lot of
the conditions we encounter, but it still helps to
have a good pair of feet, or support.

My ‘light bulb’ moment came in my mid-twenties when I heard about orthotics and how they help people with flat feet. As I began to inquire, I realized a lot of the symptoms people had with flat feet were very similar to my own. Funny thing was when I got checked out, I really didn’t have a severe case of flat feet. (Probably why the doctor back then didn’t think anything was wrong with my feet!) Regardless, I had the symptoms and I wanted anything that could help with managing the pain. Thus I soon became the very happy owner of my first pair of generic orthotics. I couldn’t say it eliminated my pain totally, but significantly enough that the dreaded thought of walking all day was a thing of the past.

Yeah, yeah, that is me during my backpacking era!
Good memories except the sore feet at
the end of the day!
Photo: Marylou DiRienzo

You’d think with someone with my condition prior to remedying the problem would abstain from any type of lost distance walking. Well, the lure of wandering the woods superseded the issues associated with my feet. The irony of the whole thing was I initially was a backpacker!! So not only did I walk long distances, but on uneven terrain and with a huge load on my back. Yes, the pull of the wilderness was far to strong to keep me home. By all accounts, I should have really been a paddler as I would have been off my feet most of the time. But no, off I went, trouncing around in the woods like a kid without a worry in the world, enduring the pain, but loving every moment of it.

Here's a novel option, if you don't want to walk/portage on
a canoe trip, have someone cart you across!
Guaranteed to save your feet!
Photo: Ben Albert

At some point, I made a fairly abrupt switch to canoeing when I realized the far greater potential for experiencing the Canadian wilderness, but ironically, it had nothing to do with my feet. Its pretty obvious where I now stand with canoeing, but even though it takes a big portion of walking out, it still involves walking, or better yet, portaging. Much like backpacking, when we do portage, its often with a much heavier load, the same uneven terrain, (except for Algonquin) but much shorter distances. Although, I distinctly remember a monumental trip in Temagami where I portaged roughly 33 kms. With 2 carries, that was approximately 100 kms of walking, not forgetting the paddling part!

Another way to save your feet on a canoe trip is to not only have
appropriate footwear, but to have support in the way
of orthotics such as Doc Walks.

Walking, portaging, bushwhacking, or hiking - they all still play a significant part on canoe trips. Well, if you have similar issues with your feet and walking, you know how important orthotics are, even more so when you head out on canoe trips. The problem is, those custom orthotics cost several hundreds of dollars, easily ranging from over $300 to $500! It’s a hard swallow to even get one (lucky if you have some insurance coverage), let alone another for things like canoe trips. Besides that, they are usually covered in some slick leather or comfortable piece of fabric, so it would not fair well on canoe trips where they would constantly be wet, muddied, and who knows what else. That’s where I want to share with you an amazing product that will not only make your feet much happier, but easier on your wallet as well.

Terrain such as this is guaranteed to strain and utilize every
single muscle in your foot and leg as you portage.
And who said 'walking' is easier on
canoe trips!!

Last year when I worked at the Eureka booth at the Sportsmen show, there was another booth in front of ours that sold ‘value orthotics’ called Doc Walks. I didn’t really pay much attention as I was already wearing my own custom ones, but also because I tried a few generic versions years ago that although they did help, they were never as good as the ones I was currently wearing. Well at the end of the weekend, I ended up chatting with them and met the president, Alex Ein of Comfort Corner Corp., who convinced me of getting one as a spare to my own custom ones. (Talk about good salesman!) He even gave me a better deal to try and convince me it was worth it. Yes I was skeptical, but I went for it, mainly because I saw an opportunity if these Doc Walks worked well - for canoe tripping.

"Another one bites the dust" - your foot is not the only
thing that is taking abuse on canoe trips!

After trying the Doc Walks out on a few smaller canoe trips and even around town, I found them to be very comfortable, almost rivaling my custom ones! With some follow-up discussion and phone calls, explaining to Alex how they may work well for canoe tripping - assuming they could hold up to the abuse they would be subjected to - he agreed to sponsor Lisa and I with Doc Walks for our canoe trips. I would use them like no other customer would, and he would either stand by the toughness and resiliency of the product, or realize they were better made for ‘domestic’ use. (I needed another pair because I unfortunately lost the original one at the MEC Paddlefest last year - sigh!) This could all help in his marketing campaign, and in return I could help endorse his product, especially to a different segment of people.

Orthotics such as Doc Walks support your arch and keep your
foot in the optimal shape to shoulder load.
To me it was a lifesaver!

The conclusion? Well after almost 70 days of canoe tripping through varying terrain that included rocks, boulders, sand, water, muck, bog, soil, and ice, they are as good as new. The Doc Walks still have its patented curve and no part of the mould or plastic is cracked, chipped or falling apart. Despite shouldering loads of over 100lbs, not including my own weight of 155lbs over the various terrain described above, they are still going strong. But most importantly, my feet/legs felt great! Never once did I have sore feet or achy calves that I was so familiar with in the early years. I am so impressed with them, I am now using them for work instead of the custom ones! (Shhh, my chiropractor will probably not take that well!) I can say without a doubt, I truly endorse this product because of how well they served me for my purposes. If you have the same issues with your feet AND you canoe trip as well, you will not go wrong with this product. And if for some reason they don’t work well for you, there is always the 100% guarantee. You just can’t lose. You owe it to yourself and your feet. Happy feet really does mean a happy paddler!

Doc Walks Ortho-Insoles are inexpensive, tough and most
importantly, they work. They will now accompany
me on every canoe trip hence forward.

Doc Walks is a preformed, ortho-insole that you put into your footwear that is made from some tough plastic. It also comes with a foam backing which I tore off due to the nature of canoe tripping. Since the foam would have held water and dirt that would compromise comfort, I took it off. (The remaining foam/adhesive can easily be removed with Goo Gone.) Alex explained that Doc Walks originally were sold without the backing, but it was subsequently added on due to customer feedback. (I definitely am not their typical customer!) Without the foam, they are easily cleaned and don’t hold any odour. Lastly, Doc Walks are very affordable compared to those custom orthotics. At $39.99, you can easily purchase several for all your footwear for less than the cost of a custom one! Check out their website at comfortcorner.ca, which also have the times and places where they will be hocking their ware. Tramping through tough portages or exploring the wilderness has never been more comfortable!


Let's not neglect our feet - they take us
where the canoe can't!

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