Gear Creep

When I got a part-time job to soften the misery of unemployment, I thought a sporting goods store was a good option. After all, I hike and bike and would rather swallow hot coals than work at Old Navy.

As a frugal, practicality-driven New Englander, I never imagined the transformation I’d go through in the 20-odd hours a week I spend there.

Forever, I had been just fine with whatever clothing and equipment I had on hand. Getting out was more important than having the latest and the greatest. I never read gear guides, wouldn’t have wasted my time. I had no idea that the Atomic 180 skis my brother in law gave me in college would make the other kids on the ski bus drool. Slalom skis? Who cared? I just wanted to be on the slopes, and sometimes wore bluejeans if something more appropriate weren’t available. And I walked from Lechmere Station to the Saucony outlet store in Cambridge to save $10 on my running shoes, which I could only afford by foregoing groceries. More recently I rode a hybrid bike on trails until I found a free Huffy at the side of the road and, preferring its smaller frame and lower bars, rode that heavy, rigid beast instead. I guess it’s always been about the experience, not the performance.

how did we ever make it to the top of Carter Dome without special gear??

Enter EMS. At first I gasped at the prices: $200 Gore-Tex jackets and $20 pairs of socks. Wow, I spent my working hours among $900 kayaks and $300 ultralight packs, stuff I never imagined owning. But my immunity to gearheadedness wore away quicker than a Baptist learns to dance at a Prince concert. We’re outfitters, even if most of our customers are more interested in labels than performance (*cough*NorthFace*cough*). I studied the attributes of the technical fabrics and learned why steel shanks are preferred by serious hikers. I sell snowshoes even though I own some and don’t like them. I drank the Kool-Aid and was soon walking around the store calculating my employee discount on things like spray skirts and climbing harnesses. I’ve mentally outfitted myself for expeditions across vast continents, like the ones we show on big flat-screen TVs in the store. Suddenly, by working there, I considered myself one of them — someone who should have this gear. In fact, it could save my life under certain conditions. Ergo, I NEED it.

I rationalized that I’d been cheated by my heritage. Had I been a climber (social, not mountain) I’d have worn the performance gear long ago. And it’s only reasonable to extrapolate that lightweight, moisture-wicking material would have allowed me to finish races faster than my heavyweight cotton sweats ever did. I mean, without that sweat-soaked hoodie like an anchor around my neck, I could’a been a contender!

So I enter the afternoon of my life, long past my racing prime, finally riding a decent bike with suspension and able to afford running shoes that aren’t marked “IRREG.” I’ve got excellent back country skis and boots (but that didn’t mean we had snow for half the winter). I own some Techwick. And that’s not all. The socks have absolutely spoiled me for life. Never again will I be able to walk into a KMart and pick up a bag full of cotton athletic socks. Nosireee. I’ve got padded hiking socks, SmartWool, and more with elastic support woven in, price be damned. Even though I don’t yet own the Asolo FSN boots to go with them, my feet have never been treated so well.

expensive boots come with butlers to clean them, right?

For now I can’t afford to spend my meager paycheck on the gear of my fantasies (nevermind actually get to the places where I might use it), but I’m keeping a mental tally of the indulgences I’ll allow when the real money starts flowing again. And I’m not paying any attention to the amusing story told by a customer who did a multi-day backcountry traverse with a homemade TyVek tent and a beer can stove fueled by Everclear (also useful as an antiseptic and painkiller, he said).

Still, sometimes this gear creep worries me. I was in Christmas Tree Shop today and saw a bag of smooth wooden skewers for sale. They were labeled “marshmallow roasting sticks.” A chill ran down my spine. When I buy those specialized sticks (rather than eat a real roasted marshmallow with the tree bark surprise in the center) we’ll know the gear goblins have gotten inside my head.


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One Response to “Gear Creep”

  1. Giulietta Nardone Says:

    Hey Alison,

    Didn’t realize you had a blog! Like this piece. Frankly, you can do a lot with this job and writing. After spending most of my life buying cheaply made junk, I decided I wanted to go first class for a change.

    I bought myself top-of-the-line bike shoes, jackets, socks (a must), etc. The shoes are worth every penny! And the stuff doesn’t wear out.

    We’ve been duped into buying cheaply made junk because it wears out and falls apart and we have to replace it more often.

    It’s smarter and cheaper in the medium/long run to buy high quality stuff that lasts. Not to mention the fact that our lowest price mentality is one of the big driving forces in our jobs going overseas.

    Bring back paying full price and we can bring back jobs to the US and it’s better for the planet. less junk going to the dump!

    Thx, Giulietta the Muse

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