Tan Lines

By Beacon Staff

We had a tan line contest the other day. I won hands down.

My students were commenting on the prominent Chaco lines on the feet of a young man in the dorms. A few showed off their own striped feet. Some were impressive, but when I slipped off my loafers I blew them all away.

I had an unfair advantage. I’ve been working on my river-sandal tan lines longer than many of them have been alive. Even in spring, after a long winter of enclosed footwear, followed by a month or two of socks and sandals, my tan lines never completely fade. I’m beginning to think I’ve permanently burned in the pattern on my feet.

Chaco’s Z strap creates a distinctive tan line. My feet have the less elaborate pattern formed by the toe and ankle straps of Tevas. Tevas came along first; I started wearing them sometime in the late 1980s. Chacos appeared later, and quite a few of my river rat friends made the switch. I’m told the Z straps offer a snugger fit. But I have terribly flat feet and the Chacos I’ve tried have a prominent arch I can’t tolerate.

In addition to being flat as a set of water skis, I also have unusually large feet for my size. Back in grade school I recall telling friends that I was flat footed, which for some reason, none of them believed. That was until the day our teacher filled a tray with purple paint and invited us all to dip in our dogs, and then step on a piece of paper to record our foot prints.

The other kids all made nice purple “Hang Ten” prints of their feet. My prints looked like someone had dipped a couple of giant jelly fish into the paint. The kids got one look at my set of purple blobs and quickly switched from non-believers to riding me mercilessly for the rest of the day about my Sasquatch-like feet.

So I’ve stuck with Tevas, and since the basic strap system has remain unchanged since the 1980s, each new pair has reinforced the same basic striped pattern on my feet.

I’m not quite sure what we did before river sandals were invented by a Grand Canyon guide back in the early 1980s. We’ve all worn flip flops, which can be very practical for casual summer wear. They, however, offer no support or protection and are hard on your feet. So they’re a poor choice for scrambling along the banks of a river or creek, which is why that guide modified a pair of flip flops into the original proto-Tevas in the first place.

As the hot summer has worn on I’ve tried to make due fishing in river sandals. When it’s 90 degrees, pulling on a pair of waders seems like an act of masochism, and I’m not that kind of guy. I’ve been trying to make due with shorts and sandals until the weather cools enough so that I won’t feel silly wearing all my wading gear.

The problem I’ve found is that sandals are fine for hiking to the water, and also while I wade. But once I step out of the water to move to a new hole, the wet soles of my sandals start slipping around sloppily on my feet, no matter how tightly cinched.

The answer to this dilemma may be a pair of high-end wading shoes, preferably with felt soles. Or even better, those with a removable sole system like I have on my wading boots. I have new soles for my boots I can’t wait to try. They’re made out of a material somewhat like those green abrasive pads you use to clean especially dirty pots and pans. They’re supposed to stick to snot-covered rocks with a grip that will make you forget all about felt. They also dry quickly so they are less prone to moving around invasive species.

The only problem with this solution is that late-season fishing in sandals allows me to put the finishing touches on my tan lines. If I start wearing shoes too early my stripes may be gone come spring.

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