Strangely compelling

A What Not to Wear Marathon.

I turned it on as background noise while I applied the 2nd and 3rd coats of merlot paint, which I am so happy dried darker than the first coat yesterday, because that was positively raspberry. It’s still more plum than I envisioned, but I can live with it.

Anyway, I haven’t been able to change the channel or turn off the TV or leave the room. I’m not feeling inferior, like I did when I got sucked into Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style, because I know I’m working my WWU sweatpants and seriously oversized sweatshirt. It’s so oversized, it doesn’t even fit Rob. It’s meant to go over his impact reduction suit.

Oh, but I feel bad for some of these folks, when Stacy and Clinton lay into them about their fashion sense, because so often it’s tied into their body issues or whatever. And then there are my heroes, like Lynn, who refused to let them cut her hair (even though I really wanted to see how it would look) and Erin, who is so funky and bizarre, she makes me laugh. She’s on right now. I can’t wait to see her transformation.

Fashion backward

While waiting for Rob to finish uploading the entire contents of his cassette collection to digital format and then to his iPod, so we could watch Prison Break, I watched an episode of Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style.

The subject was a mother of two who wore nothing but capri pants and T-shirts. As the mother of two pets and a boyfriend, I could relate. No, that’s not really why I could relate. It’s the job that’s made me slovenly. I managed to dress “professionally” most of the time when I worked at the below-mentioned University. But now, I need to be prepared to wade in a creek or hike to a mountain goat meadow at a moments notice.

Which means I wear jeans and a T-shirt every day. Or cargo pants. Or khakis. I suppose in the winter I wear some snazzy sweaters…but I know that if Tim Gunn ever visited my closet, he’d be getting rid of 97 percent of my outfits and make me wear little dresses and slacks that touch the floor. (So please don’t submit an application for me.)

Remember Laura Bennett from last season of Project Runway? How she dressed like Audrey Hepburn all the time even though she was a mom who worked from home? Yeah, that’s not me.

As I watched Tim Gunn, I was wearing jeans that were dirty from my walks and class with Isis and a raglan T-shirt with black sleeves that were covered in dog hair from lying on the floor by Rob’s computer while waiting for him to finish uploading the entire contents of his cassette collection to digital format and then to his iPod, so we could watch Prison Break. I was wearing no make-up and there was no product in my hair.

When we got a last minute invitation to dinner (his family always does this. Surely someone knew they were going to celebrate his brother-in-law’s birthday on Saturday prior to 4 p.m. on Saturday), I was motivated by Tim to gussy myself up a little bit. Eye make-up and hair product were no-brainers — I wear those to work. But I also put on lipgloss and mascara. Big day.

I thought for a moment about putting on slacks, but without even looking at them, I decided that all eight pairs didn’t reach the floor, were wrinkled or are too tight. My “Saturday night out” outfit? A pair of clean jeans, belted, and a long-sleeved purple and blue tie-died T-shirt, with the “Om” symbol imprinted in gold, from the Tibet Festival two years ago. Instead of Timberland hiking shoes, I upgraded to my black monochrome Converse classics.

Don’t think I don’t know that Tim Gunn would consider this a “Before” outfit. So would Chelsea. (Happy Birthday, Chelsea!)

So outdoorsy

When did this transformation happen?

Having determined that $99 is the best price for the Mystic Peak hiking boots, I returned to Joe’s to buy them. And had to buy a T-shirt, socks and a soccer ball (for the dog) while I was at it. I impulse shop at a sporting goods store.

The weird part is that every time I looked at the pictures of the boots online, I really, really wanted them. Maybe it was the lavender trim, or the embossed pine cones.

I tried to comparison shop at the new Sportsman’s Warehouse yesterday, but was put off by the dead animal heads on display above the footwear.

Defying stereotypes

So I was out shoe shopping, as part of my job, of course. I need three new pairs of shoes. One for kickboxing (not job related, but since I was there…), waterproof hiking boots and felt-soled wading boots.

Some sales dude engaged me with “How ya doin’?” while I was looking for a pair of Pumas in a size 9. Same guy asked “How ya doin’?” while I was trying on a pair of $99 hiking boots (would feel guilty expensing these, and hope to find them on sale). I narrated that the 9s were too big and I was going to try the 8.5. He helpfully picked up the white paper that had been stuffed into the toes.

A few minutes later, he tracked me down to the wading boot aisle.

“Oh, there you are!” he said. “These are wading shoes. What are you doing?”

“I’m planning to do some wading,” I said coyly. Fought the urge to tell him I’m an avid duck hunter.

Anyway, I bought those. $64 closer to having a pair of boots for every occasion. Felt soles are necessary for walking across rocks in a river, if you were wondering.

S’been a long time since I wore my knee-high pleather boots…

Since I last posted

I waded waist-deep in a fast moving river, wearing cotton pants and someone else’s felt-soled boots because I never have the right outfit on. When I discovered that catching fish for their eggs did not involve a boat, I felt like an idiot. A complete idiot. The professionals wore a uniform of polypropylene long-johns under synthetic shorts. I totally have that outfit! But I was wearing khakis. I spent several long minutes going through my entire wardrobe, mentally assembling outfits that would have been better suited for the occasion and wondering why I thought the khakis would be OK.

Then I saw that several of the dozen volunteers were wearing jeans and tennis shoes. And I didn’t feel so bad. Those guys wound up swimming fully dressed in the river by day’s end.

Unlike some of my outdoor excursions in recent years, this one actually became more fun as it went on. I only was waist-deep in the water for a brief time (although that did mean I was wet for the entire day) and managed to stay knee-deep for much of it. I didn’t drop my camera in the river and only fell on my butt once. Love my job.

Also since my last post, I saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” and got stung by a bee. Unrelated events.

Cotton Kills

A couple of jobs ago, I met some coworkers in the office parking lot on a Saturday morning for a hike at Mount St. Helens. It was summertime, so I wore a pair of camouflage shorts (in protest of the war, and cus they make me look like Avril Lavigne) and a white T-shirt. Some of my colleagues were wearing jeans.

Our boss, who is something of an outdoorswoman, strolled by (on a Saturday!) and laughed at us for being inappropriately dressed for hiking. “Cotton kills!” she said.

Her words echoed through my panicked little head on Monday, when I got the call that I was going to hike up a mountain. I went straight from the dog park (where I was when I got the call) to R.E.I. and dropped $150 on appropriate outdoorwear.

I already knew I need a backpack, and had sort of fretted about what pants to wear. I grew more afraid when I learned there would be snow.

“Do you have boots?” my contact asked.

How come people keep asking me that? And how come they never mean quite the same thing? I’m fairly certain that the ladybug boots weren’t what he had in mind.

The thing is, too, when I first started thinking about this excursion months ago, my thoughts turned to shoes. I needed comfortable hiking shoes for summer weather. Didn’t know I should have gotten comfortable hiking boots for snow! And really, it was too late. I couldn’t go out and buy a new pair of boots and expect to hike in them the next day without breaking them in. My Payless city girl snowboots would have to do…and they did just fine.

So that’s one thing I didn’t get at R.E.I. Their boots are too expensive anyway. The pants, the short- and long-sleeved synthetic shirts and the backpack? Worth every penny. But what is the deal with synthetics and body odor? My lord, I started wondering if I’d forgotten to put on deodorant when I got dressed at 4 a.m.

Yes, 4 a.m. Not only did I have wardrobe to fret about, but I had to worry about getting to the meet-up at 6 a.m., which is a good hour-forty-five from my home.

All that’s smokescreen, however, because I realized about 20 minutes into the hike what I was really afraid of. It was the bat caves all over again. Someone had seriously overestimated my hiking chops.

When my contact said 2 hours, 2.5 miles, 2,000 feet — it sounded leisurely. I failed to do the geometry to discover that is equivalent to walking up a mountain at a 90-degree incline.

I’m only slightly exaggerating. It was uphill, mostly steeper than 45 degrees, and not on a maintained path. So I’m climbing over rocks, tree roots, shrubs, creeks of the small and wide variety, snow and finally, up the face of a giant rock formation atop the mountain.

Note angle of incline of snow on which I was standing (bottom left) when taking this picture. It is nearly as difficult to walk across as it is to walk up it.

The hike was the most strenuous thing I have ever done in my entire life. And I wasn’t even with people I knew well enough to squat down close to the earth and sob in front of. I had to keep a smile on my face, even if I couldn’t keep up with the pace.

I took a zen-like stance and decided not to feel embarrassed that I had fallen so far behind. It was a beautiful day. Look at those fantastic mountains. Boy, this exercise is good for me. One foot in front of the other. Enjoy the moment. Don’t waste the experience by getting distraught.

See? Still smiling. (Again, note angle of rock formation in bottom left corner.)

As I sat at the top for several hours, getting sunburned after apparently sweating off my sunblock, I got to know a couple of technicians who make this and similar hikes two, three times a week.

“They don’t tell you what it’s going to be like,” one of them said. “They say, 5 miles, and you’re thinking, no problem! The first time I came out, I wanted to turn around and go back to the truck.”

Me too. It sure made me feel better to hear that.

I’m glad I didn’t know what it would be like. I wouldn’t have gone. And I’m glad I did it, even though I wouldn’t do that particular hike again. But bring on the bat caves!