Gore-tex that doesn’t go damp,
Treads that don’t wear flat,
Chains that never skip or squeak,
These are some of my favorite things.
When you ride for long enough, you settle into habits and gear. Maybe it’s a brand of socks that don’t bind, or bib shorts that don’t chafe, or gloves that keep your hands from going numb. Sometimes it’s a more expensive piece of gear, like a fine leather saddle or a good Goretex jacket. A good tool allows us to do something without being aware of the tool’s toolness. Think of how conscious we are of a pen’s faultiness of when it runs dry, or the annoyance of a skipping chain, or the tactile and visual frustration of a cracked screen. In those moments a portion of our awareness is constantly consumed in being aware of the faultiness of that poor tool while we’re using it. A broken tool can be worse than no tool at all. “Don’t think about GORE-TEX products,” the banner ad at GORE-TEX.com proclaims, “Think about achieving your goals.” Sadly, I’m thinking about gore-tex.
My favorite flipback gore-tex gloves are coming to the end of their useful service life, no doubt because I wear them nearly every day. Twice daily I guide clients a dozen at a time down the twelve-mile long White Pass in Skagway, Alaska for Sockeye Cycle Company. I depend upon good gear to allow me to do my job. I bought my flipback gloves the better part of ten years ago from Duluth Trading Company, and they instantly became my favorite wet weather gloves. Whether I was riding swampy trails in the cold and dark with my crazy mountain bike friends in Norfolk, Virginia, delivering freaky fast sandwiches during Nor’easters, or leading bike tours through the clouds in Alaska, I’ve relied on my Duluth Trading hybrid glove/mittens (glittens?). They are big enough for my extra large hands, and cut loosely enough that I can layer full-finger gloves underneath them. The mitts flip over fingerless gloves for warmth and rain protection, but flip back for fine tasks. Uniquely, the thumbs even flip back, too, making it easy to tighten barrel adjusters and seat posts in the rain. They aren’t puffy gloves, filled with lots of insulation. They aren’t made for wearing below freezing. But they’re great for when it’s wet and chilly enough to see your breath, but not cold enough to see snow.
The seams of my gloves are splitting. I’ve worn holes in the leather thumb pads. The gore-tex exposed underneath the holes has grown shiny with dirt and grease. The velcro no longer holds tight. There are more than a couple of rips on the knuckles. And worst of all, my gloves are no longer waterproof. There’s a subtle, insidious and inexorable phenomena when waterproof clothing slowly loses its waterproofness. At first you want to deny that you’re feeling more dampness than before. You try to blame it on the wind blowing rain up your sleeves, or the extra rainniness of the day. But gradually you come to the point where you accept that you’re just as wet wearing your formerly-waterproof gear as you would be without it.
So now I’m faced with the dilemma of replacing something irreplaceable. Duluth Trading no longer makes my favorite gloves, and I find myself wondering what else I can use. I’ve found cheap fleece mittens online that are cut to the same design, but aren’t waterproof. I’ve found expensive snowboarding gloves that are waterproof and (supposedly) compatible with touch-screens, but don’t offer the same flexibility of flip-back thumbs. I’ve found a few gloves that come close, but nothing that matches the utility of my once-favorite tool. Regardless of whether I pay ten bucks or a hundred, I don’t want to spend my money on gloves that aren’t as functional as the ones I have now. Which means that, for now, I’m resigned to wet hands.
“My first couple of seasons I didn’t worry about being wet, I just focused on staying warm,” one of my fellow bike guides said to me. Warmth and wetness don’t go together, though. If I’m wet, sooner or later I’m not going to be warm. But until I can find my perfect pair of gloves, I’ll settle on being warm.
Wesley Cheney leads Klondike bike tours for Sockeye Cycle Co. in Skagway, Alaska. He earned his Eagle Scout Badge with Troop 216 in Springfield, Vermont, biked from London to Rome via the Route Napoleon, sailed with the USS Kearsarge to Equatorial Africa, earned a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy from Old Dominion University, completed the final Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km Brevet, and most recently delivered freaky fast sandwiches for Jimmy John’s in Norfolk, Virginia. As a professional photographer, he has captured images of Harrier jump jets, Norfolk Southern intermodal trains and mountain bike races. Wesley has built, pedaled, paddled and sailed bamboo bicycles, bamboo kayaks, and bamboo sailboats. In the off-season he sings in the choir of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, teaches screen printing at 757 Makerspace. He regularly contributes questions to The Thomas Jefferson Hour, plays the ukulele and the flugelhorn, reads the New Testament in German, and prefers to wear a kilt.