by Dan Sealy
As a young man moving to Arcata from Oklahoma in 1970 to attend HSU, I had little-to-zero experience with the typical outdoor adventures that would be at my Redwood doorstep. Nor did I have the transportation to get me into the wild. But I was not alone and there was an on-campus club to inspire and teach me: the Boot and Blister Club.
Before there was a university student center to provide rental equipment and programs, Boot and Blister (BnB), a student-run club with a catchy name, teamed up newbies with students who had a crazy amount of experience, from skiing and biking to backpacking. They also hooked up car-less people with those who had cars for rides to outdoor destinations. BnB sponsored an annual swap meet where inexperienced folks like me could find cheap, used equipment to unlock more adventures. This was before the technological equipment breakthroughs we expect today: nylon fabrics for everything, and GPS. I considered a candle lantern with mica windows, a canvas tent, and wooden cross-country skis with an array of waxes, klisters, and pine tar not only traditional but preferable. BnB, led by geology student Mike Diggles and Humboldt faculty advisor, librarian Charlie Bloom, enthusiastically became a founding member group of the Northcoast Environmental Center. What you didn’t get at a swap meet or borrow from a friend you could rent or buy at the Arcata Transit Authority (now Adventures Edge) on 10th Street where the concept of Northcoast Environmental Center was hatched in 1971. You could also get detailed paper USGS quad maps and sound advice from an experienced staff.
Though hiking, backpacking and skiing were fun, the firsthand experience in these beautiful wild places — the Trinity Alps, Redwood Creek, Marble Mountains and the Yolla Bollys — gave credibility to BnB members when providing testimony to save those same places. The Wilderness Act became law in 1964 and many dedicated nature-lovers testified to the importance of protecting the wild places which were under attack. At public hearings, we advocated for the greatly needed expansion of Redwood National Park and the establishment of new wilderness areas. BnB members provided powerful witness with words and pictures of once lush and fish-filled streams that were now destroyed by silt and logging debris. We could be the ones to stand up in hearings and evoke the inspiration of quiet, the beauty of wildlife and wildflower-filled mountains and valleys. No one could doubt the truth of our testimony because we lived it.
Though my family went car-camping many summers, I had never gone backpacking, snowshoe camping or cross-country skiing until I moved to Humboldt and joined BnB. My fellow, more experienced, student colleagues taught me the basics of these skills and I gained personal confidence. More importantly, I gained a dedication to make sure future generations could see and experience what I had been blessed with: untamed wilderness. I was hooked. I recall a snowshoe / cross country ski trip to what later would be included in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area. I do not recall the cold, nor the meager camp meals, I remember the exhilaration I shared with my fellow adventurers, men and women who lived for the joy of getting outdoors. A year later, Lucille Vinyard, Chair of the North Group of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club (also a founding group member of the NEC) chartered a bus to put witness into action. Citizens from the coast rode across the snowy highway 299 to testify at a public hearing in Redding that lasted well beyond midnight when we loaded back into the bus to return home. My testimony was not just from an academic, good-business or emotional perspective. I could testify to the personal importance of that snowshoe camping trip; the genuine laughter around the campfire as we told bear stories after dark, the exhilaration of waking up to a perfect, snow-covered silence and the feel of my fingers in clear, icy water rushing through an ice-fringed rocky stream channel. I wanted more generations to have the opportunity for those experiences. No one could challenge my words.
BnB was eventually replaced by the student center activity programs. When Charlie Bloom died in 1998, his slide collection, including many photos of Boot ‘n Blister trips, were donated to the HSU Special Collections at the HSU Library. Boot n’ Blister no longer exists except in the memories of a dwindling few of us, but the work its members helped accomplish can be seen all over the wild landscape of northern California and beyond.