Thursday, June 30, 2005

An Ode to My Boots

I have this old pair of boots that I bought when I was a grad student in Pullman, Washington in 1994. I was cold and tired of slipping around on the ice and having wet feet from the snow. They were rated to –40 degrees and waterproof, and had what looked to be leather uppers. I moaned at the price and my shopping friend disagreed laughing, but I bought and put them on immediately. It took months to break them in – but they were warm and comfy all through the process. They had Vibram soles and blue laces. I stopped slipping and was rarely cold after that.

It’s been a few years since then, and now when I look at those boots I can see right through the soles to where a sock would live, having finally given them up for dead when I started wearing holes in my socks. 10 years have passed. During those ten years, we (my boots and I) have been in four countries, on two continents – and in fourty four states, and a myriad of national parks, national monuments, and wildlife refuges. We have bagged peaks in the Adirondacks, the Rockies, and throughout the Northwest and California. We have waded together in some of the coldest rivers around, and some of the nastiest, remembering now that I once forsook my trusty boots for barefoot small mouth trout (I mean bass) fishing in the Huron River, only to be rewarded with a nasty cut. I put the boots on and continued. I have worn them to cast bronze, weld and grind things, used them to hold hot metal, and as a hammer. I have literally mistakenly beaten them with a hammer. Together we have been on glaciers, in the snow, the streets of major world cities – and through at least a thousand miles of desert in the summer, and made a few hundred sculptures.

I don’t remember them saying they would be good to 120 degrees, but once they were worn, they were fine. Once I even won a prize at a basketball game because I had blue shoelaces (the person sitting next to me had a picture of a fish in her wallet – and also won a prize). The death knell for these old friends finally came when I was moving out of my warehouse loft. After a week of 16 hour days – literally standing and walking on those poor soles, I caught the hole in the sole on a nail in the floor and ripped the boot open. I had a funeral in the yard.

I want another pair, I tell myself. And the only thing I know about them is that they are Merrell’s, size 8 and 1/2, I think. I go to the store. There’s nothing that even looks like these boots. I look at the old boots. There’s a marking on the tongue, “WTC” it says. A search of the web reveals “ultra watertight construction” is the predominant feature. I can’t find them anywhere. I even looked on Ebay. I go to the web site for Merrell. Lot’s of sandles … but I am not finding my boots. I can’t believe it. I am thinking that these were the best boots ever made. Why on earth would anyone stop manufacturing them.

I am now throwing away the fourth pair of boots I have owned since 1994, this time it’s a pair of Vasque Zephyrs, which crush my toes and cause serious pain in the ball of one foot -- and blister my toes. They are barely broken in. I can remember walking 12 miles as though it were nothing in those WTC boots. If I were in a pinch I could easily have walked 20.

Since I firmly believed that Merrell made the best boots ever, when I was unable to find the replacement boots, I chose a Merrell boot, a light weight “Ventilator,” whose predominant feature was slipping on any wet surface. They are unrivaled in being the worst shoes I have ever owned. They are shit. I have almost died now about 50 times. They provide almost no support anywhere – and are useless with a pack. They actually cause the ball of my foot to feel crushed. Additionally, I bought a pair of low top ventilators, which almost threw me into the Rogue river at the narrows from a height of about 200 ft, due to the very same slipping characteristic. I threw those away that day because I was afraid to take them to the goodwill, out of fear they might kill someone there. If you happen to be a shoe manufacturer or designer, you should pay attention to this part: I swear, I will never put another boot on my feet unless it has a yellow vibram label and squarish lugs. If you want me to buy anything else – you must provide a compelling argument that if I step onto a moss covered rock during a creek crossing with 50 pounds on my back, that they will find a way to stick, or at least help me not to fall. That really means you better start putting some wet moss covered rocks into the store with the boots.

After trying that (the ventilators) I went down to the local independent shoe store (we’ll leave RedWing out of this, because they make pretty good shoes), and bought the Vasques. I have had the boots for about a year, and they stick to everything except my wet patio (they have vibram soles, go figure), and provide great ankle support. I went for a 2 mile hike four days ago in the Superstition Wilderness, and three days later my feet feel like they have been beaten with a hammer. What I really don’t understand is why I can’t seem to find a pair of boots that I can put through hell, and will grab the ground, keep me warm, and protect my feet from damage, whether I am stepping into the icy Couer D’Alene or the deserts of Death Valley, a parking lot in Phoenix, or a scrabble covered trail. I want a pair of boots that loves me and trusts me enough to let me decide where it’s safe to put my feet. Granted they all look cool and high tech, but they don’t work. I want a pair of boots that stands up to what I dish out and performs, not a pair that asks me to put up with them.

I think I am going to have to go out into the yard and dig up those old decent boots, my old friends, and put some new soles on them.

Copyright 2005, Shawn Kielty, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Umbrella Crowd

This was taken at the Menlo Atherton High School graduation ceremony in 2005.
Copyright 2005, Shawn Kielty. All rights reserved.