Never Say Good-Bye
A new hiking season brings about new resolve. Plans are made goals are established. Ideas climb about through my brain like a cerebral switchback, zigging and zagging, never for a moment still. Blazing upward to the heights of hoped-for reality they ascend. My season always starts the same. My feet touch ground annually with the first trail work of the year. With my feet in mind I was presented with my first dilemma, which in actuality had its start in the fall of last year, what to do with my old boots.
I love my Salomons. They have been with me since my ?rebirth? of hiking areas that were new to me in the Whites. I wanted to wear them to the last of my 48, and like two form-fitting, no-necked thugs, they have been with me the whole journey. A most important chapter of my hiking life, and they were always there. They are now haggard, stained beyond comprehension, discolored, misshapen, smelly to the extent that words fail, lace-worn, dirty, seam-busted, the bearers of a too-close-to-the-fire-melted-sole scar, and they provide no cushioning whatsoever. In a word, they are perfect. So, why would I need new ones? It has to do with that odor. They have endured three seasons in a row of some of the most relentless rain I have ever experienced. So bad is the aroma that even on dry hikes, they have been banished to the vestibule, if not the raw outdoors, due to their smelling like a wet dog that has spent all day rolling in a scrap heap of waste products that even the hot dog plant will not process. I have accepted this stench in the best terms possible. I have viewed it as the most effective security system hiking boots can acquire. Knowing that people will steal anything these days I rest comfortably, totally confident they will never be stolen. If they go missing, all I need to do is run a standard tracking circle. It will not be long until I find an incapacitated body. Likely they will be reduced to a quivering mass, some type of induced proboscis shock dictated by the amount of time it takes for the smell to arise and grab hold of their nasal passages, beating them senseless ? as it were.
So what does one do when it is time to send their boots over the Final Ridge? I thought of giving them a permanent home in my ?NH? room downstairs. Hang them up on the wall as an honorary display. I thought better of it because it seemed so cruel. How could I hang up my trusty old footwear, in plain view of my bird?s eye pictures and posters from atop Mount Washington? It would be a primitive form of pedestrian torture. It also occurred to me that I could torch them in a ritualistic, ancient funeral observance. Though being pyrotechnically stimulating, the thought of such components being burned is not really a responsible environmental act. Staying in that same vein, it also ruled out a ceremonial burial mound. That would be just as bad. I know I need new ones, it is just not easy saying goodbye. New is necessary. It is akin to a snake shedding its skin. It is all about comfort, dictated by age and season. In the end it is beneficial and feels ooooohhhh so good. It too, requires a lot of squirming and wiggling.
The decision is all the more difficult as I am a very reflective hiker. Boots are not just another object. They are an extension of ourselves. They are a glove to our feet. We appreciate the protection they provide and the beating they spare us of. Yet, they do not confine us. Within them we are free to move about and feel the earth beneath. Through all the years a lineage of boots has done this for me. I can count off, including the pair I just bought, seven generations of boots going back to 1984 when I had my first job and was thus required to buy my own. Ah, the 80?s, when bright colors were in, and taste was out. When even the startling plumage of, and the eye-blazing display of the ski culture, began to lick the shores of the hiking world. Hard to believe the tide got so high. My first pair of Technicas, bought them at the IME in North Conway. A grey frame with Christmas evergreen and red accents. I kept it in the family with another pair of Technicas, bought at Gorham Hardware, but with purple colored ankle tabs. My third generation of Technicas were battleship grey with funky yellow and black laces. Stripped those right out and put leather laces in. Next, a pair of Hi-Tecs, and these I still have. They are my everyday boot, because everyone worth a stonewall in New England knows there is no such thing as a casual shoe, but there is a casual hiking boot. These boots have hiked in NH, VT, ME, NY, MA, CO, NM, and HI. I then got hooked on Salomons. My first pair I don?t remember much except that they were black and fit great. Now, the boots of whose fate I ponder, my brown and grey Salomons. These boots have known no soil but that of NH. Exclusively NH, they have touched ground nowhere else. I am not that way with the Scarpas I now possess, for instance, they will hike on Cape Cod this summer. So accustomed the Salomons have been to the terrain of my home state of NH, I have pledged to keep them that way. I will not break the maiden. So devout, so virgin-like this creed, I have walked many an occasion on my buttcheeks, have hopped distances great and far one-footed, just to maintain this chaste relationship. I will not idly throw it away. How could I? Some articles of hiking clothing are interchangeable. For instance, in a pinch, you could wear another?s cap, jacket or parka, socks, maybe even adjustable shorts or trunks. A shirt even, or if the desperation meter is totally tacked out, other more intimate accoutrements. Not boots. No way. They are singularly one of a kind.
Boots are a lot like us. The older we get, the more seasoned we become. We work together better, or at least we should. I know of no formula to convert boot years to human years like so easily done with our canine friends. I turn 40 in December and I figure my boots feel their age as well. As we age, we are not as quick or agile as we once were, but we can still show a flash here and there of what once was, or hoped for promise. I hear you youngsters laughing. For my age I?m still fast, strong, and can haul and move wicked good, especially for hiking. Yea, you keep laughing. Come here and smell my boots. Yes, that is right, it is the smell of experience percolated with?well, a lot of other stuff. I can never turn a deaf ear to the blessed entreaties of my faithful boots. For as far as they have carried me, through places I never knew mud could form, through currents swift and deep, over both rock and log, through every hard-fought-bitterly-contested yard of trail work, they have remained true. When my body felt weak, they did not cower, they have never asked for either quarter or mercy, never silently groaned, never once shirked and the thought of going on, solid to the base of their very sole. Like an athlete who cannot fathom the thought of retirement there could be no finer reward than to enable them to continue their devotion to the course they were born to do. Funny thing, is it not? We attach boots to our feet, yet in no time, they become connected to our heart.
Ultimately as we grow older, it is hoped for by the generations that have come before us, that our remaining years will be charted by the wisdom we have gained and the vigor we have left. That we will couple these two factors and dedicate ourselves to a greater cause. A cause that benefits others, putting the vainglorious behind, something that will endure long after our own brief appearance. Therefore, I am proud to herald that these old boots will come with me every year for trail work season. They will be with me to the end, be it theirs, or mine. That is not a challenge to them, it is a promise to those who have protected my feet, and in a far deeper sense, kept me connected to solid ground.
Boots, they are more than just material. When we look beyond the price tag, the value, and their size, they are so much more. When you view your boots as more than just equipment, a mere item, or even footwear, you will find you have gained not just one, but two, of the best friends life can provide.
PS-I must admit, sometimes I think of taking my boots to other places, heights, and adventures. Who knows what the future brings, but when I get into the car, the unbridled enthusiasm of my feet puts pressure on the gas and I find myself accelerating back home. I know I am the victim of an unspoken pact conjured up between my subconscious, my heart, and my feet.
Sometimes, on days like these, with the weight of tools and tired muscles, it is as if the forest and mountains are collectively holding their breath. For what reason, I know not. Maybe it?s the rejuvenation of spring, maybe it perceives a change I cannot detect, or perhaps they are just continuing to function as they always have, in a way I can never truly understand. Whatever it is, it is almost as if it they occasionally choose to speak to me cryptically to remind me of my own station in life compared to their presence. At dusk, when the sun boldly slinks behind the ridges above, when the land releases its last exhalation to the night, and the trees begin their stance of watchfulness in the dark, I lay my body down to the ground. I am ever confident to relinquish my mind and its thoughts to these mountains, ever hopeful that at some future time, they will claim me as their own.
Very few pics, but lots of rain, hope to have a scant few over the weekend!
"LIVE FREE OR DIE...DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF ALL EVILS." Gen. John Stark. "by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in..." From the letter of my Great Uncle, Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry), to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.