My best friend once told me, “Your hair describes the person you want to be. Your shoes tell the person you really are.”
Last winter, I bought my first pair of hiking boots. I was getting ready for a trip to Northern California. My brother told me to prepare for three nights at Big Sur. I needed hiking boots. I walked into REI for the first time in my life, and a very kind and knowledgeable salesman, Dave, helped breakdown what kind of things I should be concerned about when looking for hiking boots. I had no idea there was a whole science behind it! He asked me where I’d be visiting and what level of difficulty my hikes would involve. I told him I was going to Big Sur, and he suggested that I would’t need anything too heavy duty. I liked one pair, but when I mentioned that there was slight pressure on my ankle from the inside of the boot, Dave quickly steered the conversation toward other styles. His rationale was that after hours of hiking, the slight pressure would turn into an agonizing numbness in my right foot. I tried some more on. He tied my shoelaces every time. Now THIS is good customer service, I thought. Really, he was just trying to teach me the proper way to tie the laces around the open hooks. I tested the feel of the boots on an inclined test boulder they had. I felt so awkward as I took micro steps down with my two hands on the railing and only a foot separating me from the ground (if that). Dave told me that hiking boots were designed to make the wearer feel like they were on flat ground regardless of how steep or uneven the terrain. This was an entirely new concept to me. My whole life I was used to wearing flats with no arch support and leather or suede boots with no traction. Now I had these completely functional, completely comfortable pair of hiking boots, and Dave was telling me that I could actually trust these boots? This was going to be WELL worth the investment! I eventually found THE PAIR. They were Merrell 9.5 women’s waterproof with Vibram soles. I paid $100 for them, plus $20 for the lifetime REI membership. (They had me at, ‘one time fee.’) My boots were tough, sturdy, and they looked… like… hiking boots. I texted all of my “outdoorsy” friends about my personal victory at REI: finding my perfect pair of hiking boots. One friend told me that the boots would be just a stepping stone toward a love affair with the outdoors. I was so excited for the doors that were about to be opened…
Dave mentioned to me that it would be a good idea to break in my boots before putting them to real use in Big Sur. I had a sleepover scheduled at my best friend’s apartment in Manhattan, and I needed a haircut in Chinatown, so I thought walking around the City would be a great opportunity to break my new boots in. I’m usually so vain when I go into Manhattan. I have to wear a nice outfit that makes sense. Even if I don’t want to think, I still put together an outfit that makes it look like I didn’t care. I thought wearing hiking boots would be fun. It would be comfortable for my feet, and yet, completely out of my superficial comfort zone. I prepared a response (and by response, of course I mean disclaimer) in case someone asked me about them because I was certain someone would: “Oh these? I’m breaking them in.” My hair salon was closed for Chinese New Year, so I hopped on the uptown train toward my friend’s apartment. It was drizzly that evening. I got to my friend’s building, and she buzzed me in. I walked up the flight of stairs then down the hall in my squeaky, waterproof boots. She opened the door, and before she could even greet me hello, I blurted out my disclaimer. She just responded, “What? Oh, I didn’t even notice.”
Since this first breaking in, I have worn my boots in dust, sand, dirt, and mud in national parks and trails in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and California. Now they sit in my car just waiting to be used at any given moment. I pretty much seek situations where I’d need to wear them. The soles perpetually have dirt stuck within their grooves. They have given me confidence on uneven or inclined ground, when I previously would have been too afraid to trust my body’s strength and balance (probably for good reason as I’d usually be just be wearing smooth soled running sneakers). Every time I put them on, I feel like it’s the start of a brand new adventure, wherever I may be. They completely have opened up the Great Outdoors to me, and there’s no turning back now.
Photos by: Charlie Gomez