Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Goodbye to good shoes

Date: Feb. 9
Mileage: 21
Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Weather: 35 degrees, overcast, SE wind 10 mph
Details: Recovery ride; intensity 60-80 percent
Note: Lots of lightly sore muscles in the legs today

Last Thursday, I walked to a Dumpster in Banff and threw away my favorite pair of shoes.

I didn't want to. It's just that Canada has this irritating no-carry-on rule for flights into the United States, and I didn't have room in my checked bag to take them home. Plus, friends in Juneau had been urging me to throw them away for a while. But I wouldn't. Sure, the shoes were more than four years old. And yeah, they had more than 1,000 hiking miles on them, even more cycling miles, an untold number of soakings and freezings and days left out in the sun. Yes, they were cheap to begin with. Yes, they were two sizes too big. And yes, they were falling apart. But I loved those shoes. I trusted them. I didn't want them to grow old and die.

I am not much of a gear snob. In fact, I am the antithesis of a gear snob. I am a gear-a-phobe. My gear acquisition usually follows these lines: I develop a new hobby. New hobbies require new gear. Begrudgingly, I go out and find some entry-level piece of gear to meet my needs. Since I have disliked shopping since the days my mother dragged me into fabric stores for hours on end, I don't generally spend much time researching the different options. I buy the first thing I find. Then I use it. Then I use it a lot. Then, slowly, I come to appreciate it, and trust it, and even love it. And even as I become better at my hobby, more knowledgeable of the options out there, and more dialed in my needs, I refuse to give up the entry-level gear because I have become emotionally attached to it. The gear and I have been through a lot together. We have had many adventures. We grew into the hobby together. I can't imagine the hobby without this specific piece of gear.

Take my road bike for example. Yes, that is a road bike. It's actually a "light touring" bike, which I've owned since early 2004. It's an entry-level bike - worth about $600 when it was new. I have put lots and lots and lots of miles on this bike. It has been on a few long tours. The fenders were a Juneau addition, as were the fork bottle mounts. That is its original seat (yes, I realize it's tilted back in the photo.) Most of the other parts aren't original. I even had the wheels rebuilt at one point (new hubs and spokes, same rims.) Every year, I tell myself I am going to get rid of this bike and buy a "real" road bike. And every year, I find excuses not to. Last fall, I pulled it out of the apartment building basement where I expected it to be buried forever, and took it to my friend Dan for yet another overhaul. He replaced most of the drivetrain and coated all of the many rusty spots in battleship-gray primer. Thanks to an unseasonable warm spell that has left the pavement ridiculously dry, I've been riding my road bike all week. It feels so fast and light and comfortable. I can't imagine what ever made me want to give it away.

And then there's the shoes. They're a pair of North Face winter hiking boots, men's size 9, which I bought in 2005 specifically to use as winter cycling shoes. That's why they're two sizes too big - to accommodate several extra pairs of warm socks. They're also insulated with Thinsulate and were for the most part waterproof during their heyday, which was a long time ago. This is a picture of me wearing those boots before the 2006 Susitna 100. This picture makes me laugh out loud on so many levels. I don't even know where to begin - there's the fact I'm starting a 100-mile snow-trail race with a full-suspension, 26" Gary Fisher Sugar with 2.1" studded tires. There's the overloaded seatpost rack that scraped the rear tire on every single snowmobile mogul. There's the handlebar bag attached to the rear shock, stuffed with Power Bars that froze solid (and yes, the chemical handwarmers I brought to help thaw them inside the bag did nothing.) There's the stuff sack strapped to the handlebars, filled with who-knows-what. There's the fact I'm wearing rain pants and an old Burton snowboarding coat into a winter backcountry race in Alaska. And then there's the shoes. After my badly chosen food left me starving and my badly chosen clothing left me drenched and my badly chosen bike left me walking through slush the entire last ~30 miles of the race, the shoes worked. Out of all of that gear, they were the one thing I stuck with. I since bought a burlier pair of winter boots for cycling, but these became my go-to winter hiking boots for snowshoeing, frozen-root-scaling, sloppy-slush-slogging and crampon trekking alike.

And now they're gone.

My hiking companions will be so proud of me. But I feel lost. What will I hike in now?


  1. Canada has a no carry-on rule on flights to the US??! Yikes! All airlines? Maybe I won't go to Canada this fall.


  2. Don't know what you will wear on your feet now, but if its not comfortable there is a lot of guys would sure as hell rub your feet for you! I'll stay anonymous since there is so many of us!

  3. Mike, I think the no-carry-on-to-the-U.S. rule is just a reaction to the Dec. 25 attempted bombing. I think they're already easing those restrictions, and pretty soon it will be back to normal.

  4. Ok, yes the predictable reaction, when having people fly naked was the only way to have prevented that attempted method. We've been talking about taking our bikes to Quebec and touring for a few weeks (late summer/early fall). But, we've also been offered a place to stay near Lake Champlain, so may start from that side of the border. Or, do something entirely different.


  5. I feel the same way about gear. I hate shopping so I always buy the first thing I find abuse it past recognition but still can't bring myself to part with it. If I did... i'd just have to go shopping again.

  6. I love gear and shopping for gear, but at the same time feel the same emotional attachment to stuff as you do -- and usually start with entry level stuff. But I just hang on to it. . . and have way too much stuff. It's good to get rid of things when you can I think.

  7. I like Merrell hiking boots, but one man's foot nirvana is anothers nightmare. So, I think the practical thing is to force yourself to a gear shop and try on every boot in your size until you find what works for you.

  8. I think the restriction is for inbound international flights to the States, all carriers, all foreign countries.

  9. Keen insulated boots are THE most comfortable boots I've ever worn!

  10. Ah, yes. On my feet are the same boots that have shared many journeys. Many thousands of miles. A touch up here - a new pair of soles there. Still, they are old and gray. Last year was the year for a new pair. And the year before. And this year. I can't imagine a hike without them but I try to convince myself that this is but bizarre, irrational behavior. Still...

    My condolences to you. May your grief be short and your memories loud.

  11. All Keens, all the time. I swear by my PCT's for hiking, trekking, climbing and just shuffling to work at -40.

    Give 'em a try. They won't disappoint.

  12. I hate traditional shopping, too - too few choices, too many stores to visit, high prices...but I cannot believe you're still saying you hate to shop when you can get anything you want via internet! Need shoes? - go to zappos.com - free shipping both ways EVEN to AK. Unsure of the size? Order two, knowing you'll return one...for free. The only place I shop in person is the grocery store. I do hate it when gear I've loved wears out, so I've actually bought a duplicate of some things, just to have a second generation.

  13. I'm the same way with cars. I drive them until everyone is begging me to get rid of them. Then I drive them some more.

  14. I feel as if Jill were my female self. One doesn't get that kind of feeling out of poorly written stories. I use gears until they get completely worn out and beyond repair. If I have time, I'd go out and ride instead of spending those precious hours on upgrading gears.
    I have a road bike I have put about 20,000 miles on. It's an old and entry level bike, and I can't get rid of it. Rather I'd like to put 80,000 more miles so that I'd have a 6 figure bike.

  15. You keep using the word "snob" - skier snob, food snob, and now gear snob. What exactly do you mean by that? I think many people think of snob as a derogatory word (see definitions below) and yet I think you might mean it as someone who just happens to embrace that aspect of their life more than you do. Could you explain just a bit? I can't really believe that you are putting down folks who are more into gear/food/skiing than you happen to be. I'm sure you mean something else when you use that word.

    1. a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.
    2. a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.

  16. Yesterday, after breaking another spoke, my LBS convinced me that the rims of my 18 year old Novara Arriba mtn bike are dangerously worn and suggested I should consider buying a new bike. Makes sense; in the last year I've put about $250 into replacement cranks, chainrings and free hub. And it is just my backup bike for my commuter...

    So I ordered $150 worth of new rims.

    I get it .

  17. Hey Jill,

    I think you actually have the "right" idea by keeping the cheap bike alive after the cheap parts fail... unless there's something integrally wrong with the frame.

    A crazy Nor-Cal DH-er once told me, "a bike is only as good as its components... NOT the frame."

    So keep peddlin' that cheap frame with revamped components!

    In response to Nice Skier, a gear snob is NOT your run-of-the-mill snob found in these definitions - I think what Jill is talking about are the "snobs" who refuse anything but the "high-end" (read: pricey) gear. Having gear that "works" is simply not good enough for these snobs.

    Take Shimano for example; they also make fishing gear. The major difference in performance of a shimano fishing reel in the $150 range versus a "mantle-piece" reel in the $500 range is hardly noticeable.

    The only difference is how tight the tolerances are: A $500 shimano fishing reel will actually cease up long before the $150 model due to grit, grime, etc. Although it will perform like 'silk' when just off the store shelf.

  18. Three Cheers for Old Gear!!!!

  19. Regarding the word "snob:" Pretty much what anon 7:19 said. Snob a term is commonly used by cyclists to describe someone who only uses nice, expensive or specific things. There's certainly nothing wrong with that - but they do have a tendency to be "snobby" about it. I.e., if you're a Shimano person, you will look down your nose at Campy, and vice versa. It is also used to describe people who have little tolerance for those who, in their opinion, misrepresent certain aspects of bicycle culture ... i.e. BikeSnobNYC (who is hilarious, by the way.)

  20. I can never seem to get rid of the old stuff. Had my North Face VE 25 for 20+ years before parting with it.

    Gave it to my nieces for a backyard play tent.

    I must admit that I am a gear junkie. Not really a snob, but just a junkie.

  21. Jill,
    I'm a new fan of your blog, so perhaps you have covered this previously.
    You touched on a topic that I had been thinking about in the last couple of days. I think many of your readers would be interested in knowing what kind of gear you use for your snow/ice biking. I notice that you use platform pedals with boots rather than clipless. What kind of tires? Chain lube? etc.

    By the way, flat bars on a "road bike"? Come on. Looks more like a "hybrid" bike to me.

  22. Ah, I see. Thank you for your response. I'm thinking that it might also work the other way - i.e., "old gear" snobs? Since I am also a cyclist in the spring/summer/fall (winter is for skiing in the world I live in), I must confess I was unaware of this cyclist term. I learn something new every day! ;-)

  23. I'm busy enjoying the XC ski season here in Minnesnowta, where we're enjoying the frosty fruits of a mighty fine snowfall earlier in the week

    That said, your beautiful photos have me aching for a nice long bike ride. Soon enough, but for now - SKI SKI SKING!

  24. It's a bit late for this, but: Shoemakers are there to repair beloved and well-fitting shoes. For next time, if there's no good shoemaker in Juneau, put them aside until you go somewhere where there is (put a new soles on a pair of non-hiking shoes a couple of months ago for 112 USD equiv. But hopefully you won't have to come all the way to Zürich:) Also had the upper leather on hikingshoes replaced/patched in Spain in 2006 for 8 USD equiv.)

    It's worth it not to have to spend time breaking in so many new ones...

  25. I meant to add that it's worth also giving some money to Canada Post in order to keep them around.


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