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?