I need to walk. I need to hike. But more than either of these things – I need a decent pair of hiking boots.
Why not go online and buy some? You’d think it would be that easy.
But me and shoes are never that easy. I don’t know if I set up these quests to keep myself always on the brink, teetering between possible success or, more likely, disappointment. It’s a hard lonely road when you set standards that are impossible unless you have a time machine to take you back a few decades.
I found a brilliant pair of Vasque boots on eBay some years back and have not met their equal since. Made in Italy sometime in the eighties they fit perfectly and were so well-made, I could tend bar for eight hours in them and never realize until I sat down at the end of the night that I’d been standing up the entire time. But as these things do, they started to wear out, to break down. I left them over in England back in February, figuring I’d reconnect with them in March but…we all know how internationaly travel is going these days. Hopefully we’ll meet again in 2021.
In the meanwhile, back in March I went on eBay or Etsy again and scored another pair of Vasque boots. Also Made in Italy, they were a decade newer design but looked promising. When they arrived I was thrilled – they fit just right, looked cool, had that indestructible Vibram sole I crave now that I know such a thing exists.
I wore them exactly twice. The first time was a little bit of a breaking in period but I felt confident the boots would soon take their place in the pantheon of indispensable footwear. The second time was great. They were all I wanted a boot to be – not as good as the classic hikers but the perfect mix of tan and navy, Vibram soles; supportive, comfortable-
Goddamn it the sole fell off one of the boots. Just started flapping, came loose and completely detached itself. Thankfully it happened in the living room and not out on the hiking trail! I pictured myself limping back to my car…it’s bad enough to be on the trail in a mask let alone hobbled by a soleless boot.
That’s when I decided I’d get in touch with Mark the shoe repair guy in Poughkeepsie. I’d heard about him when I was tending bar last year, asking around because the local shoe repair man where we live had retired and there’s nowhere up here anymore to get soles replaced or repairs done. Great Barrington is the nearest, or down in Poughkeepsie.
I heard Mark was an artist – a guy who just really loved keeping good shoes alive. I’d emailed him last year about putting new soles on a pair of Arche boots I bought a dozen years ago at a depot vente, a used clothing store in France. He’d risen to the task, finding the (again, Vibram) soles, doing a beautiful repair, even cleaning the beige suede in the bargain. He’d salvaged a pair of boots worth several hundred dollars new. Even though we never met in person, doing everything by mail as Poughkeepsie is almost an hour away, I felt like I’d made a friend, someone who cared about his work.
So a few weeks back I emailed Mark if he thought it was worth trying to repair these hiking boots. The next day I heard back from his wife. She said she remembered my Arche boots and helping Mark with them. She said Mark had passed away of a heart attack back in December.
It’s been a very hard year.
My heart went out to her, I was only glad I had said in my first email how thrilled I’d been about the repair Mark had done. I told her my husband had had a heart attack recently, that he had survived; that I could only imagine what she must’ve gone through. I hoped it was okay to say that.
Of course there are other repair people. Of course there are hiking boots. I could go on a website and get something. But I want more. I want magic. I want boots that feel destined for my feet, or to connect with an artisan who cares about their work.
Yes I want to hike. But I want to feel closer to God when I do it.
Is that too much to ask?