Sunday 19 June 2011

If These Boots Could Talk

Friends and foes: some of my bushwalking boots from the last decade and more 

“Yes sir, surprisingly, they’re made in Ireland. But these boots are very well respected among the mountaineering fraternity.” 

The salesman took a micro-breath, stepped closer, dropped his voice conspiratorially. The Irish do wonders with leather sir. Think of their horses. And the clincher is, they’re 60% off, today only, and we have them in your size!”

The idea of buying mountaineering boots for bushwalking was odd enough, but Irish ones?! I’d been to Ireland; I knew they had few “real” mountains, and that they were not exactly famous for breeding mountaineers. And I could hear my walking mates’ jibes already. (“An Irish mountaineer walks into a bar. ‘Now who left dat t’ing lyin’ around?!’”)

Despite all, I succumbed to the salesman’s blarney, walking away with a pair of James Boylan mountaineering boots. And truth to tell, they ended up being some of the best I’ve ever entombed my feet in.

Because let’s face it, you’re likely to have a love-hate relationship with your boots. No matter how good they are, there will be times when putting them back on will feel like strapping on an instrument of torture. Your feet are sure to rebel against what your boots put them through on a hard bushwalk. That rebellion can take the form of blisters, pressure sores, bruised toes, cracked skin, blackened toe-nails and all manner of other aches and pains. And then there’s their olfactory rebellion, which can be serious enough to have you casting the offending footwear into the night.

Yet what a different story it is in those days leading up to a bushwalk. How loving we are to those boots then:  carefully bathing any mud or marks from their skin; warming them gently; massaging them deeply with magical unctions. And why? A vain effort to make them see things our way, to consider remaining pliable perhaps, dry even. How touchingly optimistic we are in those pre-walk days!

 A boot-eating quagmire on Tasmania's Arthur Plains
And when the worst happens? Like the proverbial dog returning to his recycled dinner, we find ourselves mooching about in outdoor stores (or their on-line equivalents) looking for a solution. Deliberately putting ourselves in harms way, we ask the salesman (or the forum members or on-line reviewers) what they think about Gore-tex or eVent or full-grain leather or composites or Vibram or light-weight or trail-runners or … The list is long indeed.

If we run true to form, we sooner or later find ourselves in possession of footwear that promises to give us Mercury’s wing-ed feet. Too often our purchase fails to make us fly, and only our wallets are lighter. Because in the end, a hard bushwalk will be tough on our feet, whether they’re in boots, boat-shoes or bare.

After all, what is it we’re wanting out of a walk? To get out of it unscathed? Oh, I hope not! The whole point, to me at least, is to come out of it properly scathed: to be wounded in that most difficult, wonderful, painful, life-affirming way that only effort and anguish can bring about. That’s the kind of hurt that actually ends up healing.

I’ll be trying to remember that next time I strap on my boots … while I’m trying to forget their price!

The latest blarney purchase: Italian full-grain, handcrafted, Gore-tex, 3D sole, etc etc! 


redtiggy said...

lovely blog! my last boots were like 10-league boots -every time I put them on I felt like walking (rather enthusiastically!) - but I was younger then!!
My current boots are just wonderfully comfortable, but the Lake Rhona walk has left me wounded!
- wounded in exactly the way you described: " wonderful, painful and life-affirming" with happy memories and pix to boot!!!

Matt_Skalicky said...

I have had the same pair of Monts for 10 years now. Goretex lined and pretty sturdy. I have been looking at buying a new pair. Any suggestions? ;-)

Matt S