After thirteen years I am saying goodbye to one of my closest companions; one who has seen me through Europe’s cobbled streets, helped me trek the Inca Trail, and explored Angkor’s ruins with me. We met one mid-afternoon in London as I was limping up Carnaby Street, my finicky boot heels torn to shreds. The pavement painfully digging into my soles I entered the first shoe store I found. They were sitting unheeded on a shelf next to neon fuchsia sneakers, unobtrusive yet so comfortable looking. I picked them up, tried them on, and oh the difference! My feet were suddenly encased in cloud layers of cushion. After eight hours of rambling, standing in crowded underground stations, and soaking in the incessant drizzle my new shoes kept me energized. I spent the next two weeks traversing the metropolitan behemoth in them awed at how well they cocooned my trotters. It was to be the beginning of a rewarding relationship on my part.
Habitual swipes of a clean rag and a spot in the closet is all they asked. In return my svelte trainers faithfully accompanied me on camping trips, across deserts and down ravines, into labyrinthine boroughs and one-lane villages. They were unafraid to tackle muck laden tracks, they withstood the onslaught of sand storms, they battled pockmarked sidewalks. I have introduced these shoes to sixty-four cities. I have paced miles of airport strips in them. I have raced, danced, and even spilled wine on them at a fancy cocktail party. Whenever I squish my feet into them a flood of memories arise. We are old friends, my kicks and I, worn to each other’s ways over the years. My calcaneus and talus have grown accustomed to the slight indentation along the back which gapes with each stride. In turn its throat line has adjusted to the aberration of my instep and knobby hallux, abrading to silken smoothness. There are deep grooves across the tongue where my hands break the leather apart in preparation for wearing them. Cracked wrinkles are embedded along the toe cap, evidence of my pronation. If we matched each other well at the onset, a decade of use has perfected our mutual suitability.
My shoes have as many travel tales to tell as I do. Once in Saint Petersburg I narrowly escaped being run over by a taxicab thanks to the agility of my trainers. I was too preoccupied with capturing the right angle on a domed cathedral and forgot to pay attention to the traffic. A honk, a squeal, and turning my head I witnessed the vehicle barreling towards me. My sneakers seemed to have a mind of their own. While my mind was still processing the situation they sprang towards the sidewalk, saving me. I managed to avoid many slippery nooks on the slopes of Angel’s Landing because of their traction. Each time I felt my toes skidding against the glassy sandstone I would sense the bottom gripping, allowing me to clamber a bit further. In a Delhi garden I eluded a tenacious monkey in large part due to the stealthy tread of my footwear. I was admiring ancient architecture amidst Mughal terraces, munching on fried veggies, without realizing the area was guarded by a vigilant simian on the lookout for snacks. Rounding a corner it sighted my refreshments from its rooftop perch and gave chase, jumping over hedges, fording miniature fences, its teeth bared in menace. I dashed ahead zagging this way, zigging that way until I saw a gap in the shrubbery. I darted inside. As the primate charged past me I tiptoed in the opposite direction behind the bushes until I could nip out the gate. If not for my furtive footfalls and a favorable wind I dread to think what would have become of me and my treats.
Today as I was about to use them for a hike the quarter peeled off at the feather. I knew it was coming. I have been avoiding donning my plimsoll for this reason, shrinking from this moment. Everything comes to an end and it is time for me to dispose of my runners. All our joint remembrances stored inside this gnarled mold will live on only in photographs. Future escapades will be no more. Who knows into what new object they will be recycled? Years hence some road patch or player’s pitch may dimly recall slogging through New England bogs, tramping up an African ridge, pursuing dumplings in Shanghai and wonder why. Farewell loyal comrade, we have shared thirteen glorious years of experience I will never forget.
Old shoes need a new life rather than ending up in landfills. When looking to recycle your footwear consider donating them to a charitable organization. Soles4Souls is one of many nonprofits in need of lightly worn gear. If your shoes are beyond reuse, drop them off at a Nike location or send them to the company’s sustainable “Reuse-a-Shoe” program so they may have a second life.
Do you have an article of clothing or accessory that has shared adventures with you? Is there a favorite sartorial item you always take on your travels? Tell us in the comments below.