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Sole Story

shoe-bt-oneAfter 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.

shoe-bt-twoHabitual 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.

shoe-bt-threeToday 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.


55 replies »

  1. Wow good to know some things are still quality. My hiking boots usually last 3-5 years. This was a fabulous tribute. I don’t usually get attached to things, but I’m starting to feel that way about my little camera. It has survived past its standard lifespan. It’s pretty battered now but the photos are still great. Good luck on finding a new pair of shoes. And warmest holiday wishes. 🎄❤

    • Maybe it is because most things don’t last very long that I had a soft spot for these little guys 👟. Hope your camera will keep ticking for a little while longer! Thanks for all your support and encouragement. 💕 Hoping your holidays were wonderful and wishing you all the best in 2017. 🎉 🍾

  2. Great post 👍🏻😀.
    Good luck getting a pair just as comfy.
    I had a pair of silver loafers an expensive brand bought with 70% off years ago, so a bargain to boot, so so comfy but getting so worn they’d started to leak in the rain 🙃. After a couple of pair of ‘nowhere near as comfortable shoes’ this weekend I had success with my Christmas money off my elderly auntie I found a bargain pair of orange ones in the same make, my Mum was concerned they were a bit of a bright 🍊 orange but I just don’t care 😃. I always put mine in a recycling box, it’ll take a while to wear in a pair 🍀

    • Thanks Charlotte. 😊 I love your shoe style! You can tell your Mum that she’ll never have to worry about losing you in a crowded street now that you have got bright orange 🔥 loafers. 😄 Hopefully I will be fortunate enough to find a great next pair like yours without having to put up with uncomfortable ones in between. Enjoy your new shoes!🚶‍♀️

  3. Wow! You speak like a true writer. If you’re not a writer, I’m suggesting you should. Sorry as this maybe a pressure, but this is the kind of writing I read on a magazine.

  4. Must be tough to part with those old gems? I’ve had shoes, bags, and scarves roaming with us — across terrains. Only the scarves have lived to remind me of those journeys! 🙂

    • It was a very sad day. I debated whether to simply store them in a box as keepsakes. Isn’t it incredible to look at one’s travel wardrobe and contemplate all the adventures they have shared with us? Speaking of scarves, they are one of the most useful items I have as a traveler. Thanks for sharing about yours!

  5. Being minimalistic and frugal people, our clothes and shoes last forever as well. The only reason to throw them out, is when they are ripped or kaput. 🙂 This means that we rarely ever buy new stuff, which is easy as well, since we both don’t like shopping. Your shoes had a great life and will be remembered! It is almost as losing a loved one…

    • Isn’t it though? People laugh and call me sentimental, but with a limited wardrobe each piece is filled with so many stories and becomes a part of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

  6. 64 cities! 13 years! My footwear seldom lasts beyond a year, and only 6 months if I’m unlucky. 🙂 Or just heavy footed. Great idea about the recycling. I’ll have a sort through my shoe storage box. I tend not to throw them out because they look at me so appealingly.
    Wishing you a joyful festive season and more successful travels next year. Thanks for all your company.

    • Yes, you’ve said it so well. Mine looked at me so reproachfully when I placed them in the giveaway box, I almost considered hanging onto them. Thank you for sticking with my ramblings through the years and for being such a generous friend. A very merry festive season to you and looking forward to going on many more Monday Morning walks with you next year!

  7. Wow, 13 years – that is truly some trusted footwear! Shoes are so important, especially the older and often less perfect the feet become. Since I have so much trouble finding comfortable shoes, I am very, very protective of the few pairs I can really walk in. Your shoes were good to you, but you must have also been very good to them.
    Funny thing, when I think of it, I have a little foldable alarm clock that I’ve probably had for 30 years. I didn’t know that it would be something I’d still be carrying with me so many years later or I would have marked the day it was first put into service. I’ve put many new batteries into it, but not as many as I would have thought necessary for the small, plastic apparatus. It’s changed back and forth with time zones and it’s gotten me up for many an early flight. I don’t think about it between trips, but always pull it out of the drawer as I pack my suitcase.

    • Yes I was incredibly surprised after I had done the calculations to find out my shoes had lasted 13 years. So few things have such long lifetimes anymore. What a fantastic story about your alarm clock. I hope it will continue to see you safely through many more travel mornings. How exciting to think of all the hotel rooms and guest rooms it has seen in its lifetime! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Loved your story. I ‘ve had for 25 years, and recently took it to Vietnam and India as well as other adventures. It’s 100% cotton and a green batik that always looks clean, even if it’s not.

  9. I usually don’t have a problem with purging clothing but even I feel attached to your shoes after reading this piece! Thank you for the tip on recycling, too. Who knows where in the world your next pair of sneakers will take you? 🙂

  10. What a truly engaging article and one that deserves more exposure. It’s the sort of piece I’d find in my broadsheet newspaper and one I would happily sit down to read with my mid-morning coffee (having digested the world news with my breakfast). Please, try and find an outlet for it that will allow others to read this article.

  11. I really enjoyed to read your post! What can I say? I have an old stamp album since childhood. It’s patched, I know that, but it still link me to the nostalgia of beginning, and I don’t decided (yet) to retire it 🙂 Regards! Catalin

    • What a wonderful treasure to hold onto! Our very first loves are always so seeped with meaning and significance. I would like to think that it is the very fact that your old stamp album is patched and showing its fragility that it is more precious to you than a new one would be. I hope you will keep it around for a little while longer. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story here.

  12. Saying goodbye to something one is attached to could be daunting. I thoroughly enjoyed tagging along in awesome villages & cities of the world with your comfortable pair & here’s hoping for a new pair for the next adventure.

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