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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. Some years ago, I said goodbye to my sneakers, which I had used about ten years. The quality of shoes varies and depend where You buy them. It has been tested during the years.

    • “The quality of shoes varies and depend where you buy them.” This is so true! I’ve unfortunately experienced the same myself, having had a few shoes which lasted me only six months. Which is sad, since then I feel no connection to them.

  2. Thank you for putting the piece at the end on re-use and recycling of shoes. I hope people stopped to read and think. If my work boots get beyond use around the property, they can become plant pots in the garden.

  3. Shoes as ‘loyal comrades’ is so very appropriate. Shoes support us, carry us, transport us. They protect, assist and enable. Each shoe is a tiny home for each foot. I lived on a small island in the Caribbean where some people had no shoes. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, when many of us have several pairs. Thirteen years – well done! I wonder if anyone has done a whole memoir based on shoes and the memories they evoke.

    • I love how you put it: “Each shoe is a tiny home for each foot.” Perfectly says how significant these often unregarded accessories are, and I imagine for those with no shoes at all having one can be a luxury. A memoir about one’s shoes…now there’s an intriguing idea with which I am falling in love.

  4. Great story! I have attached myself to my Keen walking shoes that took me to half the countries in half the time yours did, so they are truly part of all my travel memories. After replacing them with shoes only different in color, I still could only make as far as the garage to find their final resting place. These babies are thrashed so I don’t see them recycled any time soon, but glad to hear about the Nike program. Keep walking and writing, your travel blog is delightful to read.

  5. Beautifully written. Those shoes look like they’ve served you well, and they look SO comfortable. I agree with a former commenter who said you should send a letter/this post to the shoe company. Your shoes could be their next spokesperson – I’m serious!

  6. I love the pictures and even more the story. It’s been ripped right out of my heart. Due to my fairly small house I have to get rid of many old things when I buy new ones. Wich I hate. In my perfect world I would have a enormous shed in wich I keep everyting I ever owned, or even touched (hmm… this might sound a little akward I suppose, but you get the intention). The things I hate to throw away most are shoes. It’s exactly what you write: shoes are companions, friends, they share your travels, they wake over you at night and await you in the morning. And when they are worn or broken, it’s like bringing someone to the grave. I hardly exaggerate here. So yes, a little monument for you shoes is more then proper. May they rest in peace or live on forever.

    • 🙂 I go back to the photos I have of my old shoes every once in awhile and reminisce. It is interesting how we develop connections to certain objects but not others. I have an emotional attachment to my suitcase as well and I dread the day it has to be replaced with a newer, sturdier version. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your story with me. I really appreciate it.

  7. Only you can write about something so simple as shoes and make it so engaging! I have a tough time letting go of shoes and I wear them to the point I no longer can. This is mostly because I’m so picky and need them to look good and be super comfortable before I get them. Thanks for sharing!

    • 😆😊 Thank you! Glad you liked my story. I too am picky about shoes, as you may have guessed. Who can become best friends with shoes that hurt your feet or don’t match your style? It will take awhile for me to find a suitable replacement to these ones.

  8. Funny how something as simple as good shoes can be associated with many memories. My current travelling/adventure shoes have been with me for about 7 years and I remember where they’ve been. 🙂

    I hope the next pair helps you to make many new memories around the world.

    • Hooray on 7 years with your shoes! May they keep you company on 7 more years of travel adventures. Every time I put my old pair on I would be flooded with memories of past trips…you know exactly how it is. Thank you.

  9. I think you should send this article to the shoe company. If this isn’t the most astounding testimonial to a quality product I don’t know what would be. These will be hard shoes to fill and I send my best wishes for the search.
    Happy holidays and all the very best in 2017!

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