Solemates: Adventures in Having Far Too Many Feelings About Shoes (And No Shame About That Pun)

I have a pair of shoes.  Basically just the one.  I also have a couple of fun pairs from over the years that are totally impractical, climbing shoes, and a pair of mountaineering boots for when it’s really cold, but otherwise everything falls on my trusty single pair of shoes.  I had a pair I loved.  They were perfect.  We did everything together.  Over 1000 miles of movie montage moments: walking to work; hiking on rock, ice, snow and mud; carrying heavy exhibits and working in the shop; standing around at the crag; I even ran in them the approximately two times a year I pretend that I like running.

But they were wearing out.  Chunks of foam were falling out– I ignored them.  They looked gross, but I pretended not to notice.  They developed a hole in the sole, and I even covered it with gaffe tape for a bit.  But it was time for them to go.  And the style had been discontinued a year ago.  As someone who spends essentially all of my time on my feet, it was an emotional realization.

I expressed my pain to others.  “My mom really likes this brand,” they would say.  Meanwhile, another person owned shoes of that brand that wore out very quickly.  “Don’t you want ankle support?” not realizing they were talking about the most important thing I owned.  None of them understood that bond I have with my shoes.  It just wasn’t as simple of a purchase as they were making it out to be!

Of course, when I went to REI, a couple of salespeople tried to convince me that I just couldn’t use one pair of shoes for everything.

“I want them to survive a little snow but not be waterproof, so they dry out,” I’d say.

“Sounds like you need different pairs of hiking shoes for different seasons,” they’d say, as if this was a reasonable approach that every sane person uses for their footwear decisions.  “And why don’t you have different street shoes than hiking shoes?”  It was like telling me to settle for a few casual acquaintances and surrender my best friend.

Eventually, I settled for a durable-looking set of trail runners, sticking stubbornly to the non-waterproof version that was only available online.  I wore them 10+ miles every weekday on pavement, to the shop, on a rock climbing trip, to climb a mountain through a bunch of slush, and on a run in a local park.

Two weeks later, they were falling apart.

Two weeks!  I returned them to REI.

“I hate to do this because I wear shoes so hard, but I just bought them and they’re peeling a bunch.”

“How long has it been?”

“I’m not sure, maybe two weeks?”

He obviously didn’t believe me, so he looked it up.  “Good lord, it has only been two weeks, what did you do to them?!”

I walked, trusting and barefoot, to the shoe department to try again.  Immediately a serene-looking man offered to help.  He had a British accent and was angelically backlit.  “What do you use your shoes for?”  he asked, after I explained I’d just wrecked a pair far too quickly.

“Everything.”  And he didn’t correct me.

After he suggested some refreshingly reasonable options which still just didn’t feel like The One, I noticed he was wearing sandals and hazarded, “do you just wear sandals all the time?”

Apparently he did.  Also apparently we had all of the same foot problems and both loved walking barefoot.  We had a really embarrassingly lame conversation about high arches and toe splay and stuff really no one cares about and he brought me some “minimalist” running shoes to try on since it would feel like walking barefoot.

“Can I really wear these all day, for everything?”  I asked skeptically.

“I’ve run marathons in them,” he assured me, with a yoga teacher smile. “It’s like being a kid again, you can feel everything.”

They were so comfortable!  I knew that these types of shoes caused some people a lot of pain.  I knew that it was a big risk to buy these shoes and wear them to do literally everything immediately.  But cults just have a way of sucking you in, and the minimalist footwear thing did just that to me, in that moment.

I walked outside and started focusing on walking mostly on the balls of my feet.  It was different, but I was ready to get to know my new best friends (and cultlike footwear lifestyle).