“How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?”
In the course of my 2,007 mile journey, I must have answered this question 2,007 times. So with a big smile, I glanced down at my feet, tapped the toes of my purple hiking shoes like a drum roll, and replied, “This is pair number four. Thank you AHNU Shoes!” Then in my best Price Is Right voiceover I said, “Rockridge II by AHNU Shoes, 2011 sponsor of Walking Home.”
I can never resist being a ham, but in all seriousness the only piece of equipment more important than my shoes, was my camelback. My personal comfort was centered on water intake and foot support. If you have ever walked 25 miles on a 100 degree day, you will understand why.
In the middle of this trip, I walked 15-25 miles a day in over 100 degree heat for five weeks straight, from Springer, New Mexico to Weston, Missouri. By the end of each day, I managed to sweat through both pairs of socks (I wore cheap nylon liners under cotton running socks), and completely soak the leather collar that lined the inside of my boots. One avid hiker I met early in the trip said, “You need to keep your feet dry. If you socks get wet, you’re going to get blisters, and if you get blister you have to stop and let them heal before walking again.”
This is fine advice for someone walking in normal temperatures on a trail in the woods. I was walking by myself along State highways with traffic whizzing by at 60 miles per hour, not one tree or rock or house or living being on the horizon, in 100 degree temperatures, wearing 40 lbs. of gear hooked to complicated electronics that took 15 minutes to remove or suit up. Needless to say, I didn’t stop every hour and change my socks. In fact, I only stopped once a day to eat, rest and dry out my socks and shoes. If I was lucky, I’d find something to sit on other than dust, shriveled cacti and brown clumps of dead grass. For the first two and a half months I walked with blisters upon blisters, wrapped in bandaids and moleskin. It wasn’t fun, but It didn’t kill me. In fact, most days my pain receptors settled into a dull ache by mile five.
I’m not trying to gain macho points, but just want to illustrate how important it is to wear the right pair of shoes. I started with a pair of Brooks tennis shoes, donated to me by Hirsh’s Shoes in Tucson. If you live in Tucson, please buy your next pair of shoes from Hirsh’s. They have been in business since 1954 and Mr. Hirsh is a charming and sprightly eighty year old. He ran his last marathon at age seventy in Tanzania!!
While I tried on shoes and explained my project, he smiled and nodded with approval, and quickly agreed to sponsor me. He recommended running shoes for pure comfort. They were comfortable… but I had a sock problem. My wonderful, high-tech wool hiking socks gave me a painful, lumpy rash from my toes to the tops of my thighs. Nothing new there, allergies grow like weeds in my family. Unfortunately, it took me 2 weeks to figure out that the socks were the source of irritation.
Also, I didn’t anticipate walking along I-40 from Gallup to Albuquerque. It turns out that Route-66 weaves in and out of I-40. So I often ended up walking the interstate, along the fence line, skirting brambles and cacti while watching for snakes. By the end of the day, my shoes were filled with red dust that filtered through the mesh of my tennis shoes and my nerves were frayed from constant snake patrol. I needed boots.
When I reached Albuquerque, I stopped at Dillard’s and tried on every boot in stock. I fell in deep like with a pair of Montara hiking boots by AHNU. They were lightweight with flexible ankle support and fit my feet perfectly. The Dillard’s sales rep said they were a new company and might be interested in sponsoring me. There was the normal round of calls and phone tag, so in the meantime, I bought a pair of Solomon hiking boots from Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works in Santa Fe. They were a comfortable fit, but felt hot and heavy, and not in a good way.
When my Montara boots arrived in Great Bend, I wanted to kiss them, but opted for a nice snuggle since people were watching online. From that point on, I pretty much stopped getting blisters. There was one toe that didn’t like being on an angle for 2,000 miles (the shoulder on highways is distinctly angled for drainage) and slowly formed a monster callus, but my feet seemed to have found a happy home. Whenever I find a shoe company that makes shoes that match the shape of my foot, they have a customer for life. That is why I still wear Reeboks years after they lost their cool factor.
Now that my project is over, I’m still wearing my last pair of Walking Home shoes, AHNU’s Rockridge II, partly because I don’t feel like shoe shopping, but mostly because I love them and although they have 520 miles on them, they are still one of the most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.
Thank you AHNU!