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« Of health and hubris | Main | The motley, inter-generational crew that make up church »

Made for walking

We make a big fuss about shoes. Not the fancy kind, with sky high heels and prices to match; I’m just talking plain old walking shoes here.

I first realised that you can walk a long way in rubbish footwear riding a camel in the Thar Desert in western India; our guide schlepped competently along all day in a pair of busted sandals.

In the epic solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail described in her book Wild, Cheryl Strayed walked for much of the 2000 kilometres with boots a size too small. Then one of them fell off the mountain anyway, and she walked to the next supply stop in sandals bound up in packing tape.

In Born to Run, author Christopher McDougall who is an advocate for barefoot running, points out that in the past, Olympic runners got about in unpretentious canvas footwear. He quotes figures proving that foot injuries have multiplied alarmingly since we all started paying megabucks for elaborate running shoes that are actually bad for our feet – feet that are constructed precisely to cope with rough terrain with their dozens of tiny, moving parts.

I’m no Cheryl Strayed, but when I went away for a week recently I only took one pair of footwear, and they fell apart on my second day. The walking boots that I bought 15 years ago and have worn endlessly in city, country and bush have been resoled, relined and stitched up numerous time by my local cobbler Greg who is cheery and never suggests I ditch old shoes and buy myself a new pair. In our throwaway society Greg is a treasure. Last year I was in the UK and Europe for seven weeks with just these boots and a pair of Birkenstocks, walking many miles a day, and they came home in one piece.

But this time I fear they might be beyond repair. The whole of the top has come away from the bottom in the right-hand shoe, and all the back seams are unravelling too. It grieves me, but I think they’ll have to go.

I walked all week in my broken shoes with no mishaps. On my third day, however, it poured. As the rain crept in and around my socks and the wind blew up and my toes never quite warmed up that day, I realised that low-tech, minimalist footwear is all very well, but when it’s pouring, shoes with no holes are a smart idea.

This was published on 7 September 2017 in The Melbourne Age

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Reader Comments (2)

Just read your latest very sad about your beloved old boots. I also have a pair of much loved, Old Hiking/walking boots which have been re-soled, mended and patched.....I keep them polished and hope that they do not 'kick the bucket on me'....they are beloved "Old friends'.

September 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersusan morris

When I bought my trusty Scarpa Hiking boots back in 2001 to walk the Tasmanian wilderness I secretly hoped that they might be the last pair I would need to buy in my lifetime. A wish granted (so far!) They have carried me through England, Scotland, parts of Europe, Turkey, the Kimberley, Western Australia, Cape York, and many local Victorian treks. And neither they nor I are done yet. So I applaud your praise of the humble walking shoe Clare, especially the well made enduring sort.

September 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRod

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