Sole Searching

Photo HIking Boots

Me and my Merrell Moab Ventilators in Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain

Let’s just say that I am not known for my sports prowess and leave it at that. It wasn’t until 2016 that I finally found my sport; walking! Standing at the top of that mountain, after trying on my first hiking boots gave me a wonderful sense of exhilaration. And as I stepped down from the four-foot, plaster mountain in the shoe department of the REI store, I felt downright giddy.

Thus, began an intimate relationship with my hiking boots. I remember those first few awkward days as we got to know each other. I’d tie them over and over, trying for a not too tight, but not too loose a fit. I broke them in, walking the city streets of Chicago. Little did they know that they were soon destined to walk 500 miles through Spain on the Camino de Santiago, the 1000- year-old route to the Shrine of the Apostle St. James in northern Spain’s medieval city of Santiago de Compostela.

Skittish at first of the uphills, downhills, rocky terrain and water crossings, I finally settled into a rhythm whereby my boots seemed to be leading me. They helped me to define my comfort zone. I likened this to a car with new tires and the confidence you feel as their traction assists you in navigating the road.

If those boots could talk! They’ve staggered through rainstorms, forced to listen to us taking turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time, then left overnight, stuffed fat with newspaper. They’ve been caked in mud and sat alone, not allowed entry into our hotel room. Regardless, they always know that once they arrive home, they will be well scrubbed and placed on their side in their original shoebox, toe to heel, until their next adventure.

Lately, circumstances have dictated that those boots become a basic necessity, once again, as I walk miles each day. Whatever the weather (or my temperament), as soon as I fit my foot snugly into each one, I feel a sudden sense of exhilaration. It’s amazing what can go on while your feet are moving. The recurring sound of my boots hitting the pavement, crunching leaves or trudging through dirt paths, creates a Zen backdrop.

Ever the shoe lover, I must confess that even the pride and joy of my collection, my Allen Edmonds brown and white spectators, don’t give me the lift that my boots do. My hiking boots may seem like the ugly duckling compared to their classic elegance, but they serve their purpose and serve it well.

Thankful that I have finally outgrown my 30 years of clumsiness, I welcome this new phase of my life, resigned to let my feet lead the way and take one step at a time.

 

Author’s Note:
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Why a Stranger Isn’t Strange to Me

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Photo Strangers

First, we acknowledge each other as we pass by each day. Then, we smile and wish each other a good day. Next, we share a few comments about the weather, finally introduce ourselves and begin to make small talk. This is my how my relationships started with my walking friends; strangers that I’ve met while walking the same route each day.

First, there was the young woman who left the corporate world to become a dog walker (the same mother that left the room crying when she announced her career change, now introduces her as her successful entrepreneur daughter). It was the colorful set of keys hanging from her belt that sparked our initial conversation. Because she was out in all kinds of weather, she was tuned in to the National Weather Advisory 24/7 and became my personal weather forecaster.

Then, there was the striking, older couple who would take their morning constitutional; she, always wearing a stylish hat and he, looking like Santa Claus and sporting a carved cane (only for effect, his wife would say). After running into them at a couple of charity events throughout the city (including Big A’s* grammar school), I would instinctively look for a lovely hat whenever I’d enter a venue. I’d never know when they would pop into my life next, surprised to see him on a local TV station interview (turns out he was a famous Chicago area writer) or as Mr. Wiz’s* customer at the Mercedes-Benz dealership.

Finally, the gentleman that would be up so early walking his dog was always so cheery that I’d find myself smiling and continuing on my route with a newfound spring in my step. One of his daughters was the same age as Big A, so we started comparing notes and swapping Millennial one liners. A chance meeting in our neighborhood with our spouses has since led to a wonderful friendship.

A stranger is just a person that you haven’t gotten to know yet; take Miss Rye Bread. Once, when Big A was a little boy, we were walking back from the grocery store and decided to stop at Woolworth’s. One of the cashiers, a young Filipino woman who seemed a bit stern, noticed our loaded cart and cheerfully said “…Why don’t you leave your cart here. Don’t worry, I’ll watch your rye bread…,” noticing the loaf balanced at the top. For years, we would say hello to Miss Rye Bread on the street, visit her in whatever area store she was working in and never failed to surprise her when we’d sing Happy Birthday to her on her special day.

Nowadays, it’s not that strange to interact with strangers. Thanks to the internet, we date them, room with them, vacation in their homes, stay in their spare bedrooms or on their sofas, rent their cars and pay them to host us for dinner, along with other guests (who are also strangers).

As a child, I remember being told never to get into a car with a stranger. Then, Uber came along and I became totally confused. Now, Uber is currently developing new technology whereby cars will drive themselves. That means that when you’re picked up, there won’t even be a stranger in the car with you. Now, that’s strange.

As a self-taught expert in “strangerology,” I have found that it’s the age of the passerby and not the size of the city that dictates the eye contact level. The younger the passerby, the more likelihood that they will be tuning out the world around them, either by wearing ear phones or by walking, head down, transfixed by some form of social media (the latter technique should not be attempted by amateurs).

Attempt this next exercise at your own risk. There’s no chance for a repeat relationship. It’s just the flash of a human connection, a one-time opportunity for a relationship, the gift of a personal link from one to another. Try it; smile at a stranger as you pass them by and see their countenance change as if by magic. It will change their day and it will make yours!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.