It was love at first sight. He walked into the room wearing a well-worn sports coat (elbow patches), a flannel button, faded jeans, and hiking boots. I watched and listened to him as he leaned against the desk and reviewed the program for the upcoming semester, my eyes focused intensely throughout his speech.
I caught up with him in the hallway after class and did my best to try not to look at him as we spoke and walked through the drilling field towards his office at Lee Hall. He was a writer and my creative writing teacher and most importantly had some really cool and well worn Vasque Sundowner hiking shoes.
It was my first time seeing a pair of Sundowners, and I immediately determined I must have a pair. The problem was, I was a poor student and unfortunately my budget was much more of ramen noodles and Schaefer’s Light beer than a corduroy jacket and a variety of Italian-made hiking boots. I never forgot those Sundowners, however.
I’ve dreamed of it every now and then over the years, and on occasion I would see a well-worn pair at the feet of a passing super hiker as I browsed the shelves at Square Books or rode a bike. on Oak Mountain trails. “Someday,” I said to myself.
Finally, that day arrived. A year before my first hike on the Appalachian Trail, a weeklong hike with my son right after graduating from high school, I purchased my long-awaited pair of Sundowners. It had only taken about 25 years, and I could think of no better voyage of discovery to baptize them than a pilgrimage along the “Path of America.”
I immediately started to properly break my new boots. On all of my training hikes the boots were comfortable and performing, keeping my feet dry no matter how wet and muddy they were on the Bonita trails. They provided great support with my weighted bag and as an added bonus they looked good with a pair of jeans.
All I needed was a corduroy sports coat with elbow patches and an evening of open mic poetry at the local brewery. In fact, I also needed a local brewery at the time. However, with my trusty new Sundowners running in, I was ready to hit the TA – at least that’s what I thought.
Halfway through our first day on the trail the sky triggered a downpour. Fortunately, my boots were waterproof. Unfortunately, I would soon discover the downside of this attribute.
As we approached Springer Mountain, torrential rains quickly turned the well worn trail into a fast, deep flowing stream, and my “waterproof” boots were quickly filled with water. When we got to the shelter at the end of the day, my feet were messy and swollen.
I limped (literally) for the rest of our hike, and Moleskin and KT Tape became my salvation. Every morning I dreaded putting on my boots. However, at the end of the hike I attributed my discomfort to the fact that the boots had been turned into leather aquariums on day one, and soon enough my love for the Sundowners returned.
That love quickly wore off on my second AT hike the following year, and I had to contend that while the boots were comfy and made me fit into the super hiker mold while cruising around town with a flannel shirt and a Patagonia vest, these weren’t the right boots for me on any serious hike.
When G and I started planning the third AT hike I knew it was time for a change. I needed comfortable boots. If they looked good in the process, great, but even though they looked like clown shoes and were comfortable while going up and down those Appalachian mountains, so be it.
I explained my shoe issues to the hiking professionals at Buffalo Peak Outfitters in Jackson and with their help found what I was hoping would be the perfect boots for our next AT expedition: a pair of Salomon X Ultras. lined with Gore-Tex.
These boots had a much more ‘high-tech’ look than my ‘retro’ sundowners, and while they probably wouldn’t pair as well with jeans and a sports coat the next time you read poetry, they were certainly comfy. . Well, something had to give.
In the end, the boots were perfect and I finished our hike blister-free. I also learned something: in the words of this famous hiker Adele, “I love to be beautiful, but I always favor comfort over fashion.”
I wonder if the new Threefoot Brewing Company is planning to host an open mic poetry night? If so, I can channel my inner Beat Poet, put on my sports coat and Sundowners and head down. Otherwise, look for me on the trails. I’ll be the guy who wears comfy hiking boots. Until then, I can’t wait to see you out there in our great outdoors.
Email outside columnist Brad Dye at [email protected]