Shoes for the Journey

On November 10, after hiking up Clingman’s Dome to see the panoramic view of the Smoky Mountain National Park, I was ready to leave Newfound Gap, when coming down the trail was the unmistakable look of a through hiker. First, I saw the slight bend forward from the load of survival pack. He wore his story, coming on with an unhurried, steady walk, showing a ragged beard over a tired face, long hair coming out under a stocking cap, and the dirty clothes to match.

As he approached, I introduced myself and asked him some typical trail questions. His handle was Sardine, and he had two more weeks to finish at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Just looking at the worn and cut-up tennis shoes alone could have separated him from the rest of us tourists.

Then a young girl came up to join us, carrying the through-hiker pack, with the trail handle “Chin Up.” She was also wearing the high mileage hiking boots that spoke of rock cuts and scrapes, mud and water crossings, and going the distance.

Shoes are like that, telling much about a person and where they are going. In the fall of 1974, instead of going back to college for my sophomore year, I signed up for a year in Mennonite Voluntary Service. This took me to Frontier Boys Village near Colorado Springs, a group home for behavior problem boys. VS did pay $15 a month besides room and board, so I saved for two months and added to it the $20 cash that I brought from home. (This was long before college students had credit cards.) But then I went shopping.

I already had the basics: a couple of flannel shirts, blue jeans, and a coat, but I needed some Colorado shoes. I went to the Red Wing Store and found some gorgeous leather hiking boots for $48.95. That was expensive in the 70’s. I liked them so well I drew a picture of them:

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I was itching to do a real climb so I wore the boots everywhere to break them in, and oiled them up to make them water proof. It was already October, which is late in the season to hike because of the unpredictable mountain weather on Pike’s Peak. A friend dropped me off in Manitou Springs near the base of the cog railway. I was wearing Levi’s jeans, a T-shirt and a wool sweater, with a jean jacket over the top. My small pack was filled with a couple of ham sandwiches, bananas, peanuts and raisins, a canteen, knife, matches, and a sleeping bag.

It was a cloudy day, 46 degrees and misty. I put on my stocking cap and leather gloves, and started up from the Barr trail head. I had the irrepressible curiosity of a kid, the invincibility of a teenager, with the energy of a distance runner.

Many of the miles I had run in preparation for track, cross country, and the climb, were done in the shoes below, favorites from my high school days. In 1970, you pretty much had only two choices for running shoes: Puma or the three stripes of the Adidas. This pair was green and yellow:

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I didn’t get started until 4:00 in the afternoon, but I hiked quickly for the first few miles, through the mountain forests, and across a few streams. I went alone, apparently with something to prove to myself, which never seems quite as obvious or necessary to parents and friends. I did not see any one coming down. This, in retrospect, should have been a clue. My goal for night was to stay at Barr Camp, about 7 miles up the 13 mile one-way hike to the top.

Around mile 4, the mist started changing to snow. I was warmed from the exertion and enjoying the beauty of the scenery, so I kept steadily moving upward. The mountain meadows were extraordinary in the evening light on the remaining yellow aspen leaves.

The temperature was dropping, and my hands were getting colder, but by the middle of the evening I arrived at Barr Camp. I looked around for some kindling and firewood, but it was all wet. Still, I tried to get some pine needles started on fire, but did not succeed. Soon I realized my fingers were too cold to hold a match any more, and I remember a chill of fear crossing my mind. I wondered briefly if I should turn back and run down.

Instead, I got my sleeping bag untied from my pack, mostly with my palms and my teeth, and settled it into the most protected corner of the drafty shelter. Then, since I couldn’t work my fingers, I just climbed into the bag, muddy boots, coat and all. A few minutes of sit ups and covering my head, the intensity of the body shivers was reduced. By around a half hour later, I got my boots untied, took them off and went to sleep.

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The sun comes up early on the east face of Pike’s Peak, and I woke up around 6:00 am. The sky was beautiful, and the snowfall had just been a light dusting. I got my boots back on as quick as I could, and continued upward the trail. By mid morning, the temperature had risen to around 50 degrees, melting the snow, and making the hike comfortable again. When I climbed above tree line, the view opened to 30-50 miles of panorama of other snow covered peaks of the Rampart Range. Around 11:00, I made it to the top and had lunch with the drive-up tourists.

Going down was a breeze and the redemption of the difficult climb. It was the long sunny view out onto the Colorado plains, the drama of the cliffs and gorges, the whisper of wind in the mountain pines, and the trickling, tumbling, glistening streams. By 4:00, I was back to Manitou Springs, which, depending on your point of view, might still not be considered civilization, but there were lots of people around.

Building the boat calls for some special shoes also. They have to be comfortable on concrete floors, and yet agile enough to climb in and out of the boat innumerable times, without doing damage to some fragile wood parts. Some of my old favorites, the Concord High School green and white original Converse All-Stars, and the Puma track shoes had gotten thrown away over the years. But, I guess, I don’t follow the rule that you should get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past year. So I still had plenty of options in my closet to choose from.

I tried my old Red Wing leather work boots, but they were a little clunky. Fortunately, I had hung on to an old pair of Tommy Hilfiger leather tennis shoes from the 80’s. They still had a little time between broke in and worn out, and I found myself favoring them, until by now they are the “boat shoes.”

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They are not to blame for the slow progress as of late. That relates more to having gone on a family tour for nine days through the southeast. Below, Austin and Brayden are doing a live test of the cockpit dimensions and the steering wheel position.

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Recently, I have researched and bought most of the hardware items I will need: navigation lights, wiring harness, throttle control, gauges, steering wheel, etc. The first set of gauges were bought a month ago, but one was back ordered and another had an off-center face so I returned them. The next Tachometer had damage on the stainless steel ring (also returned), so I expect to pick up the last set next week.

The back navigation light required an angled mounting base, shown below.

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I made a special track for the wire harness so it would be easy to access for any future repairs. It will be covered by a removable shelf and the fabric covered cockpit panel.

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The bow eye is a small thing, with an important function of keeping the boat tied up. I had to devise a special drilling jig to get the holes accurately positioned in the front. It will eventually be epoxied into the white oak keel stem, which is the strongest wood in the framework.

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Back in the early 70’s, inspired by the craft work of the surviving hippies, I decided to make some leather sandals of my own. I made a pattern from my foot and cut sole pieces and strap to fit. Then I took them to an Amish harness maker and he stitched them up for me. They went many miles and eventually got retreaded, adding two more leather layers to the bottom. They make me think of the messenger Isaiah spoke of, who may have worn sandals like these:

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“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 52:7

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