Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Planned Obsolescence'

Boots. Always a tender subject on long walks. They need to be sturdy and durable, and comfortable, of course - no blisters! - and the soles need to absorb energy. In my experience, it comes down to the soles.

In the three boots I've gone through on the 12,000 kilometers so far, the original Vibram soles have lasted 1,600 to 2,000 kilometers on each set - which is to say that they're worn smooth by 1,600 kilometers, but I've stretched them to 2,000 kilometers through uncomfortable persistence and necessity. In Italy and again in Istanbul, I was able to get the soles replaced with other Vibrams, though the replacements were always far inferior to the molded originals, plus, my feet being small, the one-size-fits-all blank gets so cut down that very little of the tread knobs are left. In Mexico, the disaster of having only cowboy boot soles available for replacement taught me well the key hiking-boot sole feature of energy absorption. Still no blisters, but my feet ached perpetually because of this factor even though the slipperiness of the flat-bottom was never an issue in land of no moisture.

Now I'm setting off for a journey in the high four digits, maybe 8,000 or 9,000 kilometers. I dread the thought of the fatigue my poor dogs will have to endure by the time I reach Morocco. I contacted several custom boot makers to learn more about the construction of this critical piece of equipment. The uppers have always served me well, but the soles are the critical point. What can be done to extend their lives?

'Planned obsolescence' is the phrase of art. The soles are designed to wear out to encourage new purchase. It wouldn't matter if I were to buy boots off the shelf or custom made (though all three cobblers have a backlog of at least a year), the soles are by and large the same. They're never rated for distance, which obviously is a broad variable, but they generally have the caveat that they'll 'last for years'. Months is all I ask, but it won't matter. With the experience of my last four winter walks, I am positioned to say 1,600 kilometers is all I can expect.

'Buy four pairs in advance and ship them ahead to different cities along the route' has been the common advice. Not so easy as that, in reality, especially with this trip coming, how can I know when I'll be to these places, whether there will be a general delivery post, whether the (expensive) boots will actually be there... 'Carry a few extra pairs, then' is hardly more easily followed advice. Boots weigh far more than my empty pack. Even carting along extra soles is a weighty proposition.

In Spain, I'll start off in mountains and then traverse two other ranges. In Morocco and Algeria, I'll walk along the Atlas Mountains... Alas, mountain walks rather demand solid footwear. After that, desert. Maybe I'll be able to get away with sandals? Hopeful, but perhaps not the right thinking to start off. I'll continue to search for a reasonable solution. We can put a man on the moon, but can boot soles made to go the distance be beyond our operational technology? Beyond the economic rewards of sole-makers, it seems.


Anonymous said...

I am wowed once again! Won't it be hot in Africa in our winter?
We have been missing you terribly!
Wish we could help you with boot soles! Will be with you in spirit--what a fantastic life you are leading...buena suerte! Nadja

Hilde said...

Hello Anne. One of several beneficial aspects of having met you is that my eyes seem to have been opened to the word 'pilgrim/age'. I found this in an article about relics being described as 'bridges to heaven'. "Pilgrimage and relics are pointers to the Resurrection. They have no value apart from the Resurrection. [They]..trumpet a common message: "Look beyond. I am a pointer. Look towards the Source""
Thank you for pointing!

Anonymous said...

check out St Damiana's/Damayan monastery for nuns in the northern delta of Egypt. Could be a very interesting stop!