Friday, September 9, 2011


Even before my pilgrimage begins, I've experienced kindness from people whose only interest is in helping me on my challenging journey.

The situation with my boots - arguably the most important part of the pilgrim kit - is now happily resolved, but not without the aid of people more knowledgeable than I and a chance meeting.

The heavy leather guide boots I selected was after consultation with at least a dozen boot specialists.  I explained the intended use - extreme, I realize - and sought guidance.  For the most part, I was treated dismissively and got little meaningful advice: 'You just don't understand, boots aren't built for this kind of use'; 'You have to send additional boots ahead, or stop when they wear out and order new ones'; 'You should never walk further than a single pair of boots will last', 'to walk such a distance, you'll need a support team; they'll carry your extra pairs of boots', blah blah blah... most of the advisers might as well have added 'silly little girl' for all the condescension.

One expert in his field, and not far from Denver, provided meaningful technical advise on the three occasions I went to see him.  He understood the gravity of the issue as being greater than just another in a series of banal commercial transactions.  In the end, though I found his advice valuable, it didn't turn into any financial gain from him as I ordered the boot over the internet and got the replacement soles from another outfit.  Nonetheless, he helped me just for the sake of helping me; he helped me because I asked.  He never treated me as though I'm daft.  Anyone who's in the market for technical footwear should consider talking with Lee and John at The Custom Foot in Englewood, CO for some solid, friendly, and caring advice.

With boots on feet, I still face the 'what-will-I-do-after-the-first-2,000-kilometers' question.  Because it's the heels that wear out first, I'm sure I can extend the life of the soles by another 2,000 kilometers if I can bring an extra set of heels along.  Easy in principal, but getting them led me to another heap of boot repair guys telling me that that is simply not how it works.  Finding an equipped cobbler along the way isn't a viable solution.  I have as little hope of finding hiking boot heels in the Sahara as I did in the Chihuahua desert.  I was told several times that the licensing agreement with the Vibram sole distributor prevented sales of supplies independent from services.  Arghh.

Just as the Custom Foot guys were going to look to pull strings with their suppliers, I happened to walk by a corner hole in the wall cobbler shop while running some errands.  Asking at yet another shop seemed almost fruitless, but I felt inspired.  Inside, two elderly Russian immigrant cobblers welcomed me, stooped low from years tapping needy soles on their shoe trees.  I explained my need and to emphasize the reality of it, showed a small map of my route.  Seeing a small icon of a Russian saint hanging on the wall, I told them of my experience walking from Kyiv and around Crimea, but the soles lasted longer walking on snow than on the rocks I'm now anticipating. A craggy bent forefinger motioned for me to wait a moment and the old man reappeared with a pair of brand new heels, same brand, same durability, very similar pattern.  Amazed though I was, he wasn't satisfied with the fit and disappeared behind the curtain once again, returning with a set he found more suitable.  I have great gratitude for the solution-finding cobblers at Phelps Shoe Repair in Denver.  They get it.


LDahl said...

This really made me smile. Persistency and luck. It proves there are amazing people everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I know you'll meet many more generous souls on your Camino!
SIX DAYS until take-off! You must be jumping out of your skin! I am, & I'm just a bystander!
Agnes, Denver

Anonymous said...

Like my son, you are one of those gifted few who can inspire people to go that extra mile by the sheer force of your will. You see things in people that no one else can find. May peace and safety follow you on your journey.