It was February. Jeff and I went to Sports Direct on Oxford Street in desperate search of hiking shoes. May was fast approaching for our trip to Scotland to hike the West Highland Way, and we needed time to break in our boots.
Personally, I hate shopping. Inevitably, a simple purchase turns into a full-day event of trying on endless shoes, getting too warm under fluorescent lights, and being hounded by sales people. But this time, asking for some guidance from one of the employees paid off. The gentleman told me to try the Salomon approach shoes. Yes, he also pitched me a more expensive, off-brand pair, but once I slid the Salomons on and walked around the store, I knew it was a match made in heaven.
Their first adventure was to France. My parents met us in Paris, and we spent two weeks roaming the abandoned WWI forts in Verdun, looking up at gorgeous cathedrals in Reims, Amiens, and Rouen, and visiting war memorials in Normandy. There was so much history to learn in those dank and dark forts and on those wide, empty beaches. But there was also a lovely simplicity we saw in the small Beauty and the Beast-esque villages where we chased down the bread van for fresh baguettes.
Just a few weeks later, Jeff and I embarked on the week-long adventure that prompted the purchase of the shoes. We hiked the 100 mile path through the Scottish Highlands. We laughed, cried, and bled on those shoes as we waded through mud and animal tracks (and all that implies), jumped from rock to rock along Loch Lomand, and kicked up trail dust as we made the final descent into Fort William. I remember wanting nothing more than to throw my shoes out the train window after that venture.
I spent more time in London walking through Chelsea where Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier had their home. Today, it is run down with fading baby blue paint, and it’s surrounded by newer and more modern buildings. I also found the home of Ian Fleming a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, and I walked the side streets where J.M.W Turner must have back in the 18th century.
These memories are incredibly dear to me because it was just a few months later that Jeff and I said goodbye to London. After living there for 2.5 years, we were making the jump back across the pond to resettle in the U.S. But my shoes had no idea what was coming when we boarded our first flight out of the U.K. and landed in Sweden.
We jumped from little island to little island in the archipelago of Stockholm before boarded a boat from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. I saw the famed Winter Palace in the rain and the final resting place of the last Tsar and his family. While we were a little disappointed in Russia and how difficult it made our trip, it still holds a high place in my mind, and I ache to go back.
My boots then walked through the hot and humid back alley streets of Bangkok for extraordinary street food just to then walk up and down the beaches of Phuket. They took me to Siem Reap where I walked in and around 5,000 year old temples that still capture the imagination and also the allure of Lara Croft.
From Cambodia, my boots went all the way to Japan where Jeff and I climbed the highest peak in the country: Mount Fuji. To this day, I still can’t quite believe we made that trek in the middle of our travels. We stood above the clouds and looked out into the horizon toward Tokyo. While we couldn’t see the capital city because of the said clouds, we knew it was there because we walked the Shibuya Crossing just days later.
I do remember hating my boots more than anything on the descent of Mount Fuji, and I dreaded putting them back on the next morning. I lost a toenail on that hike, but after some time has passed, I know my boots did me well on that climb.
Just a few short months ago, those same boots landed on American soil and walked on hardened lava in Hawaii. They also hiked more hills in the last frontier: Alaska. Denali is now one of my most favorite places in the world, and I know my shoes would agree.
It is with a heavy heart that after all of those miles and different terrains, my shoes began to fight me. I noticed it when we walked through some American battlefields in South Carolina and hiked through the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. My shoes were at their end.
Faithful companions through all of 2016, they have seen more than I could have ever bargained for. And now, I have a new pair of Salomon hiking shoes that are primed and ready to conquer whatever 2017 will throw at me.
Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for faithfully reading this year, and I’m looking forward to the stories I’ll tell next year.