"Hold up, there's something wrong with my shoe."
I stopped and turned around, my breath steaming in front of my face. I pushed the hood of my jacket back, to see Whistle more clearly in the foggy mountain air. My forehead was still gently throbbing from earlier in the day when I hiked directly into a low hanging tree branch. I had been so focused on avoiding slipping on ice and snow that I forgot to pay attention to my environment.
"What's up?" I rubbed my forehead and watched as Whistle leaned a hand against a tree, reached down and yanked a hiking boot off her left foot. She was standing in slushy, icy snow, and to avoid dunking her sock into the mush, she gingerly balanced herself with her boot-less foot on a large rock. I noticed that her sock was soaking wet, and my suspicions were confirmed when Whistle turned her shoe upside down and poured out about a third of a cup of melted snow water. Pursing her lips in concentration, she then stuck a hand into her hiking boot and started rummaging around.
A few seconds later there was a ripping sound, and Whistle's hand emerged holding the entire insole of her shoe, a mangled, ripped mess of fabric and insulation. She frowned.
"Well that's your problem right there," I said.
Whistle slid her left foot back into the hiking boot shell and then went through the exact same process with her right foot.
"Hmmm," she said, now looking at the two handfuls of dripping, mushy hiking boot insulation.
"We can probably get you some new insoles in town. Were those inserts?"
"Nope, those were the factory insoles, sewn into the boots," Whistle responded, bouncing a little on her toes to test out how her boots now felt.
"What are you standing on now, then?"
"I guess... I guess it's just the top side of the rubber bottom of the boot. There's no more fabric in there."
I opened my mouth to respond, but Whistle grinned and said, "They feel MUCH better now."
Whistle never did get new insoles. We went through several towns, and she insisted that her boots were much more comfy without any insoles at all. She had built up the right sort of callouses, and no amount of padding was needed. Once the weather got warm enough, she changed over to wear Chacos, a type of hiking sandals, and threw her old boots in a motel trash can in some town.
To a hiker, building up callouses is like collecting coins in Super Mario by jump-smashing your head on the underside of a brick block over and over again. It's difficult and painful, but ultimately satisfying.
By the end of the trail my feet were like leather, even though I wasn't hiking barefoot. When I was barefoot, I could walk on gravel without being much impacted. Our boots dissolved around our feet, and we kept walking until our feet touched the earth, and then we'd finally get new boots and start all over again.
|That hiking boot has got no sole!|
|The "Boot Tree" in Neels Gap, where discarded boots go to heaven.|
|Drying out boots and socks.|
|Apollo's hiking boots, about a fourth of the way into the trail.|
|Yes, those are Whistle's calloused feet on the shelter's picnic table. No, no one cared.|
|At a shelter in the Shenandoahs. Notice the boots to the left with duct tape.|
|I don't know this hiker, but Dumptruck snagged this photograph.|
|DAAAAAAH FOOT MASSAGE|
|Whistle's first pair of Chacos eventually ripped across the ball of her left foot, creating|
a sensation that she described as "Nail Foot" in which it felt like a nail was being
driven into her foot at all times. She had to get new Chacos.
|New yellow Chacos pictured here, alongside the feet of their owner, Miss Whistle.|
|Near the New Hampshire/Vermont border|