Wednesday, June 18, 2014

98. New Hiking Boot Smell

I've heard people talk about "New Car Smell." I've even seen those little pine-tree shaped air fresheners in taxi cabs that boast New Car Smell. People seem to really like it. I can't say I have spent very much time in the company of New Car Smell. This is because I grew up in a family where I learned to be fully appreciative of used cars that can last forever. I feel way more pride at having an old car with over 200,000 miles on it than I would if I had a newer car that kinda looked cool but hadn't proved its worth.

I like Old Car Smell better, because it could smell like anything. It smells like the history of your family, and all the trips the car went on. My 245,000 mile Subaru Outback smells like lilacs, grape bubblicious and just a little bit like an attic. The foot wells are covered in a perpetual coating of beach sand and forest dirt. There are ninja turtle action figures in the glove compartment and a rainbow hacky sack in the front window and a random assortment of camping gear and carpentry equipment in the back. There are several plastic pieces missing from the front bumper and rear wheel well that I have been meaning to go to a junk yard to scavenge, but I haven't. I have my doubts that I ever will.

This doesn't mean that I don't treat my car well. It means that I have used it for its intended purpose: to not just get from one place to another, but to enjoy the journey.

I'm saying all of this to defend this fact: New Car Smell makes me NAUSEOUS and it's probably because I haven't spent nearly enough time around it. It doesn't make me nauseous in any metaphorical class anxiety sense. It literally makes me nauseous. If I have to ride in a new car for more than a few miles, I have to ask whoever is driving to pull over so I can barf. I know I'm not alone in this. There have to be other people who feel ill from this smell. Based on my scientific data collection (I asked Dumptruck), 50% of people love New Car Smell, and 50% of people feel light headed at the mention of it. THESE ARE COLD, HARD FACTS, PEOPLE.

But, I get the appeal of New Car Smell.

I understand that to some people it smells delicious because it reminds them of being in a beautiful, brand new vehicle. It doesn't matter if that vehicle is a Kia or a Jaguar, if it's new and you had some formative experience of enjoying a new car as a kid or as a teenager, the smell probably makes you happy. And then of course, some people probably just like the smell for no reason other than the fact that their nose likes it. The same way that some people, like myself, enjoy the smell of gasoline. There's no reason I like it, I just do.

Long distance hikers see our hiking boots like people see their cars. It's our method of transportation, and we have to take care of them the same way that people have to take care of their cars. But like the used-car aficionados amongst us, the more destroyed a pair of hiking boots, the more they are respected. We aim for the perfect balance between functional and wrecked. That's when a hiker and our boots are in beautiful, spiritual harmony. The boot is broken in, but it holds us upright.

At some point though, the moment comes that a pair of boots must be retired. If you're not a long distance hiker, you can carry through the car metaphor. If you've ever had a beloved old junk heap that you've been rattling around in since 1993, and one day the drive belt just rockets right off and the car goes from perfectly functional to TOTALED in the span of 7 seconds, you know the sadness that follows. You go through the 5 stages of grief (abject horror, screaming, crying, sobbing over the hood of the car on the side of the highway like a complete lunatic, and finally, getting it towed to a junk yard to try and salvage some money from the parts that can be re-used), and watching your baby get taken away feels like.. well... I was going to say "getting your baby taken away" but I think that's a little melodramatic, even for me.

It feels like being forced to start over.

For hikers, when this day comes, it is a sad day. We all send our completely unsalvageable, stinky as heck no-longer-even-resembling-boots boots back home, thinking one day we'll need them again. This is the equivalent of leaving your old junker in the back yard. There is nothing shameful about this. This is practical. There are good parts in there than can be repurposed! It just needs some time to rest. And accumulate several seasons worth of pine needles in its grating. In the case of the hiking boots, I am planning on filling them with dirt and planting chrysanthemums in them.

After we have spent the appropriate amount of time mourning over our old boots (the amount of time it takes to walk from the post office to the nearest outfitter in nothing but our stocking feet), we can allow ourselves to bask in the glory of the New Hiking Boot. I remember walking into an outfitter and picking a boot off the display shelf with the same deep reverence that Indiana Jones held for that little gold idol with the screaming face. Luckily for me, I was not immediately flattened by a loosed boulder after I picked the boot up, but you get the picture.

I'd gotten so used to the smell of my old boots that I forgot that boots could ever smell good. But they do, by golly they do. They smell perfect. New Hiking Boot Smell smells like angel feet... which I can only assume probably smell good. I can't imagine that there are many divine fungal infections.

Even though New Hiking Boot Smell is delicious, it's not the best. To me, those boots not perfect until I take a few steps in some mud. Because before the mud they are new, and after the mud, they are mine.

Clever Girl

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