A Love Letter to Ugly Shoes

Dear Hiking Boots,

We’ve been together for just over a year now, and I think it’s about time I tell you how I really feel.

When I first sat on the metal bench at the now-closed sports store in Kiel, Germany, and the kind, sporty shop assistant pointed at a pair of poop-brown boots with electric blue accents (what a combination), I cringed.

I like pretty shoes.

I take great pride in dressing up jeans and a t-shirt with a sassy, colorful flat or espadrille, and I absolutely love a fierce stiletto. I’m sorry, but nothing about the McKinley boots sitting quietly on the shelf, screamed “fierce.” But there was a hole in my shoe collection that I needed to fill.

So I tried you on. And from the first moment, I was happily surprised with how nicely you cushioned my feet, and more importantly, how steadfastly you protected my ankles, as I scaled the child-sized “test rock.” It was enough for me to look past the dreadful color combination, proceed to the checkout, and take you home to join the rest of my shoe collection.

Two days later, I put on my electric-blue, mid-weight hiking socks (I’d committed to this color combo) and slid my feet down into your supportive grip. I won’t lie, you didn’t add a drop of style to my outfit, but I had a mountain to climb so I accepted it. Off I went, up the crowded, tourist-laden path to the base of the most prominent mountain in Bergen, Norway. And as all of the tourists finished their walk at the lookout point, I carried on towards my destination. Past the café, past the souvenir shop, and far past the (surprisingly well-maintained) public restrooms. Within a few minutes, I arrived at the beginning. The beginning of empty mountain trails as far as the eye could see. Putting one solid, supported foot in front of the other I took off towards nowhere. I spent hours winding my way up sometimes snow-covered trails, and had a few chats with enthusiastic locals wondering what I was doing up there. Throughout the entire day, my steps were solid and sure, even though the terrain was unknown. I was no professional hiker, but I was discovering what it meant to explore.

One week later, your bulky brown-blue armor protected my feet as I took my first steps in Iceland. As I crested the top of the walking path towards a breath-taking waterfall, I was greeted by an army of… hiking boots! Your brothers and sisters were EVERYWHERE! The unofficial footwear of Icelandic tourists is a pair of chunky, brown clunkers. Suddenly, nobody was staring at you, wondering about my interesting choice of style. Everyone else was setting off on their own hike, or splashing in puddles on the way to a waterfall, or buying five-dollar drip coffee in the souvenir shop café.

But they were doing it all in hiking boots.

There’s too much “unknown” to explore in Iceland, too little time to see it, and absolutely no time to be worrying about dirtying your shoes as you hike over rocks made of hardened black lava. As I made my way through a spongy, muddy field on the hunt for a natural pool, I started to appreciate the unwavering support you’d given my feet, despite my constant doubts and style regrets. (I understand I’m a very selfish partner. I’m working on it…)

As our time together increased, and our hikes grew longer, I began to wonder why we hadn’t met earlier in life. Our time spent together was always positive (not even one blister!) and the views we saw were nothing short of awe-inspiring. Our time on the trails might be seen as an escape from real life, by some, but I think it’s quite the opposite. Confidently blazing through unfamiliar trails, surrounded by nothing but my own thoughts, allows my brain to exhale and digest everything that happens while wearing stilettos, espadrilles or leopard-print flats.

With every hill we crested, I was overcome with that tingly perspective change; you know that feeling when suddenly, all at once, you feel so beautifully small in the great, big world around you? It’s my favorite feeling. And you took me there every. single. time.

It’s funny, because I thought I needed you most when I was traveling to foreign mountain destinations, but in fact, our time spent together is invaluable in the most familiar of places. When I take a break from the fashionable shoes, social media frenzy, and never-ending decisions of everyday life, and head to the nearest mountain-looking thing, I feel an immediate sense of calm. Our steps together have led to the creation of my blog, the decision to move to Portugal, and a confidence that’s transcended the trails and followed me home. Because if I can confidently tackle unknown territory, with sturdy, steadfast steps on a mountain, then why can’t I do the same with the far more boring, less-steep terrain, known as everyday life?

I guess what I’m trying to say is “thank you.” We’ve seen some incredible places together, but the passport stamps don’t matter nearly as much as the “tingly perspective feeling.” To be clear, I still like my pretty shoes, and I’m so sorry, but I don’t think you’ll be my date for happy hour anytime soon.

I thought I was doing you a favor when I took you off the cold metal shelf. But I hope you know that the decisions, heartbreaks and emotions you’ve helped me sort through, put your character on another level than the Topshop, pointed-toe pumps you’re parked next to in my closet. Something tells me our time together is just beginning, and for that, I’m eternally grateful in my soul. Or should I say sole…

Love,

Emily

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