When I was a little girl, my favorite bedtime story was “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” in which an elderly shoemaker woke up every morning to discover that magical elves had spent the entire night crafting beautiful, stylish, and well-made shoes for him to sell the next day. How cool would that be? I studied the pictures in the book so much that I can still remember how the red-cheeked shoemaker and the brightly colored elf shoes looked.
Little did I know how much magic actually goes into shoes until I began preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across northern Spain. In my last post I went on about the travails I faced with buying shoes two sizes too big for me, as recommended by numerous Camino walkers.
My feet hurt like the dickens, which I attributed to the incorrect size. It appears I must retract that assertion, though, because the highly recommended Saloman shoes in the correct size also hurt my feet. Back they went to REI.
This was the 7th time I tried out shoes and then had to return them. Yes, you read that right.
The 7th time.
Trying out shoes has been a full time job over the last few weeks, or so it seems. I tried the Saloman’s (in two sizes), two pair of Asics, two pair of Keen Whispers, and one pair of Saucony Grid Ridges. These are just the ones I actually bought and returned, not the ones I rejected in the stores themselves.
Then, I decided to go to an REI in another city entirely. Maybe I would get better help there.
Cue the music of the heavenly host for the (imaginary) soundtrack of this post.
For, lo, the Angel of the Lord was found in a tall, hairy shoe salesman named Ben.
When I explained to Ben what I was doing he recommended hiking shoes as opposed to trail runners because they would provide my feet with support over the long distances. They were heavier, but since I planned on carrying 15 lbs or less in my backpack, I could handle a little heavier shoe. He compared the soles of the trail runners, which are twistable, with the Vibram soles of the hikers, which are not. He also recommended that I get them at least a 1/2 size bigger than my normal size.
“People who walk the Pacific Coast Trail come in here all the time,” he explained. “After about a week on the trail their shoe size goes up one whole size, and doesn’t go down for the whole trip. It’s caused by all the walking and the extra weight of their backpacks.”
He seemed to know what he was talking about, unlike the other salesmen I’d met on my ill-fated quest so far.
So I tried on Vasque Breeze 2.0 Low GTX and grew cautiously optimistic. They felt good, and they were waterproof due to a Gore-Tex lining. Built in waterproof linings are better than spray on waterproofing, he explained, because the spray-on coating keeps the shoes from being breathable.
He was also a fount of information about walking sandals, since I wanted to be able to wear them on the trail if necessary.
“You definitely don’t want the Keen Whispers,” he said. “Too lightweight. Same goes for Tevas. You want Chaco’s, for their rubber soles, or possibly Ecco or Newport H2s. I did a two week hiking trip in just my Chaco’s recently and they worked great.”
Sandals would have to wait for another time, though. I gathered up the Vasque’s and though I’ve never in my life paid $150 for a pair of shoes, I did this time. The expense would almost be worth it for nothing else then to have this interminable shoe quest over.
This morning I took them on a 45 minute walk and tomorrow I’m going on a hike of a couple of miles. So far so good.
I guess the 8th time is the charm.