Long Trail Story: The Bad Boots

I was driving across the Kelleystand one late afternoon in a long-ago July, coming home from Bellows Falls. At the place where the Long / Appalachian Trails cross the Kelleystand stood a hiker gesturing for a ride to civilization. She was short and muscular with a mannish haircut, bowed under a heavy pack, with a look of earnest desperation about her. I’d not have stopped, but for noticing that she was wearing a tee shirt with the logo “WOMEN’S SEWING CIRCLE AND TERRORIST SOCIETY”. Figuring thereby that she had to be all right, I stopped, backed up, and offered her a lift. Chatting as we rattled down the dirt road, we quickly closed in on the fact that she lived in a neighborhood in Philadelphia where we have friends, whom she knew; then the realization that she and I had been in a folk dance teaching seminar together eleven years earlier. Then, she had been plump, with long braids she wore pinned in a crown on her head, old-fashioned Northern European style, utterly different from the woman who sat beside me now. She had, she said, to get to Manchester to the outlet that sold the brand of boots she was wearing, to get them replaced, she said, or she’d tell the whole world her story. But she would accept a meal and a shower and a night in a bed in the meantime. That evening, over a glass of wine, she told her story:

She had left Georgia, as Appalachian Trail hikers do, in early spring, and made good progress with only the usual minor misadventures. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, however, the sole began slowly to separate itself from the rest of her right boot, starting at the toe. She suffered for a couple of days of wilderness, then got off the trail and went into town. Failing to find a shoemaker, she opted to buy Crazy Glue and an industrial strength needle and thread. Going back to camp, she sat down by her campfire to repair the offending footgear, though I don’t understand yet how she planned to get her needle through a Vibram Lug sole. However, she smeared the sole and the boot last with the glue, and proceeded to try to secure them together with stitches. She worked at it for some time and gave up, only to discover that she had glued her fingers and the needle firmly together, and could not, try as she would, get them apart. This necessitated her going back into town the next day for nail polish remover to free her fingers and needle. Thus unstuck, she proceeded on to New York. The boot held a while, I think; at least she was well up in New York before she got off the trail again to phone the national headquarters of the boot company and give them a piece of her mind, because the sole had come off again. They let her know that if she could make it to Manchester, they had an outlet there that would, gratis and with profound apologies, replace her boot.

The following morning I drove her up to Manchester where we indeed found the boot outlet. Still mad as a wet hen, she railed at them and their footgear and the legitimacy of the ancestry of the boot designer, the quality of the materials and intelligence and dedication of the peons who put them together. They, warned by headquarters to be prepared for such an onslaught, had a pair of boots waiting for her. Trying them on for fit, and starting to simmer down, she thanked and dismissed me, eager to do a quick load of laundry and get back on the trail.

I guess the new boots held. I got a post card that she had reach Katahdin before the first snowfall.

(The person submitting the story prefers to remain anonymous.)

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Longtrail 100

VPR is marking the 100th anniversary of The Long Trail with a month-long series of reports and essays. Through this series, we'll explore the history and future of The Long Trail and introduce listeners to the people who built, maintain and hike it today.