A Girl and Her Boots

I don’t own boots. The making of this travesty is complex, but I do not currently own hiking boots. An archaeologist without boots is like a sad knight from Arthurian legend who’s lost his sword and wanders the countryside lamenting to passers-by. An archaeologist without boots upends some kind of natural order.

I remember my boots. I got my first pair in high school: a basic pair of ankle-high Nikes that lasted all the way through college. I wore them until the soles split and the leather cracked at the toes. They were fine boots.

My next pair were mid-high Keens that I got for free because I was working at an outdoor outfitter. They were perfect – comfortable, light, flexible in the sole but supportive around the ankle. They saw me through my dissertation research and beyond, but eventually they, too, succumbed to the tolls of fieldwork. As with my first boots, I retired them by tying their laces together and hanging them high in a tree. I think of it as Viking burial for shoes.

In the background of this story, I confess, lurks a pair of Bad Boots – the source of my current predicament. To be fair, probably the boots weren’t really Bad. Probably they just weren’t right for me, an ill-fated boot-girl pairing that, once done, was hard to undo. The boots were all-leather Scarpas – rigid soles, rigid uppers. I bought them before leaving to study abroad at University College Cork, where I had every intention of joining the Hillwalkers Society.

I’ll take my share of the blame. I didn’t break the boots in properly before I left, and my very first trek with the Hillwalkers destroyed my ankles so badly it was also my last. The boots were relegated to the back of my Irish closet and I bitterly lamented leaving my good old Nikes at home.

But Scarpas are Expensive, so though I didn’t wear them again for years, I couldn’t quite get rid of them. They moved with me in boxes and bags through a series of grad school apartments. They survived a terrible basement flood that corroded the eyelets so badly that one of them simply snapped off. But still I kept the Scarpas, and after I had sent my Keens to the Great Excavation in the Sky, the Scarpas were the only boots left to accompany this impoverished postdoc on her year in Paris.

I tried to make it work, really I did. I wore the Scarpas while I did fieldwork in Sardinia, but since my “fieldwork” was basically all lab work that summer, my tenuous relationship with the boots was able to survive. We fell back on the rocks in September when I took them to Lozère on a hiking trip with a friend. I never let on, but my feet were hurting terribly midway through a four-hour hike along a trail of menhirs on the Cham de Bondons. The last straw came on a hike to the Cascade de Runes. It was more of a walk than a hike. There was an actual trail with a guide rail and everything. But the path was pretty steep and it was broken by a lot of large cobbles – my inflexible Scarpas tore my ankles apart as I tried to navigate the uneven terrain. It was so bad that I walked back in the water shoes I had brought for splashing in the falls.

It’s probably not their fault, but the Scarpas did not earn tree burial. When I left Paris, I chucked them in a donation bin across from the Jardin des Plantes, and may they be exactly what someone else needs. As for me, I’m going to Peak Sports to check out the newest mid-high Keens. I bet I will find love.

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