At about 12000 ft up a mountain, near the supremely beautiful Willow Lake (my destination… I’ll tell you about this and why I was doing it in a little while, now that I’ve managed to get the pictures off my ailing Mingus) my faithful companions of 14 years -my Asolo AFX 530s- decided to disintegrate on me. I’ve had those boots since 1992/3 when I started hiking and backpacking properly in the USA, doing some trips up from Princeton (where I was at the time) to the Adirondacks in upstate New York, occasionally disappearing into the wilderness there for a few days with just enough equipment to do the job reasonably comfortably. They’ve stuck with me through thick and thin all these years, and I’ve given them a lot of work to do, especially in the mountains in the Aspen area.
Well, that last half hour sprint/hike after the waterfall over sharp rocks up to the lake was the last straw for one sole, and it shattered into pieces, and continued to shred to the footplate just beneath my left foot. Upon closer examination, the right sole was also cracking and leaving the boot in some places too. It was as though they’d both had enough and agreed to end it all together.
Some hours later, I (with two other members of the party – the others stayed at the Lake to camp overnight and then make an early assault on the 14000ft + peaks of Kit Carson and Challenger point) hiked back down toward the 8000ft point from where we bagan (near the village of Crestone, Colorado), and within 25 minutes were overtaken by torrential rain and a wonderful lightning storm, which had settled right on top of us. We hiked down the mountain for the next couple of hours or so in silence, broken only by the sounds of grand pianos falling down the stairs (thunder and lightning) and -at least to my ears- the loud squelching noise of my soggy-socked foot (now sticking out of the boot) as it sampled every puddle and rivulet made by the downpour.
Being sentimental, I brought them home back to California. Here they are:
Yesterday I decided that it was time to begin the arduous search for a replacement pair. I was not looking forward to this because:
(1) New hiking boots are a pain to get right. You need to spend a good chunk of money on a decent pair if you’re going to do any decent and regular hiking and if you are going to keep them for a decent amount of time. The problem is that it takes a lot of fiddling around trying several pairs (sometimes tens) before you hit the right one. Most boot stores are not that well equipped to give you a really wide and good range of options -if your feet are as choosy and about footwear as mine are- but you’ve got to be sure to get the right ones since you’ve spent a lot of money and you’re stuck with them.
(2) I’ve not got the cashflow to be getting fancy hiking boots at this time.
(3) I miss the old ones. Don’t want to replace them. Hiking boots are at their best when they are old, not when they are new.
Well, while browsing the web for ideas (are the AFX 530s of later vintage any good compared to how they were in the early 90s?… they seem a lot cheaper than I remember….) and being repulsed by all the stupid names that Asolo now has for their boots, together with the most ridiculous slogans for each boot that you wouldn’t believe (“The Alpine Line knows mountain limits. But never accepts them.”…..”Powermatic:- The call of the mountain. The increasing desire to go. But no fear, you’re not alone.”…. “Triple Power Structure:- Whatever you’re looking for, reach for a higher goal.”… better stop there, I’m getting annoyed again) I stumbled upon the addresses of a few specialists in…… fixing boots. So I decided to give it a try, after calling the most recommended one to see if they sounded like they knew what they were doing. (They were helpfully called “Quality Shoe Repair”. Had they been called something like “Lousy Shoe Repair”, my spider-sense would have been working over time.) After a while, I realised that the address was on a familiar stretch of blocks along Wilshire in West LA (there are so many great thigns there, including an amazing little Vietnamese restaurant you should know about next time you’re there, and several artist’s supply stores), and so I could go there and if I did not like the look of them I could just carry on down Wilshire to Santa Monica and go visit the new (ish) REI and try on new boots. (If you have not checked out the new REI there and you live in the LA area -go now!)
It was a treat. The business (clickable image right) has been on that block for the last 50 years at least (I’m told) and in the current spot on the block for about 20. And, this being LA, they have a mascot car…. shaped like a boot. Oh yes. And of course it has (I’m told) been in several movies. Here it is:
Apparently they have a giant cowboy-boot-car in the back too, but that seems a bit vulgar to me. This little one is just cute. (Click on the thumbnails for more shots) I was a bit worried when they said come back in a few hours (I’d imagined a team of skilled surgeons working on the boots for days, having their brows mopped with chamois leather from time to time….) but then reassured by the proper intense shoe-leather smell of the place, an LA-oldness (as opposed to say, London-oldness) to the whole feel of the place, and the honest and thoughtful appraisal that the guy (nephew of the owner) and the capable looking technical staff (that he consulted with due diligence) gave me of the boots’ prospects for recovery: “We can fix ‘em”. At $48 for a set of Vibram soles plus another $17 to redo the edge seals on the boots, versus $200+ and possible blisters with new boots, I thought it would be worth the try.
And here they are:
I’m dying to put them through their paces as soon as possible. Mount Wilson, Topanga Canyon, or Arroyo Seco this weekend? It’s looking pretty likely….