All hikers know this scenario. You go through two or three pairs of hiking shoes or boots and then finally you find that pair that really, really works for you. You love them. They are AWESOME. You hike in them everywhere. Like a best friend, they are there for you in times of joy and in sorrow, in good times, and in bad. Okay, you didn’t marry them, but just one look at them sitting on the floor causes memories to flood your mind: the morning you summited Mount Whitney under a full moon in time to see the brilliant sun rise over the Sierra Nevada. That day in Scotland when you hiked 8 miles across Rannoch Moor in the pouring rain, and that steaming pot of tea in a cafe at the end of it. Those quiet walks on the trail by the lake you take each morning at home. They were there for you for each and every moment—never a blister, never an ache, never a pain. You think, man those were great shoes! And then, the sad day comes: they wear out. You try to make them work, but no, the sole is separating or the upper has multiple holes. They are done. Dead. Gone forever. To make it worse, that model—your model, the perfect model— has been dis.con.tinued. Argh!!!
Back to the drawing board. You know that eventually you’ll find a good pair of boots or shoes that will work for you, but it’s probably going to take suffering through a number of sub-par pairs before you do. Of course, those shoes will have no value at all—none—and will be cast aside in a moment. Good riddance! That’s one dilemma; been there, done that. Nothing new. But what about that old pair? The worn out ones, your babies. You wear them for yard work—for a while. But no, they aren’t really good for that, either. You can’t take them to the thrift store. Certainly you don’t do that, though some people try (the thrift store people hate those folks). Probably, at least for a while, you leave them right there on the shoe rack. Magical thinker that you are, you believe someday they’ll just heal themselves—blink, and they’ll be transformed. Yeah, right. So next, they go to the closet—out of sight, out of mind. They’ll be there for a long, long time. Hey, you can’t just throw your best friends in the trash. No! Come on, you know you do this.
This is a dilemma, isn’t it? Is there possibly a solution? You can’t just “die with your boots on,” like those famous cowboy interments of Boot Hill. You weren’t killed in the O.K. Corral shootout; that option is out. Maybe you could just save up all those pairs you’ll end up loving over the years and have them buried with you? I think not. However, here is what some people do. As with many things backpacking, the thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail have come up with a pretty respectable solution. It’s even Boot Hill-ish. Once they have completed the trail, they send their treasured boots back down to Neels Gap in Georgia. If they thru-hiked north, they would have passed this spot on around Day 3 of their six-month trek, just after trudging over Blood Mountain. They knew nothing then (though they probably thought they did) and if they stopped in at Mountain Crossings—an outfitter store which the AT all but passes through the middle of—they probably got some good advice. It’s the kind of place that’s hard to forget, especially if you bother to look up into the tree canopy when you visit. What you’ll see is countless pairs of hiking boots and shoes hanging from the limbs of several big oaks. It’s a bit of an eerie sight, and on a foggy day it’s downright spooky. All those boots. All those memories. But it’s a great idea, and a respectable way to treat your old friends. Now, not everyone can send their boots to Neels Gap. But you don’t have to hike the whole Appalachian Trail to create a boot tree of your own. People don’t seem to have any problem putting one of those silly wine-bottle trees in their yard, so why not? That’s a good solution. A little yard art.