After boarding the puddle-jumping plane bound for Marquette, Michigan, I collapsed into my seat breathless and on the verge of vomiting over-priced airport sushi. But what can I say? I like to live dangerously.
I'd just sprinted from one end of the Minneapolis airport to the other, reaching the gate moments before the airplane door shut. The relief of finally being on my way to the Bible of Bike Tests lasted a cool 30 seconds before my pounding heart kicked up a notch at the realization that my decade-old Marzocchi Bomber shoes were packed in my luggage. It didn't take a consultation with Miss Cleo to know that the chances of my luggage making it onto that plane were slim. And I've been on enough flights and taken enough trips around the sun to know that luggage is especially keen to disappear into the ether when it houses something sentimental.
There wasn't much else I cared about in that bag. There were some shirts I like, namely the Nickelback one that makes even my close friends re-evaluate their entire relationship with me. I had a few pairs of jorts and an electric toothbrush that was bound to make my fellow Bike magazine compatriots wonder what exactly I was doing in the bathroom for so long (dental hygiene is important, folks).
Sitting in my too-small-even-for-me seat and lamenting not packing a pair of clapped-out shoes in my carry-on, I began coming to grips with the reality of those damn shoes. After all, I've known for years they needed replacing. Hell, I headed to the Bible hoping to come home with a new pair of shoes.
As much as I love these shoes, they've seen their day and then some. The rubber around the toe box is separating. Full disclosure: It's not separating due to age or bad quality, but because I was at a party riding a 12-inch-wheeled pixie bike down a ramp stretched out flat, Superwoman style.
After riding 50 feet while maintaining all my teeth, I deemed the entire stupid-human trick a success. So naturally, I repeated the process dozens of times, always coming to a stop by dragging the tips of my Bombers along the asphalt. Every time I giggled the same way I did when I was a kid discovering how to spin my Big Wheel with a hearty grasp of the hand brake. After a few hours of pixie bike tomfoolery, my pubic bone was thoroughly bruised and the tips of my Bombers were in a sad state. And yet, even now, each time I see those weathered ends, I smile and remember what it's like to be Superwoman.
The structural rigidity of the soles is long gone, a fact I am forced to face after shorter and shorter periods of time. My feet ache after only a few minutes riding my trials bike and when I entered my first downhill race, it wasn't the fall in the rock garden that made me contemplate quitting, but the knowledge that my already suffering tootsies would have to endure a second run.
I remember buying them in Whistler more than a decade ago, back when my only non-cleated riding shoes were a pair of pleather boots from Payless. When I put on the one and only pair of shoes in my size, the white was so bright you practically needed eclipse glasses to look at them.
Walking around Whistler with a rented bike while wearing pimp-white shoes, I felt like a total fraud. I couldn't catch air, and my belief that I was half-decent at riding skinnies was quickly shattered by 14-year-olds who cruised past me on A River Runs Through It. And by 14-year-olds, I mean 10-year-olds.
My Day-Glo white shoes dangled beneath the chairlift like a kid's sitting on a couch that's still too big for them. Moments later, red-brown flecks of loam became the first dirt to grace these old shoes. Over the next few days, my Bombers stood in line at the bottom of the lift tapping away time eagerly waiting for the trails to teach me how to fly for incredibly short, unimpressive and absolutely exhilarating periods of time.
From there, the shoes made their way into the woods. They stuck to granite slabs I was too afraid to ride. A year later, when the bright white was only a memory, they'd coast down the same slabs with friends I haven't seen since. At some point, the Bombers stopped being footwear and turned into a curious scrapbook collection of dirt from across the country. The leather became ensconced in a patina of memories from places like the McKenzie River Trail in the rain and Rothrock State Forest during peak fall. They suffered on a singlespeed in Flagstaff, Arizona, and spent hours standing still on my first trials bike watching sunrises from empty hotel parking lots in the middle of nowhere.
They built trails with me when my work boots were forgotten and the sticky rubber held my feet more or less in place on top of clipless pedals when my fancy tap-dancing shoes were left at home.
I can't help but love these dirty, old, barely white shoes. But like everything we outgrow in life, I'm not ready to say goodbye, even though I can no longer ignore the reality that they cause me pain when I try to enjoy them.
As my luggage magically appeared on the airport conveyor belt in Marquette, I became downright giddy. Later, when I saw a single unopened shoe box in the gear editor's room marked with '7.5 Women's,' I cracked it open and pulled out a blinding neon-yellow pair of shoes. They were obnoxiously bright and a little garish and absolutely perfect. There wasn't a speck of dust on them and instead of smelling like sweaty feet and cat farts, they reeked of fresh rubber and anticipation. I'm finally ready to pack away my old Bombers. It's time to start filling a new blank canvas with dirt from life's next chapter of adventures.