My hiking boots

My hiking boots

My hiking boots

I have this habit: whenever I‘m getting new hiking boots, I hang up the old ones on the wall in my appartment. In that way they‘re not only nice souvenirs of good moments spent, but they‘re also a constant reminder about the things I really love to do: to go back to nature and to put myself on the road again. So when I look at them, it‘s like flipping through old photo albums, the scrapped spots on the leather remind me of many stories.
But don’t worry, I’ve not yet plastered whole walls with hiking boots, because I didn‘t develop my love for hiking until late. As I grew up in an industrial area, hiking and discovering nature were not really on the agenda for week-end activities. And when I spent summer holidays with my parents in Austria, the hiking tours were more a must-do than a thrilling event.
It was only later, again in Austria, that hiking got me. It was both a coincidence and a kind of side-effect of my love for skiing. It was up there on the ski slope – nature covered by snow, blue sky and the sound of the whistling wind of a fast descent surrounding me – that the call of the mountains got me … and since then it’s not let me go.
I became curious. How does this landscape look like, when all the snow is gone? What would I be able to see, if I had a chance to go up that mountain that I now climb so easily in a ski lift? Although I was a bit intimidated by the majesty of the mountains and their ruggedness, I was eager to discover them. And I kept my promise. I came back the following summer, I signed up for a climbing course and I entered a new world. During mid-summer season, while others were drinking cool drinks at the seaside in 30 degrees temperature, walking around in flip-flops, I put on a thick fleece jacket, thick socks and sturdy hiking boots every day.
For the next 10 days I learned how to hike a glacier, how to climb rocks or how I lower down myself into a crevice on a rope. It was a challenge – mentally and physically – and it was very obvious that my brain, my body and especially my feet had to adjust to this new training. Very often I wanted to give up, but the guide, a grumpy Austrian, who had lived his whole life in these mountains, promised me: “I will get you up there. No worries. You will manage.” And he was right. Cursing, sweating, exhausted, out of breath I followed him to various mountain peaks – and always I was rewarded with breathtaking natural beauty. This guy taught me many lessons, but perhaps the most important was: don’t give up, because something beautiful might be waiting for you.

At that time, I also learned to love the company of hikers – real hikers – the kind of people who have this natural easiness to find their way in rough territory. Those ones, who can read the rocks and the rivers, those who don’t talk too much, but who know about their physical condition and who embrace the beauty of their surrounding with a faint smile on their face. Those who prefer nature to fake company and who can make fun of you by just raising their eyebrows. I admire them, when they make those short and simple announcements: “Tomorrow we will go for a hike.” Knowing them by my side, I feel reassured and sometimes this is all that I need to know.

Since then my hiking boots became my favorite shoes and mountains the places I have to go to when I need shelter and silence. They are my best medicine, when I need to clear up my mind, when I feel lost and need orientation. Those shoes fit nicely around my feet, they give me a good grip and they connect me to the earth so that I feel safe.  Sometimes this “grounding” is badly needed. I particularly remember a pair of blue hiking shoes. They accompanied me through difficult times when I was fighting cancer and my world was turned upside down. Every day when I could slip into them and could go for a small walk in the woods nearby, I was able to celebrate a victory. They were there when I shouted out loud to the trees: “I’m still here. I want to live. I’m gonna make it”. They were there on the first day I got rid of my wig and proudly turned around to show my “newly grown” hair, this soft down on my bald head. They were comforting me, when I hiked for weeks through the Black Forest trying to get back my physical strength and to find a new perspective in my life.

And now they are hanging there on this wall. Even though they look so inconspicuous, they carry a heavy load of memories and game changers in my life. They are precious. No chance to give them away … and who, by the way, would like to walk in those shoes?

And now: my beige ones! How I love them! They are NOT just the next pair of hiking boots; they are the direct consequences of previous pairs and experiences. They made me discover Ikaria and same as the blue ones, they witnessed a lot of the challenges I am facing on that island. But they are also there, when I’m just sitting on a rock, enjoying the beautiful landscape around me.  These boots have taken me to the next level of hiking. With them I’m learning how to clean a hiking path, how to use saws to cut branches to clear the way and they’re teaching me patience while I paint endless red and white dots on rocks and trees to mark the paths. These shoes introduced me to new people, and together we were able to follow those who are willing to guide us through the rough landscape of this island to discover its inner and hidden beauty. I treasure those experiences. Precious memories are attached to them. And lessons learned.  So, hiking boots can be so much more than just shoes. They are medicine, they are a symbol of a different mindset, because with them you’re discovering nature and rocks and -usually – you’re not wearing them on the dance floor in a beach bar.  To make a long story short, to my understanding hiking boots can give a lot of food for thought.  You’re already making a decision when you buy them about where and how you’ll use them: is it an easy-going terrain or a difficult one? Are you ready for long distances or only for short ones? The answers will put you on the path you will walk on and will lead you to the corresponding experiences. So, be careful with your choices.

Watching the different pairs of hiking boots on my wall I’m able to say that I am proud of my choices. They were exactly what I needed, and they took me where I am today. So don’t be worried next time I visit your house  and I ask you to show me your hiking boots. It might just be my curiosity who gets the best of me and wants to know more about you, because “show me your hiking boots and will tell you who you are.”

(@ Birgit_Urban)