“I talked yesterday about caring, I care about these moldy old riding gloves. I smile at them flying through the breeze beside me because they have been there for so many years and are so old and so tired and so rotten there is something kind of humorous about them. They have become filled with oil and sweat and dirt and spattered bugs and now when I set them down flat on a table, even when they are not cold, they won’t stay flat. They’ve got a memory of their own. They cost only three dollars and have been re-stitched so many times it is getting impossible to repair them, yet I take a lot of time and pains to do it anyway because I can’t imagine any new pair taking their place. That is impractical, but practicality isn’t the whole thing with gloves or with anything else.”
– Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I care about my shoes (although I probably would throw them out if they were moldy…that’s just flat out disgusting). My shoes, my old, worn-out, navy-blue Lacostes, hold a special place in my heart. When they were new, my mom begged me to wear them. Now, ironically, she begs me to throw them away. My mom bought them for me at the Nordstrom Rack one day and forced me to wear them: “I threw away your old ones and now you’re wearing these.” In an act of rebellion – I mean, what’s up with an alligator on a shoe? – I made it a point to specifically wear the new shoes each and every time I went long boarding, which, for those of you who don’t know, entails your choice of footwear to slide and smash against the rough, hot pavement repeatedly. Little did I know, this would only make me more fond of them and for a mere twenty dollar pair of shoes, they sure could take a licking and keep on ticking.
Somehow those stubborn shoes withstood the test of time and wound up in my packed bag for Project Equator. Due to a greater distain for the other footwear I packed, I almost always ended up wearing these time-tested Lacostes. Where I went, so did they: up all 463 smooth marble steps of the Duomo in Florence, through the twelve-hundred year old cracked stone streets of the ancient Phaistos in Crete, over the scorching-hot, bright-orange dunes of the Sahara desert, across the wild African plains in the Serengeti, in and out of the dark, crammed Viet-Cong tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, and practically everywhere else. I did this all unconsciously of course until one moment, which I can recall with a surprising amount of clarity — one moment in particular made me come around and realize their sentimentality.
As I walked ahead the rest of my family, I listened to the soft impact of my shoes against the dusty, granular pathway on a grey day in April. I thought about what returning to Mercer Island was going to be like, most likely inspired by the comforting overcast skies. I finally reached a venerable stone watchtower surrounded by sizable chunks of fragmented façade in this decidedly remote area of forest. Careful to test the integrity of the structure, I slowly leaned against the delicate wall and took in the stunning scenery: the Great Wall of China wound over hills and across mountain faces for as far as the eye could see. My gaze drifted from this to the pathway from which I came, in an attempt to locate the rest of the family. I couldn’t see them quite yet, but my eyes focused on the pathway itself and honed in on the imprints in the dirt. My footprint looked as though it belonged there, like the whole scene would not be complete without it. I started thinking: have I been leaving this footprint everywhere? It made me proud. Proud that I had left my mark, a testament to my globe-trotting, albeit temporary and sometimes virtually invisible, in every single place we had been.
My gaze rhythmically followed my footsteps one by one and eventually fell upon my shoes: my shabby sneakers, bursting at the seams with gaping holes and fraying fabric, pattered with dust, but full of radiant memories. Each gash, rupture, and tear embodied a snippet of Project Equator: the time I scaled a rock face in Santorini or when some crazy dogs attacked me in Chiang Mai or when I hiked a slippery gorge in Crete. These shoes were my friends, I know it sounds weird but “practicality isn’t the whole thing with gloves or with anything else.”