Old Boots and Ankylosing Spondylitis
Last updated: January 2023
I threw away my old boots today. These were not just any old boots. These were boots I bought in August 1973. Yes, you got that right, 1973. Wow, I know your head just spun on a dime. That was 49 years ago. Yes, these were old boots, but wow, were they ever special. According to my inflation estimator, they would be worth about $1,053.00 in today’s dollars. Back in the day, they cost around $150.00, and I worked hard to earn every dollar.
So, what was so special? Well, for one, the brand. These were Redwing when Redwing boots were handmade. Second, they had a new type of sole with the trade name Vibram. The sole material was unknown in 1973, and some backpackers endorsed the material while others did not. To generate sales, the shoe store made an extraordinary offer. If I purchased them, I could walk with them for up to 30 days in any environment and bring them back to the shoe store for a refund if I did not like them. No questions asked.
I wanted tough boots because I had just been backpacking in New Mexico for ten days in 1973. I bought new boots before I went, broke them in appropriately, and by the time I returned, they were wasted. The rocks on the trails just tore them up. I was walking on soles that were barely there. I developed awful blisters, and no matter what I did, I could not keep my feet dry. Also, for the first time in my life, my back hurt so badly that I would often have to stop and lay flat so I could go on. I thought it was due to a heavy pack, and partially was, but I think my boots had something to do with it.
I knew one thing for sure; I wanted to go back to New Mexico in 1974, and the first step was to purchase the best boots I could afford. I did not have enough money; so I saved, worked, and amassed $100.00. My parents tossed in the remainder needed, and off I went. Since I had tried the boots on a few times, I did not need to linger at the shoe store when I ordered them. The pair they had in the window were for display purposes only (yes, there were display windows), and the boots fit perfectly. I wanted to order one half-size bigger, so I could wear three pairs of thick socks because my main concern was preventing blisters (a decision I would later regret).
These boots also offered me one other thing I did not even know I needed. They made my back feel better. I ascribe my constant back and hip pain to the pack I wore like a second skin. I had already started to bend forward and carrying a 50-65 pound back for 12 to 15 miles each day in very rough terrain seemed to be the cause. I had no idea then that this was the beginning of what I would later identify as ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
These boots were a godsend. Almost immediately, my back felt better even as I stuffed my pack with bricks to carry around the city to strengthen my legs and feet. In fact, as winter turned into spring, I was more interested in pushing myself to the longest distances and heaviest pack I could stand. Often, I trained carrying packs weighing 80 to 100 pounds of nothing but concrete blocks and bricks to build my legs for the coming 24 days in the hot steep environment of the Rocky Mountains. In flat, mild Indiana; I could not simulate the grade but I could mimic the hardship of the task.
Forty eight years
It was the most incredible time, and with some mistakes on my part, I had a great summer. When I returned, my boots had aged, but the soles were great, and while my back hurt, I did better than the summer before.
That August started what would be my 48-year relationship with those boots. I hauled them around every place I have ever lived (six houses in six distinct parts of Indiana). I refused to let them go when they were muddied and not cleaned. Or when they were dry, and I forgot to oil them. I seldom wore them because they were so large. I no longer needed extreme blister control, and the size 13 boots made them less functional. But they kept moving with me. I refused to give up on my youthful adventure. More than the patches or photos, those boots signified resistance to the obligations and issues of growing up. So long as I had those boots, I was forever 17, in perfect health, and ready to embark on adventure.
Of course, I grew up over the years, and my boots grew more tired. The mud of last year became the same mud of ten years ago. The same scratches were still there in the leather. I had moved on.
This year I decided to get a new pair of boots. I wanted the same Vibram soles, but after that, I just wanted the most useful boot. I got recommendations from my podiatrist, talked to my foot surgeon, and consulted the person who oversees my style (Sheryl). I tried on four pairs, even purchased a pair, and took them to my podiatrist for final approval. I ordered a pair from Amazon and immediately sent them back because they were size 12.5, and I thought I needed size 12. When I finally received my new boots, I slipped in my insoles, and they felt so good. My new Merrell Boots are fantastic.
But as pleased as I am about my new boots, I still had one task. I had to dispose of my old boots. I put them in a box and slipped them into recycle (I just could not put them in the trash). I am sure the recyclers will dispose of them in the trash, but these boots were not and never will be trash to me. They were my youth, and at 65, I do not have a lot of youth to hang onto.
So, every time I slip these new boots on my feet, I will recall those days in my first adult boots and the adventures we shared. The long trails, the hot and freezing days, and the rain. My new boots will never mean as much, but my podiatrist told me he wished all his patients had these type of boots. Maybe so, but I will never forget the thrill of those new Redwings in 1973 and all the adventures I had over the last 48 years. I doubt my back will ever feel as good as it did on that day in 1973 when I pulled those Redwing boots on the first time. But these $100.00 Merrell’s helped my back feel great. Amazing what new boots can do for my back and the memories that new boots rekindle.
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