My shoes stink. I’ve just extracted them from an equally rank bike bag where they were stowed away in a plane for 48 hours on our journey home from biking in the Alps. I look at their worn tongues and frayed laces sadly, and dump a puddle of muddy water out of them onto the ground. They were packed away wet, that’s their problem. Our last ride of the trip had been down a steep clay bike park track the day after a rain. Basically, a slip-n-slide covered in thick pasty mud. We’d spent hours cleaning our bikes with a hose and brushes, but had taken less care with our clothes and footwear. Everything was soaked, but we had a plane to catch. There was no time to lovingly hang our shoes out to dry in the mountain air.

I pick up the black 5.10 Hellcats and flick a clump of muck off the sole. I start thinking about all the layers of dirt that must be on these shoes. Slimy mud from Mont Sainte Anne where I tested them out on my first world cup course, red sand from our many trips to Sedona and Utah, thick, juicy loam from the Northwest, layer upon layer of California dust. I pull out a piece of sharp, brown grass from our local trails that is still stuck to the Velcro strap. I think about how far that piece of grass has travelled. These shoes have literally been around the world with me. They’ve seen 3 continents, and countless miles of trail.

I don’t want to contemplate throwing these shoes away. I’m probably well past the expiration period for a piece of equipment that contain my sweaty feet on a daily basis, but I push that thought aside. They just need to dry out that’s all. They’ll be fine.

I notice that the fabric at the back of the heels is starting to wear from taking them on and off so many times. I think about how good it feels to take these shoes off and slide my feet into flip-flops after a long ride, and in turn, how welcoming they feel when I pull them back on for the next one. They’ve molded to my feet over the miles. They’re not the lightest shoes, and the sweat and dirt accumulating on them must only be making them heavier, but they feel right on my feet. No blisters, no hot spots, no numb toes. I switch to other shoes from time to time, thinking I need something lighter, something less clunky, a better race shoe. But I always come back. I come back to them on the first cold ride of the year, when my super light, extra well-vented shoes aren’t keeping my feet warm enough. I come back to them for that epic day we have planned where I might need to hike and I know my other shoes will give me blisters and slip around on the rocks. I come back to them when I feel like I might need to be extra planted on my pedals. Then, once I’m back, they’re always just right.

Considering the number of miles these shoes have seen, they are in surprisingly good shape. The soles are still stiff and sticky and there are no holes in any integral locations. I notice they’ve developed lines on the top where my foot flexes. Like the laugh lines I’m discovering on my face as I get older, these flaws on their surface remind me of adventures. They remind me of leaping off my bike to save myself while trying to climb a piece of slick rock that was just a bit too steep. They remind me of my honeymoon, biking from hut to hut in Colorado, they remind me of riding the Santa Ana River trail in the snow and rain, and of those perfect hero dirt days on the mountain. If I close my eyes, I can hear the stomping noise that they make when I’m pushing my bike up a hill I couldn’t climb. The thick rubber helping insulate against the frustration my body is trying to inflict on the earth. I can feel their stickiness as I navigate a rocky cliff edge with confidence, my bike perched upon my shoulder. I can hear them click securely into my pedals just in time to roll over a nasty nest of gnarly roots.

I pull out the insoles, with their impression of my feet faded into the foam, and drop them into the bucket of soapy water. I’m not ready to give up on these shoes just yet.

Marilyn Monroe said: “give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” Well, for me those right shoes happen to be a grey-brown-used-to-be-black pair of dirty, smelly 5.10s. Surely with a wash and some time to dry in the sun, I can squeeze a few more miles in before I have to trade these trail conquering beauties for something new.

Author Bio

Margaret Gregory is a Canadian, currently living in Southern California enjoying the year round mountain biking. She is a consultant at a software company by day, and a pro enduro racer in her free time, but her true passion is the simple act of exploring new places on her bike. She loves maps, mountains, the ocean, going fast, and testing her limits. Her weakness is chocolate chip cookies.