There’s a reason that I love flip flops so much.
I don’t like shopping, and one of the worst kinds of shopping I can imagine is shopping for shoes. I’ve been this way for a long time. Shopping with me can be a nightmare: I rarely find things that I like or things that fit, and for someone who in nearly every other situation has an infinite amount of patience, I become very easily discouraged when I shop.
And trying to find shoes is the worst. I have wide feet, and for as long as I can remember, trying to find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and sort of cute has been, well, just about impossible. I don’t even need ‘cute’ shoes, I’ve just always wanted to wear shoes that look good on me, shoes that I like. And except for a pair of Doc Martin’s that I wore every day in high school and college, finding shoes I like, and that fit, has been a challenge.
Yesterday I went to REI to buy a pair of shoes for my Camino. I wasn’t looking forward to this trip, but I also wasn’t dreading it: I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a pair of hiking shoes or boots that could fit my feet.
But I was wrong. It took 2 hours, 3 salespeople, and trying on dozens of shoes before I left the store. I left with a box of shoes under my arm, but after one training hike, I realized that I may have to return them.
So much about the experience was discouraging, though maybe I was just at the store at the wrong time. The place was packed; dozens of people were trying on shoes. The first person to help me was an older woman. I explained that I was doing the Camino de Santiago, and right away she knew what it was. “Oh, lots of people are doing it this year,” she said. I asked questions, she brought out boxes of shoes, and I quickly became overwhelmed. She bombarded me with information, and then started giving me general tips on hiking. I got the impression that she thought I had no idea what I was getting myself into- and while I guess that is the case, it didn’t help my confidence. Besides, all I wanted was to find a pair of shoes.
I sat there on a bench, lacing up shoes, waiting for her to come back and help, and after awhile I realized that she had left me. She’d always been helping other people, but now all of her attention was on a younger girl and her parents. Another salesperson wandered by- a guy- and asked how I was doing. I gestured to the boxes around me. “Okay, I guess. But I need some help.” Once again, I explained that I was walking the Camino, and he took one look at the shoes I was trying on and said, “You’re going this summer? You don’t want waterproof shoes.” Then he started singing The Proclaimers.
So he brought out boxes and boxes of non-waterproof hiking shoes, and I tried those on.
And then a third salesperson came by. She glanced down at the shoes I was trying on and said, “Just so you know, those won’t give you any support.” She’d overheard that I was doing the Camino and had probably gathered, by the vacant and hopeless look in my eye, that I was having trouble.
We talked about my wide feet, and she brought over boxes of shoes that she thought might fit. I found shoes that felt great across the widest part of my foot, but that were too loose in the heel. The salesperson tried several different knots, hoping to better secure my heel, but to no avail. So I tried on more shoes. And more and more. Hiking shoes. Trail running shoes. A few hiking boots. Trying on a men’s shoe was mentioned.
At some point in the middle of this, as I sat with stacks of shoe boxes towering around me, I felt like I was going to cry. It was ridiculous, because I’m 33 and all I was doing was trying on shoes. But it’s a feeling I’ve had before. Wanting- very badly- to just find something that I like, and that fits. And not being able to find it.
So in the end I left with a pair of shoes, but I wasn’t sure about them. They fit in the store, and I guess they were overall the best fit, though after 2 hours I couldn’t keep track of everything I’d tried on and what felt the best. Plus, I think they’re kind of ugly. I know that when it comes to shoes for this Camino, I’ve got to take one for the team: it doesn’t matter what they look like, as long as they are comfortable and can support me over 500 miles.
I took the shoes on a training hike yesterday afternoon, and I have doubts that they are wide enough for my feet. Because at the end of the hike, those shoes felt tight. Cramming my toes kind of tight.
So it could be back to the drawing board, though I’m going to go on several more hikes and give my new shoes a better chance. Maybe they’ll stretch a bit, maybe they need to be broken in.
But for as discouraging my first shopping trip for shoes was, it was necessary. Parts of this Camino aren’t going to be easy, and if hours of dreaded shoe shopping is what it takes to give me some comfort as I walk, then so be it. I’m determined to find the right shoes for my Camino.