Usually I find mine in warm, fuzzy blankets, or clean, soft bath towels, or a well-made meal, or the corner of my sofa, or a warm muffler on a drafty day.
This time I found it in a pair of shoes I never meant to pack, let alone wear.
I have a friend in California who is basically my exact opposite: The yang to my yin. She has all the get-up-and-go I don’t have, the creativity, the fearlessness, the curiosity, the desire to constantly be doing. Always taking an extra step and seeing a different view than the rest of us, always making sure she uses all five of her senses.
And I, I am no match for her. I am a whole head shorter, and a whole heart wussier. I’m happy walking pavements. And yet, we get along. We talk, we share, we love each other. Now she was less than 400 miles away, in the Norwegian town her mother was from, just a plane ride away.
We sat in the sun talking and got hot, so we decided to hike to a nearby lake. I got into my hiking pants, stuck my water bottle and bathing suit in my rucksack, grabbed the shoe bag and pulled out…the trainers that made my legs hurt.
I’d try wearing them walking to work, but they gave me shin splints, so I’ve been using them only as indoor shoes when I need something that cushions my feet on my hard floors. For hiking, I preferred my far more expensive and more solid Ecco shoes, even though they felt oddly stuffy on my feet.
But I hadn’t grabbed my Eccos. I had grabbed the cheaper trainers. At no time during my packing did any alarm go off. At no point did I take a second look and realize my mistake.
So here we are, two girls of 50-ish, getting ready for a short hike to the lake on a late summer day, the sun in full force still. Well, I can’t have come all this way to say I want to just sit under an umbrella with a cold one!
So we hiked to the lake, and not once did I notice my feet. At the lake, we discovered that low visibility, slippery rocks and an uneven bottom made walking out to where we could dive in rather risky. Since my shoes were not my favorite and bought cheaply, I decided they could be sacrificed. I put them on and waded comfortably into the lake. I did not stay comfortably there, though. Neither of us stayed at all. It was so cold we gasped for air. The nice thing about that sort of cold water is that sitting on the rock afterwards, drying off, feels so incredibly good. The sun heated our backs, a little piece of bun thrown into the water created quite the commotion among the tiny fish there, and we talked. My sure footing helped ferry towels, food and cameras safely from and to shore.
The shoes dried out overnight.
Our plan the next day was a 5-mile hike organized by the local hiking group. I was nervous about that. I know my physical condition isn’t the best. My heart and lungs are fine, but a lot of uphill hiking tires my flabby thighs out. I knew I needed to be able to take breaks when I wanted to, and it’s not easy to ask a bunch of strangers to wait up.
And I didn’t trust my shoes. I’d felt a bit of the shin splints coming back from the lake. But maybe that was just because we were on pavement then?
I did consider copping out by blaming the shoes, but I really didn’t want to disappoint my friend. So I told her I didn’t feel like hiking in a crowd (which was true), that I needed to go with people who would understand my need to take a breather. Her 78-year-old uncle, who knew the trails well, suggested a nearby peak that gives a view of mountains 120 km away. The three of us ended up doing our own 5-mile hike.
Once again, the shoes were just fine. Gravel, tree roots, soft pine needles, squishy moss, smooth rocks…my feet stepped on it all, comfortably, easily. No shin splints. And even when I couldn’t avoid getting wet crossing one bog, it was only deliciously cooling for hot feet. I had spare socks and knew now that the water wouldn’t hurt my shoes.
We had another perfect day in the sun, picking blueberries along the way, noting the abundance of lingonberries (mountain cranberries) this year, smelling peat and pine, brushed by a few golden birch leaves set free by the breeze, heralding autumn.
It occurs to me, thinking back on the magic of moving through Norwegian woods so we can enjoy the view, talking sometimes, walking in silence sometimes, that if I hadn’t packed those particular shoes, we wouldn’t have had that hike, one my friend had never been on before. We both got to make a new discovery, and I told her I’d do it again.
And I’ll know which shoes to bring.