By Evan Johnson
“Somebody’s feet ain’t right.”
Poet’s announcement brought a group of us hikers to a nervous silence. Sitting in a circle of Adirondack chairs in the driveway of Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson, Maine, we were a picture of exhaustion and repose. Empty Doritos bags littered the pavement around our bare ankles. Sweaty T-shirts and tents aired on the drying line. Several were poking around the bottom of their pints of Ben & Jerry’s, others were patiently working their way through mid-afternoon six-packs of PBR. Since 1977, the hostel has been a welcome stop for weary hikers entering or emerging from one of the most challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail; the 100-mile wilderness.
I was slumped in my seat with an empty pint of Chunky Monkey in my hand when our beloved host, Poet, emerged from the house. As he walked past the pile of boots and shoes arranged on the porch, he frowned and wrinkled his nose. He indicated a battered pair with a nod of his chin, “Who’s are these?”
I meekly raised my hand, outing myself.
“Your feet good, Greener?”
“They’re alright, I said, ”Just really sore.”
This was only part of the truth. My feet were indeed sore and had withstood the daily abuse admirably, but it was the boots they relied on that I was worried about. To say they had let me down would be a massive understatement. In about 300 trail miles between southern Vermont and Maine, the stitching had blown out where the upper met the sole and more was coming apart every day. My feet didn’t just stink - they smelled like a corpse.
My hope lay in a package that I’d picked up at the Monson post office earlier that day: a new pair of AKU’s Alterra GTX. I picked them up along with my last resupply box, which contained all the food I’d need for the 100-mile wilderness. As I stuffed Knorr Pasta Sides and Cliff Bars into my food bag later that morning, Poet looked on in concern at my immaculate new footwear sitting next to me.
“You’re getting brand new boots now?” he asked.
I mustered all the confidence I could and nodded weakly.
“You’re a braver man than me,” he said, and clapped me on the shoulder.
Poet’s concern was warranted. From Monson to Abol Bridge, the trail chases through logging tracts and over two mountain ranges before a long sprint to Baxter State Park. It has been a section I had been both looking forward to and dreading. There is no opportunity for resupply or change gear. What I carried in with me would have to last. Those new boots could either be a godsend, or a huge mistake. There was only one way to find out.
You can imagine my relief when I put on the boots and found they fit correctly right out of the box. The Alterra GTX features a gaiter-like cuff that fit snugly around my ankle. Within a mile from the trailhead, I noticed how quickly my feet were taking to these new kicks. By the end of the day, there were no hotspots. One hundred miles is still one hundred miles and by the time I reached Abol Bridge, my feet felt like they had been beaten with a club, but there were no blisters. Not a one.
On the way up Katahdin’s headwall, the Alterras demonstrated their technical prowess on the exposed sections of rock that required some delicate movements and precise foot placement.
I pushed on my pace at the tablelands and reached the summit and the end of my 1,167-mile trek at 8:55 a.m., July 1.
While the motivation and preparation will do the bulk of the work getting you to your goals, having a good pair of boots won’t hurt. With literally no break-in time, these boots got me across the finish line. I’ll be wearing them into the fall and on hiking adventures when spring returns. I believe they’ve got a few more miles left in them.