Mount Mitchell

North Carolina

July 2011

Clearly, wilderness trails in the eastern United States are nothing like the sidewalk by your home, nor anything like the tiled floor of the mall.  The trail is rough and uneven, an irregular surface marked with dips and holes, rocks and roots.  Hikers often realize that, for the past twenty minutes, they haven’t even looked up, so intent are they on not misstepping or tripping.

This kind of surface will chew up your feet.  The hardness, the sharp rock edges, the variable, unyielding surface, all make your foot muscles work hard, stress the tendons and ligaments, bruise the bone and can make your feet very sore.

Introducing the hiking boot.  This handy device, one for each foot, is specially designed to support your foot so all those soft tissue mechanisms don’t have to work so hard.  The hiking boot boasts an insole, a midsole and an outsole, three layers designed to mitigate the shock of whatever you have stepped upon and smooth it out, giving your complicated foot architecture substantial support, and to make the fleshy bottoms of your tootsies feel better.  Or at least, less bad.

Have you seen modern sneakers?  Behold an amazing variety of designs, from the mundane to the outrageous.  You can find every color, including some colors that haven’t yet been invented.  Sneakers have become as much a statement as an article of apparel.  Heck, you can even get them with wheels and flashing lights!

But sneakers, no matter how well-designed or zany, are just not designed for the trail.  They are lighter and thinner than boots and simply cannot absorb the shock that a boot can, nor can it give you the same ankle support.

We approach the summit of Mount Mitchell, perhaps twenty more minutes of hiking to go, after climbing for the past six hours.  Three teenage boys run down past us.  They run?  Yeah, on this steeply inclined, rooted and rocky, treacherously designed, dangerous pretzel-your-ankle trail, they run past us.  Wearing sneakers.

Lisa says something to them and they shout back to us, laughing, “We ran up too!”

The little pissants.  They just don’t understand the science!

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