Boot diaries, daydreams and nightmares

Over the years, boots have become very important to me. In my younger days, when I hiked in the summer months in the Cascades near Portland, OR, I didn't even bother with boots.

I swore by a pair of Columbia Techsun sandals. My feet would stay dry, blister free and I never encountered terrain in the Cascades that called for anything heavier than a water sandal. 

When the Siskiyous entered my map collection, the sandals no longer cut it. I first adopted a pair of Merrell Moabs, a semi-sturdy and medium-cut hiking shoe. They were super comfortable, and my feet stayed ventilated and dry. I loved them. I just loved them. 

But after just 20 days of heavy trail work in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, the Moabs fell apart, so I bought another pair. Another twenty days in the field, and again the Moab's sole had worn completely through at the ball of my foot, rendering them unusable. 

"Well I'm 220 lbs and I work in very rugged terrain," I told Merrell's customer service representative, who was very helpful. 
Merrell Sawtooth
She directed me toward a pair of Merrell Sawtooths. "These have a much tougher sole," she said, "and they'll have more a of a bite, too." 

A bite was what I was looking for. I didn't need a boot for dainty hikes in the Cascades anymore. I needed a boot for hard work in the Siskiyous, and I was pleased when Merrell sent me a pair of Sawtooths at no cost. I was ready for something serious.

And I fell in love with yet another pair of Merrells. They took a little time to break in, but having such a sturdy sole was worth it. The Sawtooth boot breathed enough that my feet didn't overheat, and it was tough enough to tackle rugged and rocky, steep terrain without wearing down. "Perfect," I thought. 

But after about 30 days on the trail, the Merrell honeymoon was over. Last month, my Sawtooths fell apart on the trail.

I was on a six day work spike in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, so I was about 12-miles away from the nearest trailhead when the heels started blowing out and separating from the boot.

This is what was left of the Sawtooths
At first it was a minor inconvenience, but slowly the fault line that developed in the shoe started digging into my ankle, leaving a sore red spot and eventually a blister. Desperate, I cut the Sawtooth's down to avoid further injury. 

My roller coaster love affair with Merrell is over, and quite frankly, I'm done with any Chinese made garbage, but I'm still looking for a boot that suits my needs. 

Dan Shulter of Dan's Shoe Repair in Ashland, OR, pointed me towards a pair of Vibergs, which sounded great. The Vibergs definitely look like a boot that would last, but at $250-$450, they were simply out of my price range, though I do admit I was tempted to indulge. 

The thought of a boot that lasted five years had me wondering if I should open a line of credit. But I decided to stay out of debt, even though the Viberg had me drooling. 

My new boot, the Keen Portland PR 6in
I instead purchased a pair of Keen Footwear's Portland PR 6in. It's an industrial style leather boot from a company with a good reputation and excellent customer service. 

And they're made in my hometown, Portland, OR, USA. They run for $210, and Keen generously offered a 50% discount for SMC field volunteers. 

I'm excited to take them into the Soda Mountain Wilderness this weekend and see if they can can pass the test, which I'm confident and optimistic about. 

This will be my first crack at a pair of boots made in the USA and I feel good about it. 

Skeleton Crew knocks er dead

Last week I had the pleasure of running a six day volunteer trail crew deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area of southwest Oregon. SMC volunteers Aaron Babcock, Rob Ginsbach, Angie Caschera and Tim Nace hiked nine miles through brushy, rugged trail into Carter Creek from Babyfoot Lake.

The plan was to hike straight into Slide Creek and start clearing trail untouched since 2002, but that wasn't possible.

Windfall, jackstraw and brush had again completely choked the section of Bailey Mtn Trail No. 1109 between Carter and Slide Creek that our volunteers mercilessly attacked in 2010. It was as if we'd never been in there before.

But surely, the Skeleton Crew (there were only five of us total), knocked the trail out. We started by brushing out the jungle of Tanoak and Greasewood that had regrown over the last two springs. Then we logged out the hundreds of logs that had fallen, as if we were playing a giant game of pickup sticks.

Slowly the trail showed itself from underneath two years of maintenance backlog, and once again ambitious hikers can safely pass from Babyfoot Lake to Bailey Cabin, Bailey Mountain to Slide Creek via the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route.

When I started this endeavor -- to clear a 28-mile continuous route through the Kalmiopsis -- in 2009, I had no idea how much work was going to be involved. How much time, commitment, planning executing my goal was going to require. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

But the plan doesn't matter. The Kalmiopsis has a plan of her own, and that's the plan we'll follow. All we can do is keep putting boots on the ground and running saws through trees, keep our heads up, our bodies safe and keep chipping away at the Trans-Kalmiopsis Route.
The Skeleton Crew from left to right: Angie Caschera, Tim Nace, Rob Ginsbach, Aaron Babcock. Not pictured: Gabe Howe