I just got back from a cycling and hiking trip in Bhutan. It was amazing. I wrote about the first day here, and some of my other stories here and will write more fully about the whole experience for this blog on Friday. But for right now, I just want to sing the praises of having the right shoes for active traveling.
Shoes are like bags for me. I always believe that there is some mythical bag that will enable me to take with me what I need and only what I need and somehow boil my life down just to the perfect essentials. (Spoiler alert — it doesn’t exist).
I’m like that with shoes when I’m traveling too — I am a super active traveler, usually with some riding, and am usually in kind of remote and rugged places. But there are also cities, and city walking, and hot days and cool nights, and sometimes fancy restaurants. (A fancy restaurant in Bangkok almost didn’t let me in because I had on leather flipflops with my cute little nicely squished sundress. I reminded them I was willing to give them a lot of money and they relented). And I usually like to go for at least one run when I’m traveling.
So I often end up stuffing in hiking shoes, running shoes, cycling shoes, sports sandals and maybe some kind of small fancier sandal.
That’s a lot of shoes.
As I was packing for Bhutan, I was fretting. I wanted to “pack lightly” (a challenge when you are dragging your pedals and bike seat and helmet and bike shoes), for some reason that I can’t explain. Somehow it felt like I wanted emotional lightness, and this required fewer physical things. Or something. I knew I might only run once, and I knew there would be a lot of rocky slidey trails. And I knew that my existing hiking shoes were a little too unsupportive — my feet hurt while walking in them around the city for a few hours.
I went to MEC to try on all of the hiking shoes, and wasn’t very satisfied. There were day hiking short BOOTS that felt good, but they were too clunky as my Main Traveling Shoes. The hiking shoes felt too hiking-shoe-y and heavy. I sighed. I tried on more shoes. I fretted.
Then I spotted the light blue sportiva trail running shoes.
I went for a wet muddy dog hike with Kim a few weeks ago and she sang the praises of her sportiva trail runners. Despite being a runner for 23 years and a hiker for longer than that, I’ve never had trail runners before. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually run on a trail — it seemed like a highly specialized shoe — like a climbing shoe — for something I never did.
I was wrong.
I tried them on and they felt simultaneously light and supportive. I put the non-prescription insoles I use in my running shoes into them and they felt even better. They were lighter than my running shoes and grippier than my day hiking shoes. And they were a cute perky blue, not a muddy grim brown.
So I bought them. I went for a short run at home in them, and they felt okay. I wore them on the plane, and walking around Paro, and up slidey muddy hills, and up rocky hot trails. I went for a 5 km morning run in a valley of the himalayas. Then in my day and a half in Delhi on the way home, I wore them marching around the stifling, crowded city, going to the Taj Majal at sunrise, and then camping out in in the cool air of a super fancy hotel for afternoon tea before going to the airport.
My feet felt great the whole time.
This is my second pair of Perfect Travel Shoes. Last year, I had some issues with my cleats on another bike trip in Asia, and I ended up wearing my keen sandals to cycle my way through the green tea fields of Sri Lanka and the mountains of Laos. And they were perfect — even when I had to wear wool socks. They’re getting pretty battered now, but they served me well on this trip too. And they took me to the one fancy meal I ate in Bhutan.
My travel shoes are not elegant. But there is something immensely gratifying when you find shoes that will take you to everywhere you might ever dream of going.
Some day I’ll find that perfect bag.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not exploring the world. She blogs here on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month. These are her legs after a long day of cycling in Bhutan.