I did it on purpose. Because after almost two decades, my beloved L.L. Bean boots owed me absolutely nothing.
As a health and fitness journalist, a mother of boys, a late-blooming runner, and a lifelong camper and mountain climber, I consider my feet and my legs my most indispensable physical asset. Beautiful, they may not be. But they have allowed me to chase stories, keep up with kids, and reach life's most exhilarating summits. I'd sooner spend a bundle on a great pair of running or hiking shoes than I would on a cocktail dress, a handbag or Botox injections any day of the week.
So it's sort of ironic that the L.L. Bean boots that have travelled through adulthood with me were a quick $50 purchase that was made years ago with little thought. I did indeed have a fancy pair of Pivettas for serious endeavors. I owned running shoes for every possible surface. I bought my Beans because, while perusing the good old catalogue, I thought: "Those might be come in handy for a lightweight walk."
Flash forward and here I am looking at pictures spanning years upon years. And in nearly every shot that captures my most treasured memories, there are those boots! They've tromped around every woodsy part of New Jersey I've been able to sniff out while living here. I've worn them in the Austrian Alps at Christmas. I've used them to explore Big Sur with my husband and young sons. Most importantly, they've come each and every summer with me to a tiny island in the Narrows of Lake George where my extended family has camped for generations.
While on our island, those boots have stomped out campfires, steadied me while I built trenches around tents, and stood firm while I've cooked up chow for a dozen or more diners each night without the benefit of running water or electricity. They have also been on my feet every Lake George morning, when I awake at 5 and boat with my brother (and any victim who chooses to come) to the base of Black Mountain, where we proceed to walk/run three miles to the summit and back to the bottom in time to make it to breakfast back on the island. Through rain and mud and every other element Mother Nature throws in our way, we almost never miss that morning ritual. And my Bean boots have never let me down.
Two weeks ago, I tossed my boots into a bag and headed off to build a house with my youngest son for a family that lived outside Antigua, Guatemala. As volunteers for a group called From Houses to Homes, we worked hard and got very dirty, but ultimately felt privileged to be able to help people who lacked so many of the basic things in life we take for granted here in the U.S.
As I packed up on our last night, I saw my boots in the corner. Covered with paint and mud, they looked a little worse for wear. Or so someone might think. But to me, they were objects of utter beauty. They were, in fact, all the better for the extraordinary wear they'd had. Sure I could take them home and probably get a few more years from them. But I slipped them into a sack and gave them to our volunteer coordinator the next morning.
I've been blessed to have walked long and happily in those shoes. And I only hope that the next person to slip them on is as lucky.