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David Miles

123 Fake Street


Anytown, USA
410-736-0186
dmiles996@gmail.com

About 1,500 words

Intended Audience
This piece is intended for people interested in outdoor
recreation, or more broadly people who like stories about
humorous learning experiences. I imagine this could be published
in an outdoor recreation magazine such as Outdoor or Backpacker.
It might also be considered for a more general, or regional,
travel publication.

Life Without Shoes


by David Miles

The woman behind the register at the busy Golden Corral


Buffet stared at us a moment without speaking.

The four of us

paid individually, and were waiting to be seated.

A combination

of the way we looked and smelled compelled her to suddenly shout


across the restaurant to the busy hostess, These boys need
food!

As we were led to our corner booth, I noticed the hostess


sneak a glance at Birdmans shoes.

The unique sound they made as

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he walked would draw most anyones attention.

She, however, was

polite enough not to stare or ask.

It was my junior year of college and I had somehow convinced


three friends to embark on a five-day backpacking trip into the
heart of Shenandoah National Park during our spring break.

We

were typical college kids, enthusiastic, virile, and fresh off


the high that accompanies young adulthood and unaccustomed
freedom.

None of us had any outdoor recreation experience beyond

family camping trips, but I wanted more than smores around a


campfire; I wanted an adventure...risk.

Our journey began weeks earlier as we prepared for the trip.

One of us can use this, I said as I held up a Vietnam war


era, external frame rucksack.

My friend Ob looked skeptical, and

deservedly so. The olive drab relic was all riveted aluminum and
canvas, with a single protruding shelf on which to stack gear and
two overarching straps to secure the load.

The rucksack, and

other gear, found its way to my mothers townhome basement by


way of many trips to the Army/Navy surplus store.

Sunnys

Surplus was a magical place for a young boy and a frequent


shopping destination of my stepdad.

As a child, I happily tagged

along whenever he went, and we rarely came home empty handed.

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All right, were gonna need something to cook on.

I think

theres an old iron skillet upstairs my mom doesnt use, I said.

Nice, well also need something to boil drinking water


right? His tone inquisitive.

Yea, Im sure theres a pot we

can borrow as well.

Anyone whos been backpacking is cringing right now.

cant help but look back on our naivet and laugh, a fifteen
pound cast iron skillet is not an appropriate item to carry on
your back for five days.

We went on like this as the departure date approached, each


of us scrounging around our respected parents houses for
anything we could use.

Money was tight, as any college student

can attest to, so we made it work with what we found.

However,

we did manage to splurge on our meals and wound up with multiple


cans of chunky soup (heavy!), loaves bread for sandwiches
(fragile!), and other ridiculous food choices to bring
backpacking.

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Our final loadout was as follows - ignoring personal items,
such as cloths and toothbrushes, which we all carried.

Well,

most of us anyway:

Me aka The Water Mule

Old (1980s) blue external frame pack with one large cavity.
Plastic five-gallon bladder filled with water.

Birdman aka The Quartermaster

Previously mentioned aluminum and canvas rucksack.


Loaded down with two two-man tents, a few tarps, and all
the poles, stakes, and cordage you could ever want.

Ob aka Bearded Lunch Lady

One of two old external frame packs, found in his parents

garage.
Kitchen supplies consisting of a cast iron skillet, pots,

and utensils.
Old camp stove and fuel, salvaged from his parents more
adventurous days.

Ross aka The Walking Pantry

The other pack from Obs parents garage.


Pretty much all the food.

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Overcast skies greeted us as we arrived at Loft Mountain
Campground on day one, it served as our launching point and where
we parked our car.

It was mid-March and Spring hadnt quite

started springing yet.

The forest trees surrounding us were, for

the most part, tall and leafless.

Temperate forests have a much

different feel to them without leaves and undergrowth.

The cozy,

closed-in, sheltered feeling usually encountered was instead


naked, exposed, and bare.

Nonetheless, fresh legs and high spirits abound as we slowly


made our way to our first planned campsite.

During those first

few miles we began to realize how silly we must have looked.

Im

not sure what garnered more curious and extended looks from other
hikers on the trail, our aged dilapidated gear, or our tennis
shoes, blue jeans and sweatshirts in notoriously wet March.

Then

again there was Birdmans hat; A black and orange baseball cap
embroidered with the word ASSMAN in a font reminiscent of the
Pacman arcade game.

Knowing the guys I went with, I dont think the first night
could have played out much differently than it did.

The handle

of vodka we brought didnt take long to make an appearance, along


with a homegrown bottle of cinnamon moonshine Birdman brandished
unexpectedly.

My memory of that night is somewhat incomplete,

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but I do remember one important detail.

I noticed Birdman

attempting to get his New Balance running shoes dry after a day
of slogging through the wet springtime trail.

They were propped

up on our makeshift stone fire ring, steaming as the water


evaporated.

Hey Bird your shoes are pretty close to the fire, man.
Ross noticed, as he stretched his long legs to get them closer to
the warm fire.

Yea, I know. Im drying them, Birdman retorted, somewhat


annoyed.

An undetermined amount of time elapsed, this time

someone else spoke up.

Hey dumbass, better watch your shoes, someone


pontificated.
warning.

He made a guttural noise and waved of the second

The shoes had been drying for hours at this point, but

an inebriated Birdman insisted they stay where they were as we


fed the fire more and more throughout the night.

At some point, as Ob flipped the scorched shoes off the


stones with a stick and long after Birdman collapsed into his
tent for the night, we all gathered around to assess the damage.
The tongues, laces, and most of the tops of both shoes were

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completely gone, melted into nothing.

These nylon running shoes

had no business being worn for this trip, let alone surviving a
literal trial by fire.

The next morning Birdman awoke to find what was left of his
shoes.

Although we teared up with laughter the night before as

Birdman slept, we had a serious problem.


into our 30+ mile journey.

We were over five miles

Hiking either direction without shoes

would surely end in injury and take an unreasonable amount of


time.

The ridicule and shame Birdman would have endured, had he

thrown in the towel on day two and forced someone else to hike
out to get him shoes, was all the motivation and inspiration he
needed.

He grabbed a bundle of nylon cordage and got to work.

He crafted what had to be the ugliest two roman sandals anyone


could imagine, complete with plastic bags over his socks to keep
away the moisture.

At some point, about halfway through the trip, I became


Shenandoahs most hated man.

Sore backs, worn down feet, and a

wetness that permeated everything brought morale rock bottom.

Dude, how the hell did you convince me to do this.

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Why would you ever plan anything when you knew it was going
to rain.

I hate you.

The constant crinkle from the plastic bags on Birdmans feet


haunted us for the rest of the trip.

The remaining few days were

marred by long bouts of rain and very leaky tents; The complete
depletion of our alcohol stores didnt help either.

The third

night was spent huddled together for warmth as the rain crept
into our tents and infiltrated our sleeping bags.

That third

night was so bad we decided to forgo the fourth night on the


trail and hoofed it over twelve miles on an exposed, rain blasted
ridge to get out a day early.

When we finally saw the cars in the parking lot through the
trees, and everyone realized they werent going to die in a cold
wet heap, the groups attitude brightened.

We decided we needed

to gorge ourselves on an impressive meal worthy of our


accomplishment, so we pulled into the nearest Golden Corral our
early era smartphones could find.

Before we headed in, Ross

found some old basketball shoes floating around the floorboard of


his Honda Accord.
asked.

Hey Bird, you wanna change into these? He

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Nope, they got me this far, might as well ride it out.

Sources

http://www.vietnamgear.com/kit.aspx?kit=119

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http://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/361377221651?
lpid=82&chn=ps&ul_noapp=true
http://www.goldencorral.com
http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/deciduous_forest.htm
http://pocketnow.com/2014/07/28/the-evolution-of-the-smartphone