I bought new KEEN boots this week for my upcoming 500-mile walk in Spain. I’m planning on following the coastal trail to Santiago, Spain that hugs the edge of the Bay of Biscay across the very top edge of the country. This route is called Camino del Norte and differs a bit from the Camino route we read about in the news and see in the movies and are all most familiar with – the Camino Francés.
There are many differences between these two routes, but the big one for me is the number of people who walk the pilgrimage: according to statistics released for 2013, 151,761 people walked the Camino Francés, and 13,393 walked the Camino del Norte. That’s a huge difference! The Camino del Norte is the third most popular of the seven routes (plus an “other” category) for which information is compiled, following the Camino Francés and the Camino Portugues, and is reported to be a bit more strenuous than the Francés due to the trail following the ups and downs of the rivers that flow to the bay. In a nutshell, these two pieces of information are the main reasons I’ve chosen the Norte route:
- being near the water,
- and having fewer people on the trail
But I digress. Back to the boots. And then on to the serendipity.
I’ve worn KEENs since they first came out in 2003. I love them. I love the rubber bumper on the toe. They fit my feet well. They’re comfortable. I can put my SuperFeet in them. They come in cool colors and great styles. And because I spent most of my adult working life on my feet and bought cheap shoes that didn’t support the muscles and bones of my feet, I ended up with painful plantar fasciitis in both feet, making it excruciating to walk or even to stand. Then I discovered KEENs. No more pain. I could walk, stand, hike. So when I considered what shoes to get for this long walk, I knew I would be looking long and hard to KEEN boots. In January of this year, I started noticing other women wearing the KEEN Targhee II boots – seemed everywhere I looked, there was a woman with the rubber-bumpered shoes on their feet. I asked them questions. I researched online. I read reviews. I cruised forums on footwear for travel and hiking.
I finally decided to stick with what I know and what works for me and I placed an order with REI online and had them shipped to the nearby store where I picked them up on Monday of this week. I drove the boots back to where I’m house-sitting for friends, laced them up onto my feet with the socks I normally wear (which are lightweight hiking socks made by Wigwam) and spent the evening walking around the house, checking out the fit, and generally trying to imagine walking in them for hours at a time, for days and weeks at a time. Everything was fine until I put on the puffiest, most well-cushioned socks I had, the ones I’d probably be taking with me to Spain. All of sudden, there was no room to accommodate any afternoon swelling of my feet or movement of my toes at all. Yes, the boots felt fine and comfy. But… well, you know. So I decided to up-size by a half-size to get some more space in the toe box, and headed back to REI yesterday, Tuesday.
So here comes the part where the serendipity starts happening:
The color I ordered is not one that’s normally carried in-store (hence, the reason I bought them online) but I tried on the next half-size up and spent a great deal of time walking around the second floor, climbing up and down on the little mountain in the shoe department, and of course, chatting with customers and asking questions of the salesman. Turns out, the salesman is 82 years old, still traveling, still adventuring, and would love to walk the Camino de Santiago but his wife is not especially keen on it; so instead, they’ll probably take a Rick Steves tour to the Basque Country in Spain for his 83rd birthday later this year. Overhearing our talk of Caminos and travel, a woman about my age who was trying on the short version of the same shoe I was walking around in entered the discussion. She and I had so much in common it was almost freaky – her older senior dog, a black Lab named Gracie, recently died; she’s traveling alone because no one she knows wants to go with her (she’s heading to New Zealand in April); she lives alone; while her girl was alive, she traveled by Class B motor home, honoring her dog’s presence by going where she could with her; etc. etc. etc. Wow… serendipity! I gave her my contact information and asked her to keep in touch; I’ve learned to listen to the little voice that tells me stuff like “give her your email!”
I took my new boots purchased the day before back to the customer counter on the first floor and told the cashier I needed to return them and re-order them in a different size. He tapped his computer keyboard, then tapped away at the keys a little bit more (not a good sign!), frowned at the screen, then said to me, kind of under his breath, that it looked like there was one pair in the entire REI system of 131 stores (yes, 131 stores!), and rather than just order them, he wanted to call that other store to make sure they were actually there. And so he did. After a few minutes on the phone, during which it looked like the elusive pair of boots might not be there after all, the person on the other end of the line decided to look in one more place – and there he found the only pair of boots in my new size in the colors I wanted, in the entire REI chain. I threw my fists in the air and gave a not very quiet “woo hoo!” shout.
Kinda like a “he shoots! he scores!” battle cry or something. That’s my pair of boots, I again not-so-quietly said to the people standing nearby. To say I was excited would have been an understatement. And guess where they’re coming from! Maryland! Could we get any farther away from California than that? Those ARE my boots!
And then yesterday afternoon, my new friend from REI sent me an email with her own contact information. Here’s to a new friendship with a similar heart… thanks for keeping in touch, Norma! And to Bill, the REI salesman, and his wife – I know you’ll enjoy the Basque country. Have some pintxos for me.
I love meeting new people… if I’m ever in your area (check the map on the upper right of this page to see where I am) and you’d like to get together for coffee/tea/lunch/dinner, or maybe a walk on the beach/woods/meadows/hills/mountains/park, please contact me using the Connect tab just under the header photo. I’d be honored!
Here’s to more serendipity in all our lives!
CLICK on the image below to check out my new boots. It’ll open a new page in Amazon where there’re more color options than REI. Mine are Gargoyle/Caribbean Sea – aren’t those great names for colors?