What are the prime ingredients that make for great hikes in the mountains? Solo solitude? Sharing it with a favorite companion or group? Being blessed with perfect weather and temperature conditions? You had a unique or special experience? Being intimate with nature? No insects to fight? Prime conditioning preparedness? The thrill of exploration in a new spot? The associated therapeutic "mind clearing" value? A heightened sense of freedom? The ambiance of it all?
Of course, the more of these the better. More make some hikes better and more memorable than others. But what important element have I missed that we tend to take for granted?
How about comfort, as in being properly dressed for the weather and conditions encountered? This includes shoes. Especially shoes, because discomfort there can get your attention in a hurry and usually can't be corrected much on the spot. Since one type of shoe doesn't ideally fit all occasions, isn't having the right shoes for the task at hand pretty darned important? How many of you have had an otherwise superb hike ruined by wearing the wrong shoes for the terrain or weather encountered, or, worse yet, worn shoes that caused great discomfort in any number of ways, especially if a bad blister resulted? I certainly have.
I remember one hike I took that had about a 4,000-foot rather steep descent and I'd worn a pair of shoes that were a bit too tight on one foot, which only became a problem descending. My toes got so sore that I was really limping by the time I made it down. I eventually lost a big-toe toenail because of that day. It also made that hike, among the thousands I've taken, very memorable indeed.
Here's a strange one. Some years back, Johnnie Stevens and I were hiking across a north-facing, heavily spruced, fairly steep mountain one autumn day. The ground, although lacking snow, was semi-frozen and very hard and rather slick, too. Not for the shoes I had on, but for the soles of the shoes Johnnie was wearing. For all impractical purposes, his soles might just as well have been made of Teflon. It got so bad he could hardly stand up and so ridiculous all he could do was laugh about it. Finally, in order to save the day and Johnnie's butt (literally), we traded right shoes with each other. This reduced my walking efficiency by half, which became Johnnie's gain, and finally we were able to make some decent time. Luckily, our shoe sizes were identical.
So what makes for the best hiking shoe? Four things: The type of shoe that best fits the terrain and weather, and comfort, comfort, comfort.
Should one wear ordinary low-cut tennies when hiking in snow, through marshes, or in small scree on a steep mountain? Of course not. How about wearing 10" leather hiking boots to walk up the Bear Creek Canyon road to the falls and back to Telluride? Obviously it can be done, but why would you, other than to add unwanted weight to strengthen your legs? In other words, they're out of place. Wear flip-flops for the same hike? Go for it, but maximum shoe comfort is not going to be your companion.
OK, we've established that one type of shoe doesn't ideally fit all the various conditions one encounters hiking in the Telluride region year-round. Trust me, if you're into serious hiking, both off-trail and on, whether it be conquering a 14er or merely taking an evening stroll on the Spur bike path, there really are a lot of wild variables that beg vastly different shoe types.
Year-round hiking to various places around here is definitely not the same as hiking the same paved hiking path every day in Phoenix. Having the right, comfortable shoe for the task at hand can make your day. If your shoes are a gross mismatch for what's going on under your feet or become significantly uncomfortable because of a fit problem of one kind or another, most surely you'll remember the hike.
We tend to remember profound negative experiences in our lives with the same vividness as the positive ones. Sometimes even more. For those that have involved hiking, I've had my share of each.