Af­ter board­ing the pud­dle-jump­ing plane bound for Mar­quette, Michi­gan, I col­lapsed into my seat breath­less and on the verge of vom­it­ing over-priced air­port sushi. But what can I say? I like to live dan­ger­ously.

I’d just sprinted from one end of the Min­neapo­lis air­port to the other, reach­ing the gate mo­ments be­fore the air­plane door shut. The relief of fi­nally be­ing on my way to the Bi­ble of Bike Tests lasted a cool 30 sec­onds be­fore my pound­ing heart kicked up a notch at the re­al­iza­tion that my decade-old Mar­zoc­chi Bomber shoes were packed in my lug­gage. It didn’t take a con­sul­ta­tion with Miss Cleo to know that the chances of my lug­gage mak­ing it onto that plane were slim. And I’ve been on enough flights and taken enough trips around the sun to know that lug­gage is es­pe­cially keen to dis­ap­pear into the ether when it houses some­thing sen­ti­men­tal.

There wasn’t much else I cared about in that bag. There were some shirts I like, namely the Nick­el­back one that makes even my close friends re-eval­u­ate their en­tire re­la­tion­ship with me. I had a few pairs of jorts and an elec­tric tooth­brush that was bound to make my fel­low Bike mag­a­zine com­pa­tri­ots won­der what ex­actly I was do­ing in the bath­room for so long (den­tal hy­giene is im­por­tant, folks).

Sit­ting in my too-small-even-for-me seat and lament­ing not pack­ing a pair of clapped-out shoes in my carry-on, I be­gan com­ing to grips with the re­al­ity of those damn shoes. Af­ter all, I’ve known for years they needed re­plac­ing. Hell, I headed to the Bi­ble hop­ing to come home with a new pair of shoes.

As much as I love these shoes, they’ve seen their day and then some. The rub­ber around the toe box is sep­a­rat­ing. Full dis­clo­sure: It’s not sep­a­rat­ing due to age or bad qual­ity, but be­cause I was at a party rid­ing a 12-inch­wheeled pixie bike down a ramp stretched out flat, Su­per­woman style.

Af­ter rid­ing 50 feet while main­tain­ing all my teeth, I deemed the en­tire stupid-hu­man trick a suc­cess. So nat­u­rally, I re­peated the process dozens of times, al­ways com­ing to a stop by drag­ging the tips of my Bombers along the as­phalt. Ev­ery time I gig­gled the same way I did when I was a kid dis­cov­er­ing how to spin my Big Wheel with a hearty grasp of the hand brake. Af­ter a few hours of pixie bike tom­fool­ery, my pu­bic bone was thor­oughly bruised and the tips of my Bombers were in a sad state. And yet, even now, each time I see those weath­ered ends, I smile and re­mem­ber what it’s like to be Su­per­woman.

The struc­tural rigid­ity of the soles is long gone, a fact I am forced to face af­ter shorter and shorter pe­ri­ods of time. My feet ache af­ter only a few min­utes rid­ing my tri­als bike and when I en­tered my first down­hill race, it wasn’t the fall in the rock gar­den that made me con­tem­plate quit­ting, but the knowl­edge that my al­ready suf­fer­ing toot­sies would have to en­dure a sec­ond run.

I re­mem­ber buy­ing them in Whistler more than a decade ago, back when my only non-cleated rid­ing shoes

were a pair of pleather boots from Pay­less. When I put on the one and only pair of shoes in my size, the white was so bright you prac­ti­cally needed eclipse glasses to look at them.

Walk­ing around Whistler with a rented bike while wear­ing pimp-white shoes, I felt like a to­tal fraud. I couldn’t catch air, and my be­lief that I was half-de­cent at rid­ing skin­nies was quickly shat­tered by 14-year-olds who cruised past me on A River Runs Through It. And by 14-year-olds, I mean 10-year-olds.

My Day-Glo white shoes dan­gled be­neath the chair­lift like a kid’s sit­ting on a couch that’s still too big for them. Mo­ments later, red­brown flecks of loam be­came the first dirt to grace these old shoes. Over the next few days, my Bombers stood in line at the bot­tom of the lift tap­ping away time ea­gerly wait­ing for the trails to teach me how to fly for in­cred­i­bly short, unim­pres­sive and ab­so­lutely ex­hil­a­rat­ing pe­ri­ods of time.

From there, the shoes made their way into the woods. They stuck to gran­ite slabs I was too afraid to ride. A year later, when the bright white was only a mem­ory, they’d coast down the same slabs with friends I haven’t seen since. At some point, the Bombers stopped be­ing footwear and turned into a cu­ri­ous scrap­book col­lec­tion of dirt from across the coun­try. The leather be­came en­sconced in a patina of mem­o­ries from places like the McKen­zie River Trail in the rain and Rothrock State For­est dur­ing peak fall. They suf­fered on a sin­gle­speed in Flagstaff, Ari­zona, and spent hours stand­ing still on my first tri­als bike watch­ing sun­rises from empty ho­tel park­ing lots in the mid­dle of nowhere.

They built trails with me when my work boots were for­got­ten and the sticky rub­ber held my feet more or less in place on top of cli­p­less ped­als when my fancy tap-danc­ing shoes were left at home.

I can’t help but love these dirty, old, barely white shoes. But like ev­ery­thing we out­grow in life, I’m not ready to say good­bye, even though I can no longer ig­nore the re­al­ity that they cause me pain when I try to enjoy them.

As my lug­gage mag­i­cally ap­peared on the air­port con­veyor belt in Mar­quette, I be­came down­right giddy. Later, when I saw a sin­gle un­opened shoe box in the gear edi­tor’s room marked with ‘7.5 Women’s,’ I cracked it open and pulled out a blind­ing neon-yel­low pair of shoes. They were ob­nox­iously bright and a lit­tle gar­ish and ab­so­lutely per­fect. There wasn’t a speck of dust on them and in­stead of smelling like sweaty feet and cat farts, they reeked of fresh rub­ber and an­tic­i­pa­tion. I’m fi­nally ready to pack away my old Bombers. It’s time to start fill­ing a new blank can­vas with dirt from life’s next chap­ter of ad­ven­tures.


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