It’s Christmas, 1974, somewhere in the wilds of the Los Padres Mountains, and I am in the middle of one of those situations that, if it doesn’t kill you, will make a hell of a good story some day.  You see, I’m not from around here—California, I mean.  I’m a naïve, 18-year-old east-coast girl who came west to spend Christmas with her father, got invited on a day-trip to the beach at Santa Barbara by a girl she knew slightly from her college dorm—and somehow ended up on a hike with the girl and a van-load of her acquaintances through the aforementioned Los Padres Mountains in search of some legendary hot springs where we will all spend the night. And boy, am I not dressed for this excursion! On the way down the long, steep, switch-backed trail I wear those 70’s icons: the Earth Shoe.

Normally, I love these shoes—like everything else about the 70s aesthetic, they’re proudly, ostentatiously ugly—but they’re not meant for serious hiking. With every step, my feet slide and slam into the hard leather toe-box. I’m carrying someone’s old Boy Scout sleeping bag tied to my back with a piece of rope. The only coat I have with me is an old corduroy jacket of my father’s.  During the night it sleets. The sleeping bag is sodden. My clothes are soaked. The only warm place is in the springs themselves, where I spend a wakeful night evading the gropings of strange boys who don’t bother to ask my name. In the morning, my clothes are so drenched I can’t get them on—the only dry thing I have is my father’s coat, so that’s all I wear. My feet are so bruised and battered by yesterday’s scramble down the trail that I can’t get my Earth Shoes on again. Hence the size 13 Converses, kindly leant me by a boy whose name I never asked.

It takes four hours to hike out from the springs, and somewhere along the way I jettison the sleeping bag. I feel bad about that since it’s not mine, but in its waterlogged state it weighs almost as much as I do. The soaked jeans and work-shirt soon follow, but I hang onto my Earth shoes.  Eventually, I make it back to the van where the others have occupied the time waiting for me with eating all the food and smoking joints. I stop feeling guilty about the sleeping bag.

Sometime just before Midnight on Christmas Eve, I am deposited back on my father’s doorstep. I don’t know what ever happened to the girl or the Converse sneakers, but I kept those Earth shoes until 1981. They joined the Peace Corps with me and died an honorable death in Morocco.

-Alix Wilber, Seattle WA

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