Trust Your Boots

It was a hot, humid June 17, 2000, group hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. We were on the exposed ledge of the Welch-Dickey trail. For you non-hikers, exposed ledge means that instead of hiking in the woods on dirt, we were walking up bare rock – granite. Normally, this is no problem, but the humidity was high and the rock was wet.

Wet rock, when covered in algae or lichen, is very slippery. The granite on Welch-Dickey had nothing growing on it. Even wet, this rock still had plenty of grip to it.
Most of us hiked up the ledge with no problem. One hiker, a woman whose name I can no longer recall, was struggling. She felt like she would slip on the wet rock with every step. She began to slow down and lean closer to the rock. She eventually put her hands on the rock and tried to walk on all fours. It was slow going.
My buddy Erik and I tried to help the hiker, by alternating between physical assistance and words of encouragement. At one point, I tried to reason with her that the rock was not as slippery as she might be thinking. I told her that the treads of her boots were good rubber and would hold. I told her that she could trust her boots.
“Trust your boots,” I kept telling her. “Trust your boots.”
My encouragement didn’t really work. We helped her get up the trail by taking her arm and sometimes even supporting her foot. She made it up, and eventually down, the mountain. The rest of the hike was not too memorable.
The words, however, have become something of a mantra to me. Trust your boots. Trust. Your. Boots. Erik and I joked about the phrase. I started using it on other hikes. I even made a sign that still hangs on my office wall. Trust Your Boots.
I’m not really a footwear fanatic, although I do love a good piece of vibram. The words, Trust Your Boots, have come to mean much more to me than just hiking advice. Trust your boots means to trust your preparation, trust your materials, your supplies, your colleagues, and sometimes your boots. Trust your boots has come to mean that it is ok to take a risk and carry on. Everything will be ok if only we just trust our boots.
So, I keep the saying on my office wall. Occasionally, a teacher or student will ask about it. Usually, I skip the story and ask what they think it means. Usually, I come around and tell them what these words mean to me. I get things going, build systems, teach procedures, delegate some decisions and then let it unfold around me. I trust my boots.
So, go out there and Trust Your Boots.