One of the issues in getting ready for the Big Trip is having the "Right" things. On one of my shorter tours, even one that is up to two weeks long, I'm not so concerned. Pull out the any-olds. But being on the road for several months is a different thing. I want things that are going to be appropriate in the situations we'll find ourselves, and last for the long haul. Of course we can replace items on the road if need be, but I'd like to avoid it as much as possible. I'd rather not spend my time in the middle of nowhere looking for a replacement rain jacket or something.
One particular item I knew I would need to get is a pair of shoes for the trip. I'm adverse to SPD shoes, aka "clipless" bike shoes. SPDs are the obvious option for a lot of people, but they aren't my cup of tea. I'd rather have a pair of shoes that I can wear on and off the bike. I know we'll probably do a few hikes on tour and end up walking around towns. SPDs are great for on the bike, not so much for off.
While I own more shoes than the average man, most of these are on the dressy to "casual" side of things. I have only one pair of shoes that fall into the "sporty" side, a pair of New Balance running shoes I fished out of a free pile a year or two ago. These are the shoes that I've worn on longer rides and tours in the past. But they're wearing out (there's a reason why a pair of American made sneakers were free) and a bit too "meshy" for my liking. So the search started in earnest for a replacement pair a few months back.
But what to get? I don't really care for running shoes, as the excessive mesh padding soaks up rain and foot sweat. Plus most of them are ugly. (It's no surprise why I used to love Chuck Taylors, despite their lack of arch support and shoddy construction.) So that was out of the question.
So I ended up looking for "light hikers" instead. Many of them are hideous as well (I dont' like things that look overly "tech"), but there are some models that have a bit of leather on the uppers. Nothing was turning up at thrift shops, so I ended up going to REI and getting myself a pair of Keen Voyageurs.
They have a little bit of mesh on the uppers, but not much. I worried a little about the mesh in case of rain, but I've tested them over the last few wet days, and it hasn't been a problem. (Now if it was 38F and raining, that might be a different thing, however.) And the look of the shoes...some may think they're a bit fugly (and they are entitled to their opinion), but I like 'em!
My main concern is how they'll hold up. I know a popular complaint about Keens is they fall apart quickly. The sales clerk at REI said that it was a problem with older shoes, but Keen has updated to a better glue. Hopefully it will last, if not, thankfully there's a good amount of REIs across the country where I can exchange the shoes. And ideally I would have liked to get a pair of shoes that were made in the USA. But that is on the verge of impossible in the realm of the "sporty" shoe. New Balance still makes some of their sneakers in the US, but the other American brands I know of are more on the dressy or industrial side. At least Keen is based in Portland (ironically enough, a block from REI) and they actually are starting to make a few shoes in the US. But the Voyageurs aren't it.
Now let's see how these things will hold up after several thousand miles of bicycling!