Before I review Kevin’s master shoemaking I must tell a story about a boy…and his feet…
Astronaut, explorer, scientist, pioneer, doctor, cowboy, priest, fire fighter, forest ranger – the hat depended on the day and the circumstances. Dangling from a high tree branch on a clear fall day with the canopy rattling in the breeze and the forest floor awash with gold and crimson it was a forest ranger. Feeling somewhat holy singing from the choir balcony in the cavernous church it was a priest. Riveted to the family’s first black & white 12 inch grainy screen television as Mercury 7 blasted off – it was definitely an astronaut.
What would get him wherever he wanted to go he had no idea, but he was certain shoes were important and necessary for the journey. PF Flyers sounded magical so he tried them, Keds too, Converse, Hush Puppies, Clark’s and many more brands graced his feet. He dared not mention “Hush Puppies” on his feet for the certain ridicule that would rain down upon him from the other boys. Clark’s proved to be a character builder as his ego had to overcome the constant chiding about the “elf boots”. Color, shape, brand, shoestrings, or not – no shoe characteristic mattered – except one. That boy would wear high heeled pumps if his feet would fit in them!
Each foot settled down into the cool slippery stainless steel slot, the flip switched, the machine hummed, the sides and ends closed in, and magically like the reels of a one armed bandit the length and width for the foot would lock in on the backlit determiner. One year 5 x E, The next 6 x EE – for the left foot, the tragically extra wide right foot always added an extra E. Eventually the right foot would settle at 8.5 x 5E! A troll ancestor became a suspicion in the boy’s mind as a reason for his utterly impossible feet. Mad under that bridge, biting its toe nails, occasionally coming up to eat a sojourner, then one day falling in love! The entire prospect disgusted the boy, and it was that stupid nasty troll’s fault he was stuck with those feet!
“Well you do have wide feet.” The shoe salesman solemnly said.
“Let me check in the back and see what we have that might fit.”
The boy knew what was coming – a D width shoe 1 or 1.5 lengths too long. It would be another year of shoes with curled up toes… with a forceful shove of the heal sliding down the shoe horn they were on. The boy would meekly whimper…
“They’re a little tight.”
“Those are the widest shoes we have.”
His feet would be bound like a child Geisha’s for yet another year.
“Don’t worry they will stretch out.”
The boy wanted to say “Yeah sure – when the seams bust out.”, which they always did.
The boy grew up, became an equine veterinarian (horse doc), was constantly on his feet, loved hiking and camping, and had many a relationship with shoes and boots – most of them jaded.
Then a couple years ago after a brutally painful blistering hike at Glacier National Park I thought to check into custom hiking boots. I am not sure why I never thought to look – I had owned a number of pairs of custom riding boots and they were comfortable – at least for riding horses – but they weren’t exactly “boots – that – were made for walking”. I surfed the net and sure enough there were a few plus one or two custom hiking boot makers. Custom hiking boots were expensive! Kevin of course was one of the boot makers but his prices seemed downright affordable compared to a couple others – I was concerned. At this point in my life, with my feet, I wasn’t concerned about spending a little more I just wanted to get some quality comfortable boots. Wasn’t it likely the best shot was the most expensive boot? I pondered that question. I looked at reviews. I called and talked to some of the makers. I studied the pictures. I chewed my cud. I kept coming back to Kevin’s story and the intense effort he seemed to want to put into the measurement of my feet – the kit, the directions, the many measurements, the imprints, the foam mold, the request for photos (of my troll feet) – photos from both sides, front, back and the top! Kevin’s story, his training and his clear devotion to collecting the detail that would get it right for my feet carried the day. Kevin Leahy became the boot maker to the King – me.
Serena, my dear spouse, made great fun out of assisting me through all the varied directions, photos, impressions and so on. My much anticipated hiking boots arrived. They were beautiful – I know good leather – I spent many years in some quite exquisite saddles. I quickly had them on for a hike and felt I was walking on clouds. My arches seemed to ache though. I soldiered on, wearing the boots daily to break them in, and over the course of a couple weeks the aching subsided. My feet were being born again – as the ache subsided every bone and muscle in my feet started feeling better – and my feet started feeling stronger. I started to be able to curl my toes with gusto – it seems they had been squished into submission by decades of binding. I felt I could swing from the trees with my feet. I could walk for hours and stand all day with feet in utter bliss. I started thinking how nice it would be to always walk on clouds. I called Kevin.
“Could you make a pair of trails running shoes for me?”
“Sure Tom, tell me what you are looking for, and by the way I am coming to Ohio in a month, perhaps we could meet for a custom measurement.”
I was giddy at the thought of a custom measurement. Anyone who has the opportunity to be custom measured by Kevin should surely take advantage of it. He is an old hand and a skilled hand. Most of us have experienced the hands of a highly experienced and skilled physician – those are Kevin’s hands. Kevin arrived with a pair of “glass slippers” – a clear tape mold of my lasts he had built for the original pair. Into the slippers I went and he quickly marked and made minor adjustments. I described the shoe I wanted. Let me digress…
My mother grew up poor in Appalachia on a subsistence farm. There is a picture of her at about the age of 8 with her 2 younger brothers. They are clearly happy. They are covered with dirt – they often worked in the tobacco fields along side their elders. All 3 were bare footed. Their feet look grubby and happy. Throughout my childhood I remember my mother kicking off her shoes whenever she could, wherever she could. She encouraged us to do the same. She encouraged us to touch the earth with our feet, to feel the grass tickle our toes. Even the occasional honeybee sting was an experience our feet should have – according to mom.
What I wanted in those trail running shoes was the energy of the earth to course through to my feet. I wanted to feel the tickle between my toes. I wanted magic moccasins! I got them. Kevin even added magic stripes. He traveled to the Napa Valley to buy the best of the best leather – magic leather no less – luscious, soft and supple. Those magic moccasins pictured here are rarely off my feet. They have been resoled once (by Kevin for an absurdly reasonable fee). They have no less than 4000 hours on my feet, and have at least another 4000 hours to go. They are amazing.
We ordered 3 other pairs of shoes that day along with the magic moccasins – one more for me and 2 for Serena. My hikers and trails runners have outdoor soles – Vibram soles which I love for the stability, grip, and durability. My next pair needed to have “floor soles” so I ordered the plain Jane walker. They may look plain but they have much of the same magic as the magic moccasins – not quite all of it but they are just great, and they don’t pick up the horse manure in the tread!
I promised I would write a review for Kevin well over a year and a half ago. I won’t deny I am a procrastinator. When I needed my magic moccasins resoled I checked in at Kevin’s website to get the phone number, with some certain guilt peaked at the reviews, and there saw a review on a pair of his chukkas. I said to myself “I must have a pair”. I now do. The chukkas Kevin sent are stunning. They are an opus work by Kevin. They dazzled yesterday when I opened the box. They slipped on like gloves. The leather is exquisite, the color is special, “and – they have – miles to go before I sleep”.
I have finally written my review. I believe in these shoes and Kevin. Kevin’s shoes made me healthier – they changed my life. Troll feet or normal feet, Kevin’s shoes can make you fly. Maybe you think I just have a shoe fetish? Maybe you think no person would write such a nutty review unless they were paid for it. Please don’t over-interpret things – although I give I am a little crazy when it comes to my feet. I am a boy and his feet. The simple truth is – we just like magic things and walking in the clouds with our 8 friends…