"Hmmm. I think we need to revisit your lacing strategy."
I was completely following the speaker of this sentence. Well, all the way up to those last two words, anyway. "My...lacing strategy?"
"Yes, you're getting too much heel-lift on the upslope."
"Erm. Ok then."
Accustomed though I am to arcane jargon, this was an unexpected conversation. I sighed and placed my trust in the Boot Man. I was in Go Outdoors, a camping/outdoor activity store on the outskirts of Coventry. Slightly concerned that I'd not actually done much in the way of preparation for my sponsored walk along Hadrian's Wall later this year, I had decided to adopt the approach of all men since time immemorial.
Stuff. Start buying stuff.
I was in the market for walking boots, but I was not feeling too confident. Go Outdoors had plenty of options - a whole wall full - but to my untrained eye it was all too much. I picked some up. They had names with lots of letters, like Japanese motorbikes. Carbon fibre inserts. Memorably, turning one boot over and staring at the sole, I saw the words 'Toe Zone' imprinted towards the front.
I don't know about you, but I do like to keep my toes at the front of any footwear I decide to don. It's like they'd read my mind.
So I was floundering. There I was, the overweight urban bloke in office clothing. I half-expected any passing staff to be cranking up Sneer Mode to level 10. I was far from my comfort zone and no amount of Trailfinder maps was going to get me back. Eventually, the Boot Man approached me. Embarrassed, I explained my predicament.
"No problem. Let's try some boots, shall we?"
I know how to try shoes out normally. Put one on, wander around for five paces, pinch to see if your toes are encroaching the toe zone (I've picked up the language already) and Bob's your uncle. But not this time. Boot Man reappeared with three ominous-looking boxes and a tray of hiking socks. Before I could say anything I was sitting down and he was bending down between my knees.
Don't worry. This doesn't turn out to be that sort of story.
What followed was a 30-minute flurry of nubuck, leather and eyelets.
No, I promise. It honestly isn't that sort of story.
I walked around the store. I climbed Boot Man's testing apparatus to see how much my heels would move going uphill. I walked back down to ascertain whether my toes were going to get scrunched up. We discussed lacing strategies (which is where we came in). The way in which you lace your boots makes a huge difference. Who knows this? I certainly didn't. Although I still feel a little silly calling it a 'strategy'. Never mind.
But the attention to detail was reassuring - after all, I'm going to be wearing these babies for six days non-stop. My feet are not going to be home to Baron Blister if I can avoid it.
Boot Man was infinitely patient, given that I was steering towards the 'value' end of their range. "Oooh, don't worry about those brands," he said, pointing to the scarily-priced-take-out-a-second-mortgage-ones on the upper shelf. "They're fine, but for your needs what you've got here will be absolutely fine. It's Northumbria you're walking across, not the North Pole."
Between conversations on lacing and waterproofing, Boot Man and I talked of other matters. Where to go locally to train. Mid-life crises. Things you find yourself doing when you consider your own mortality and the transient nature of life. But mainly it was about the boots.
"Thank you," I said, when I'd settled on a pair. "I'm pretty sure I'll be back when I need more stuff."
"Not a problem," he said, shaking my hand, "just take things a step at a time."
Who am I to argue with an expert?