I look around and the store has died down.
Disheveled boxes are scattered throughout the shoe department. It's time to match the disregarded pairs, pack them in their box, and take them to their appropriate storage spot on the shelves. There they will sit until the next customer comes in looking for the perfect pair of hiking boots.
But before I do that, I grab the Oboz box. The Sawtooths, size 8.5, sit on the floor next to me, laces still untied from being tried on. The customer decided the 9’s fit better.
Inside their box is the standard Oboz wrapping paper, a thin, tissue paper-like material covered with topographic lines. I spread out the paper, as I had many times before with my maps in the backcountry, ready to read the lines and orient myself to my surroundings.
The contour lines begin taking shape in my head. I pull out Google maps on my phone to search the name of the lake on the top corner of the page. Within a few minutes, I’m no longer in Northern Illinois. I’m out West, in the mountain ranges that shaped who I am today.
Connecting to Place
I did not plan to spend my winter in the Chicago suburbs.
Life took me there anyway. As I introduced myself to my new coworkers, “Wait...why did you come here?” always followed, “Where did you come from?”
I had spent the past eight months working my third season as an Interpretive Park Ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, a location known for its pristine beauty, wild animals, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. I am not claiming that the Greater Chicago Area is not beautiful in the dead of winter, but I was definitely taking a 180 from where I had been.
Life in a Gear Shop
I was determined to make the best of my situation so I began searching the area for seasonal work within the outdoor industry. It was slim-picking in that specific category but I was lucky enough to get a job at an outdoor retailer.
When it comes to choosing outdoor gear, there is A LOT to choose from. Choosing the perfect sleeping bag or perfect pair of hiking boots can go from fun to overwhelming, quickly. That’s where I come in.
I learned the ins and outs of our products and then guided the customer to the item best suited for their needs. It was not the same as giving a 45-minute campfire program about bison or helping a family plan their perfect first national park visit, but I was still doing what I love: connecting people to the outdoors through positive experiences.
Choosing a pair of hiking boots is a big investment and if chosen poorly, there could be consequences ranging from a small blister to dangerous situations in the backcountry. So, I studied the different brands and one brand stood out: Oboz Footwear.
This brand was the closest connection I had to my home out west. To many, the names of the different styles—Sawtooth, Bridger, Wind River—were ways to differentiate between products and their features.
To me, these were the names of places I knew and loved. These names were tied to intimate memories and experiences. Sawtooth is the mountain range I backpacked last fall with three pack llamas and my close friends. Memories of sleeping on the freezing cold ground in just my bivy (knowing a 2,000-foot elevation gain awaited me the next morning) came to mind every time I went to grab the right size for a customer.
I dedicated my third season out west to explore the Bridger Teton National Forest, which surrounds Grand Teton National Park. I spent more weekends sleeping in the Bridger Teton National Forest than anywhere else.
The Wind River Range impacted me in ways I have yet to find words for. It was in the Winds where I did a solo backpacking trip to Titcomb Basin. I had just received some disheartening news and I even contemplated backing out. But I still went.
Later this summer, I’ll head back these special places as backcountry guide.
Once again, I will be out hiking the Sawtooths and the Winds. But until then, I’ll have the mountain ranges’ namesake shoes to keep reminding me what I’m working towards. And when the store dies down, you can find me by the hiking boots, planning my next backcountry trip on an Oboz shoebox.
Guest blogger Grace Lemen is a customer experience and outdoor professional. She reached out to Oboz Footwear to let us know how much she appreciated our packaging and requested to write about her experience for our blog. Thanks, Grace!