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Meg winds up for a power fling.
Meg winds up for a power fling.

Shoe Trees: Share the Love

This summer, after years as passive observers of Shoe Tree phenomena, we decided to participate in what many consider the most impromptu and egalitarian of roadside endeavors.

All it takes is a little forethought before a trip to shove a pair of old sneakers in your luggage or car trunk. And by helping Shoe Trees grow, we all learn valuable lessons...

In fun and sprawling Balboa Park, San Diego, California, we approached a reported footwear giant on a disc golf course. The tree was visibly dead, its two main branches tightly packed with bunches of running shoes. [January 2008: Bad news -- the Balboa tree was felled by winds in a storm]

Our two pairs were readied for the journey to heaven: little girl's sneakers, and a set of size 13 vulcanized boats.

The trip's Test Kid, Meg, is a skilled athlete, and she tried her hand at both pairs, with her sisters alternating retrievals and attempts (There were many attempts).

Aiming with precision.

Rule 1: Tying shoes together and throwing like a bola is trickier than you might think.

Try it some time. It's especially unwieldy with large shoes, which tend to curve around and smack your face, or go straight up and fall back on you. Meg found that five pinwheel arm rotations, with increasing speed releasing on the upward arc, was most effective.

(An alternate technique -- clasping the heels together and wheeling an underhanded pitch -- is less powerful but more accurate, suitable for lower branch placement.)

Rule 2: Knock a pair of shoes off a shoe tree and you will be cursed.

The shoes probably hold the spirit Manitou of their previous owners, and disturbing them, even accidentally, is a heinous sacrilege.

Milltown hornets.

Rule 3: Shoe trees can be dangerous.

We traveled to Milltown, Indiana, to visit their famous shoe tree. It supported less shoes than we expected, but was a tall, full foliage tree at a dirt pull-off on Milltown Road south of town.

Sans the Test Kid, we had to do our own slinging. Doug broke out his recently decommissioned yard work sneakers -- a pair of diseased old Nikes -- tied the laces together, and proceeded to toss. After a few misses, he moved under the tree, lofting straight up with Meg's technique.

It worked -- all too well. The shoes soundly wrapped around a branch. Cries of victory were cut short with the realization that the attached sneakers landed an inch from an unnoticed -- large -- hornets nest. The Nikes merrily clopped against the nest, puffing out clouds of angry little stingers.

The nest decided not to break loose and drop on Doug's head. He paused only for this 1/3 second of video before dashing to the safety of the minivan....

Also see: Shoe Trees

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