Outside magazine, August 1999
Guranteed to Last
The distinguished professor of worn-out boots is hell bent for leather
The doctor is in: cobbler Dave Page
Describing the loyalty of Dave Page’s clients is like beginning a joke: a man in chamonix buys his boots six blocks from his home and then sends them to Seattle for orthopedic inserts. A pair of Vasque Sundowners is pecked to death by a Costa Rican parrot, and the owner turns to Page. In fact, almost every major boot manufacturer sends
its warranty work to his Seattle workshop.
Page was a University of Washington history professor in 1968 when he financed a summer climbing binge cutting hiking-boot uppers at a small factory in Kitzbühel, Austria. The menial labor sang to the 29-year-old academic’s soul. “It was the 3,000-year history,” he says. “The materials—the leather—hooked me.” By the next summer he’d left the
university and was cobbling in his basement.Now, 30 years later, he schools eight craftspeople in the minutiae of Vibram outsoles and D-ring eyelets. “I’m drawn to boots that aren’t gimmicky,” Page says. “I do most of my mountaineering in ten-year-old leather boots—nothing fancy.”
“He’s a phenomenon,” says climbing monolith Fred Beckey. “He’s resoled tens of thousands of boots. How many of mine? Seven? Seventeen? I have no idea. That’s like asking Madonna how many times she’s had an orgasm.”
PHOTO: David Emmite
THE KEEPER OF THE FLAME
Homesteader. Fisherman. Bush Pilot. Mountain Man. Founder of the Iditarod. Our Hero.
“When I first came to Alaska, in 1948, there was a dog team behind every house,” recalls 82-year-old Joe Redington, Sr., an elfin man whose deeply etched face is a road map of the 200,000 miles of uncharted wilderness he’s logged behind a team of dogs. “They were the people’s means of transportation, the way they got wood and water. But
when the snow machines came along in the early sixties, people started getting rid of the dogs, because you didn’t have to feed that snow machine. I decided something had to be done.” His answer, the 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, has sustained a dying tradition since its inception in 1973—producing new mushers like four-time Iditarod winner Susan
Butcher, who summited Mount McKinley with Redington and two dog teams in 1979. “Joe taught me what a real Alaskan is supposed to be,” Butcher says. “He taught me the patience to deal with adversity as it comes. I should have been raised a Redington.”
An Oklahoma native, Redington arrived in Alaska with a pair of husky pups and dove into frontier life as a homesteader, bush pilot, commercial fisherman, and dog-team runner for the Air Force Search and Rescue Unit. Apparently indestructible, he was en route to an Iditarod board meeting in 1975 when he crashed his single-engine plane in a stand of alders,
straightened out the crumpled propeller, cut a 300-foot runway with a hatchet, and landed in Nenana six days later. “Do you know the entire state of Alaska is searching for you?” the airport manager sputtered. “Oh, I wasn’t in any trouble,” Redington replied.
In his 19 Iditarods, he’s fallen asleep at the reins and somersaulted over his sled, been knocked out by a tree limb, and collided with one of those blasted snow machines. “I don’t scare too easy,” he says. “Maybe I ain’t too smart, because sometimes I think it might pay to get scared.” Now ailing, Redington—who was 71 when he placed fifth in the 1988
Iditarod—remains characteristically feisty. “I figure I still have time to build a good team of dogs,” he boasted recently, “and get myself trail-ready by March 4, 2000.”
—ANNE GOODWIN SIDES