A Shoe on the Side of the Road

And other roadside relics

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

You’ve seen one. I know you have. Most of us have spied this roadside phenomenon if you’ve ridden a motorcycle for any length of time. I saw one just the other day. A shoe on the side of the road. Yes, a shoe. A lone shoe. What’s a shoe doing on the shoulder of an interstate? How did it get there? Did someone toss his shoe out the car window, because the shoes I see always looks like they were tossed, not placed.

A Shoe on the Side of the Road
A shoe on the side of the road I stopped to take a photo of while on a ride recently.

I’ve seen a few lone shoes on the side of the road over the years. They’re usually dirty. Did someone pull over to fix a flat and take off their shoes to do it, and then forget to put one back on? Tell me, how does a shoe come to be on the side of the road? Maybe it was in the back of someone’s pickup and it flew out. If that’s the case, why was the person not wearing those shoes?

When I’m alone with my thoughts on a lonely highway and I see a shoe on the side of the road, my mind ponders these types of thought-provoking questions. If I was in a car jamming to my favorite song, or immersed in a story on an audio CD, I’d think nothing of that shoe. Sure, I’d notice it and have a momentary thought like, “Hey, there’s a shoe on the side of the road,” but I wouldn’t dive into the “who, what, where and why” of it.

On a motorcycle there are no physical boundaries between the rider and the outside environment so thoughts take on a different dimension. For me, I’m either thought-less reveling in my empty and quiet mind for a change, or I’m consumed by one thought working every angle of it—like I do when I see a shoe on the side of the road.

Surely, I have more important things to fill my inquisitive brain with, but honestly, let’s get real here. How the heck does a shoe get on the side of the road where there are no houses, stores or inhabitants nearby? It’s such an oddity to me; the pure ridiculousness of it becomes mind candy.

Actually, the first time I saw a shoe on the side of the road, I didn’t give it more than a passing thought as I whizzed by it on my motorcycle, but over my many years in the saddle, there would be the occasion where I’d cruise by a shoe again and think, “Another shoe. What is up with that?” and conclude that seeing a shoe on the side of the road is not a once in a lifetime occurrence; that a shoe on the side of the road is one of those roadside anomalies.

Shoes come in pairs and are usually worn by a person. People don’t walk around with just one shoe. If I see a lone shoe, I immediately think how did it get separated from the other shoe—and who’s walking around wearing just one shoe?

Thanks to the Internet I find out that there are other people who have had the same thought as me. Just for fun I Googled “shoe on the side of the road.” Aha! I’m not the only one, thank goodness! There are several websites devoted to this whole silly mind-swirling thought; my favorite is RoadsideShoe.com.

I originally wrote this article for American Iron magazine back in October 2010. Now, upon this rewrite when I Google “shoe on the side of the road,” ‘abandoned footwear’ comes up as a Wikipedia entry, plus a whole page of other sites that have tried to answer the question of why we see lone shoes on the side of the road. Those did not come up four years ago. It seems there are more lone shoe sightings and more questions as to why.

Pondering the “why” of a shoe on the side of the road is merely a fun exercise for my motorcycling mind. What really gets my goat when riding more than a mind exercise, is the swerving I have to do to avoid another roadside relic, road gators, not to be confused with road snakes—those black bituminous compound strips that are slippery under motorcycle tires.

A Shoe on the Side of the Road snakes
Road snakes are what we call the strips of black bituminous compound that’s used to seal cracks in the pavement. They can be slippery when riding over them on a motorcycle. Read this great article on how to ride over tar strips safely.

Road gators are the highway’s version of an alligator—long thick strips of tire rubber that lay haphazardly on the roadway, and are so-named because they resemble the scaliness of an alligator’s back. Road gators are often so big that motorcyclists have to swerve to avoid them. We have truckers to thank for bringing these rubber reptiles to America’s highways.

A Shoe on the Side of the Road gators
Road gators on the side of a road.

Road gators are born when a tire blows out on a semi. Boom! I’ve never actually seen a tire blow like that and I’d like to keep it that way, but it must be quite the explosion judging by the pieces of rubber strewn across the highway.

So the part that bothers me is why doesn’t the person whose tire blew up clean the ensuing mess? Doesn’t he or she have to stop to check the blow out? Fix the blowout? Or does one less tire on an 18-wheeler not make a difference in the ride?

Turns out, a driver can be cited if he or she does not remove their tire trash from the roadway. Often though, a trucker isn’t aware of the blowout until miles down the road so the road gators are unintentionally left on the highway to wreak havoc to oncoming vehicles.

Next time you see a road gator—or a shoe on the side of the road—think of me and let the mental inquisition begin.

Related Articles
Genevieve’s American Iron articles
WRN Touring and Adventure articles

13 thoughts on A Shoe on the Side of the Road

  1. Abandoned shoes always make me want to stop and see if there is still a foot in them!

  2. I got a giggle out of this article. I just saw a shoe on the side of the road during my Grand Canyon rim to rim ride last weekend, and wondered why it was there… Thanks for the great article! Keep the shiny side up.

  3. Since I wrote this article I’ve seen several more shoes on the side of the road I want to share because I still think this is the darndest phenomenon. The rainy shot photo taken from my car was a shoe on a busy street in Bozeman, Montana. The other shot I took was of a child’s pink shoe on an ancient cobblestone street in the medieval Italian city of Siena. So, the phenomenon is just not in the U.S.!Please share your shoe on the side of the road photos here too!

  4. As a child, I was pigeon-toed, and had to wear heavy shoes to help correct it. At one point, we lived in St. George, Utah, but the nearest store to carry the shoes I needed was in Salt Lake. The story goes, that during one of those long trips with five children in the back of a Rambler, I threw one of the ugly, expensive shoes out the window. I think my father turned around and they searched until they found the shoe.So, when I see a shoe, especially a child’s, I think s/he probably hated their shoe as much as I hated mine.

  5. We call blown-out tire treads “truck poop!”

  6. I read this article and got a great big smile. It just isn’t a real ride if I don’t see at least one random shoe on the side of the road.

  7. So, we pulled into Las Vegas on October 1, just four days ago, and I saw a big, red sneaker on the side of the road. My first thought was, “Look! A lone shoe. Hmph! Just like Genevieve’s article.” Funny how these thoughts infiltrate our minds when we ride, and how all-consuming they become. For the next 20 minutes I wondered why it was there.

  8. On the other end of the spectrum, what are shoe trees all about?

  9. I see lone shoes all the time. When I read the original article I was happy that it wasn’t just me that wondered about them!

  10. I’ve always thought the lone shoe was that of a motorcyclist or bicyclist hit by a car (most often driven by someone with a cell phone glued to their palm). The riders are literally knocked out of their shoe or shoes. The police and paramedics leave the shoe behind unintentionally, but it is possible they do it intentionally.

  11. If I had a shoe for every shoe I’ve seen on the side of the road…

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