Mars Yard Shoe 2.0 by Tom Sachs: An Experience
Today I experienced one of the best (and weirdest) sneaker releases I’ve ever seen. In 2012, Tom Sachs collaborated with Nike on the Mars Yard Shoe, a ridiculous sneaker composed of outsoles borrowed from the Nike SFB and Vectran fabric from the Mars Excursion Rover airbags. It was also ridiculously limited and fetches some crazy prices on eBay. The shoe’s fatal flaw was its outsole, which supposedly cracked pretty easily and caused the shoe to break down from relatively normal wear-and-tear. After five years, Nike and Tom Sachs brought the shoe back as the Mars Yard Shoe 2.0. A new design supposedly fixes the problems with the old shoe and makes it the rugged yard-work-on-Mars shoe it’s meant to be. The shoe is being released in New York and London during special events designed by Tom Sachs and will later be released online in early July. I was lucky enough to get a reservation for the Nike event through the Nike Events page. The event was quite the experience.
A trip to Governors Island
The whole thing was a little annoying to get to. The event took place on Governors Island, a decent-sized island in the middle of New York Harbor. It’s really a beautiful place but the only real way to get to and from the island is by a public ferry (only $2 for a round trip ticket). It was a little grey out but the ferry ride was a pretty refreshing way to start the day (don’t blame me for sleeping in).
The island was understandably empty for a Thursday midday outing. There’s a lot of renovation going on around the island so a significant amount of space is blocked off for public use. It turns out Facebook was also having a company outing (with Fetty Wap, apparently?). A small part of the island was basically turned blue by employees wearing Facebook shirts. I ended up getting there an hour early just to be safe, so I took a walk around the island and got some food (empanadas and those Shots ice bead things, which are apparently still a thing).
At about 1:15 I actually got to go to the venue for my 1:30 reservation. Our small 1:30 group had the option of either skateboarding to the venue or getting on a golf cart. I very obviously took the skateboard. It was a relaxing 5 minute ride to a warehouse-looking building close to the edge of the island. The thing was a little intimidating, but people were pretty casually hanging about.
The area marked “START” in the picture above was the check-in area. A Nike employee made sure I was on the list of people with reservations for that day/time, gave me a wristband, and pointed me to another area to get my picture taken for an ID card. The first thing you’ll see is this extremely strange pentagram… thing? Apparently it’s the Sachs family crest. It’s a little off-putting but it’s pretty cool.
The ID picture setup is also ridiculous. There’s a handmade NASA logo for a background and the camera taking your picture is a bit of a monstrosity. Oh and a bucket?
You get a cool badge out of it, so I won’t complain. At this point I was told to stand around for a little bit while Nike set up the venue. I grabbed a cup of coffee from a very intimidating coffee stand surrounded by boxes of sorted nails (more on that later). The words “INDOCTRINATION” sat above the whole area, another hint towards what the whole thing was about.
So it got weird from there. Our small group of four people was shuffled into a room filled with white chairs with headphones on each chair. I’m not sure how many people the venue was really expecting, but it was probably more than 4. Each chair had “NASA” painted on the front and a name on the back — I picked the one with “Chris Beeston” on it because I used to live in a town named Beeston ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
What followed next was a 40 minute film experience that can’t really be described in words. The film follows a character lovingly named “Street Scum” through several stages in the Ordinary World and into the Extraordinary. In the first stage, “Boredom,” Street Scum is seen in a typical office environment, probably hating herself. I really don’t want to get into the specifics of the film because I can’t do it justice. The general theme seemed to be the transformation from the ordinary to the call of the extraordinary through willpower and seemed to fit in with the rest of the experience.
The rest of… it
Next came the actual “challenge.” We were all given a set of clothes which included a set of Nike/NASA shirt/shorts. We were also given a pair of Mars Yard Shoe 2.0s to wear for the duration of the event. Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear those home. You end up buying the shoes after the event at 21 Mercer in Manhattan. However, you can’t buy the shoes without completing the event. The clothes are yours to keep — they even write your name on them with sharpie. They’re also pretty sweet!
So the actual challenges turned out not to be that bad. Honestly, the whole thing was more of an art exhibition than a physical challenge and should be regarded as such. If you do have a reservation, go into it as if it’s an art piece. Interact with it as fully as you can because it’s really not meant to be physically or mentally challenging. Just have fun with it. I couldn’t get any pictures of this because we were asked to put our phones and electronics away for the actual challenge part. There are some photos online if you can find them.
Each challenge has three “options.” You can either participate in a hard version, an easy version, or “pussy out” (in the words of Nike/Tom Sachs). The first challenge is a rope climb (hard) or ladder climb (easy) to a bell at the ceiling of the warehouse. I picked the rope climb and it wasn’t really physically challenging. I’m pretty tall so I had to do less work than some of the others did.
The next challenge was the “helicopter” challenge. You’re presented with this contraption that basically amounts to a toy helicopter on a wire with four possible controls: up, down, left, right. It’s designed to only move along those axes, so don’t worry. You have to go pick up this “astronaut capsule” with a tiny hook on the bottom of the toy helicopter from one mini helipad, move the capsule to another helipad, and finally land on a third helipad. I don’t think anyone in our group passed this one, but failure was supposed to be a part of the experience.
After the helicopter came what can only be described as a big boy version of “the floor is lava.” You just had to jump over some fiberglass rock things and you could either jump over big “rocks” (easy) or smaller “rocks” (hard). At the end of this area you were handed an air gun which you then used to shoot something (anything?) from a wire with a bunch of moving targets on it. It didn’t matter if you hit something or not.
A quick hop across some more “rocks” brought you to the next area where you were asked to do some push-ups. You could either do regular push-ups (easy) or clapping push-ups (hard). After you look like you’re getting tired the attendant will just tell you you’re done.
Next comes the drawing board… thing? It’s basically a white canvas board with a bunch of lines on it. Your job is to take a pencil and make a new line across the board while staying as close to the line above it without touching and without taking the pencil off the board. I ended up “failing” immediately because my pencil was out of lead and I had to take the pencil off the board to click the back ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Failure is just a part of the whole thing. You can’t fail out of the event.
After the line drawing thing was squats. Easy or hard just changed how many squats you had to do and how much weight you had to do them with. The room is decorated with a sign that says “The reward for good work is more work” and the attendants will make you shout that after each good squat. Just do it, it’s fun.
Squats are followed by knot tying, where you’ll be taught to tie a bowline knot. It’s a pretty simple knot but it’s a lot of fun to learn and you just have to do it right once.
Then came a relatively large room designed to be more of an obstacle course. You have to do some lunges, then kinda hop over these small things, then you get to run up a wooden beam onto the bed of a truck and slide down the windshield. Seriously, just have some fun with it.
The next challenge was hard, but no one was keeping track of if you failed or not, so whatever. You’re basically in a room with reflective sheeting all around you and a disco ball making the whole room look a bit trippy. A bunch of plumb bobs are hanging from the ceiling and your task is to walk on this line through the plumb bobs without touching them. It’s basically impossible but it really doesn’t matter if you hit them or not. The idea is not to overreact when you do hit them so that they don’t keep swinging all over the place. The entire thing is a metaphor — it’s not meant to physically challenge you.
The last two exercises were basically just jumping over stuff. The first one lets you do a mini 5 foot trapeze jump over a tiny pool if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s fun. The second exercise was basically more “floor is lava” but with giant logs instead of fiberglass rocks. That’s the whole challenge. You can even do a mini challenge afterwards that involves sorting screws based on their function, size, and head type/size.
So that’s the whole thing. After you’ve gone through the course you can talk to someone who writes your name and size down and sends that information over to 21 Mercer. You’ll have to give back the shoes you get at the event, but you get to keep the clothes and you can buy the shoes at 21 Mercer (they’re reserved) if you’re so inclined.
Honestly, this was one of the best sneaker experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never really considered myself much of an art lover, but the whole thing really spoke to me. There was something about an interactive art exhibition designed around a passion of mine (sneakers) that I really connected with. The message of willpower and a calling to the extraordinary was pretty apparent the entire time. The idea that failure is required of you repeatedly is almost comforting, even if you get a little annoyed every time it happens.
If you have a reservation to the event but you’re on the edge about going, you should really go. If you hate the shoe, there’s no one forcing you to go into Manhattan to buy it. The event is an experience and an art exhibit before all else. Go into it, have fun, take all of the challenges as seriously (or not seriously) as you want. Take the hard challenges! There’s no problem with failing over and over. If you’re going to go all the way to Governors Island for this thing, experience it the way you want to experience it. I never felt like I was being judged during the experience. It felt almost religious and it really resonated with where I am in life and my (probably unhealthy) obsession with sneakers. And to Tom Sachs (and Nike), great job. I’m going to wear these babies to death.
Leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like me to write about! I’m always happy to take suggestions and I’ll even credit you if I end up writing about it :-)