You know, I really like walking.
Okay, big surprise, right? I did, after all, thru-hike the AT and attempt the PCT, and loved every minute of both. But even when we're not talking about hiking or backpacking, walking is great. Even in relatively boring places, there's something to be said for it. I used to walk miles and miles, often at night, around my hometown back when I was a moody teenager. Somehow it seemed to help. I've always loved going out walking the dog, or wandering a bit in the woods, the train tracks, or just cruising the neighborhoods. I used to walk to work, back when I lived where it was feasible.
I walk a lot less these days, unfortunately. Laziness, depression, and being tired from work, all conspire to keep me sitting on my duff, reading or watching TV. But a couple months ago, I took a walk while my truck was being worked on. It wasn't an interesting route, less than a mile each way, past a couple car dealerships and strip malls, then some empty lots, one being an abandoned trailer park, with nothing but concrete slabs and electric and water hookups scattered throughout the grassy field. Finally, there was the library, where I dropped off a book and loitered around killing time.
Like I said, pretty boring, bland scenery. But though I'd driven that route a ton of times, it was like experiencing an entirely new place...which I was. Driving, you zip by at 40 miles an hour, speeds unheard of until, what, 170 years ago? Maybe less. And not counting race horses. Until passenger rail got going, almost no one had any experience of speed past their own fastest run, and most of the time they walked. Now it's backwards, where we are so much behind the wheel that our own cities at walking speed are totally strange to us.
So while I didn't have any great experience on this short jaunt, I did reflect a bit on how enjoyable it was, even in the chafing humidity. It's a good way to see the world, and commonplace though it was, I enjoyed what I saw. It reminded me again of that Thoreau quote, mentioned in my post Lines of Travel, about how "There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the three-score-years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you." There's always something fresh.
And I can't imagine a better way to see the world. This is a scale and tempo that fits perfectly. And it's nice to dream, of a future where people walk a lot, and they have shaped their cities to be human. No more walking the mean streets past blank brick walls, endless strip malls and dealerships on cracked and broken sidewalks, where sidewalks even exist. These are low things, and I think this is part of why people don't walk much anymore. We got so used to the convenience of driving, that everything began to be built at car scale and car speed. Blocks got longer, signs got bigger, there was less need for detail or interesting things to look at because at 40 mph, it's sort of a blur. So we end up with cities that are ugly and repellent to walk in, further strengthening the vicious cycle of more driving.
|These guys all know what I'm talkin' 'bout.|
I used to reflect on my AT hike that what I was doing was the most natural thing for a human to do: I was walking. I was also thinking. Are these two traits not among the most important when it comes to discerning humans from other animals? Walking erect on two legs, and complex thought. Since I was hiking in a group and meeting people all the time, you can throw in talking/language too. I think this is part of the allure to a long hike. It's literally back to basics: just the act of walking brings you back to yourself, to your basic nature.
Yet this is attainable on any neighborhood jaunt. A thru-hike is a special case (in all senses of the word), but just walking down to the grocery store gets you there. It may take a mile or so to get into the rhythm, but it's always there. I begin to wonder about the "science" of reflexology, whether they are on to something, whether the stimulation of your stepping feet sends energy running like jolts of electricity up the legs all the way to the brain, inspiring thought, and energizing the body along the way.