Besides being good for the constitution and daily mental digestion, walking is the best balm there is. And now I can hop on the Grand Trunk Trail, part of the Trans Canada link and wend my way to work. Yes, spoiled indeed.
Seven year and four score ago, when I lived on the Grand River in Dunnville, Ontario, I began walking to my massage biz (13km one way). I weathered three winters and sloppy springs (and 17 farm dogs that liked to give chase) on a bike and needed a change. My then nosey neighbour, Ingrid, finally summoned up the courage to ask me her most burning question. “So, when did you lose your license?”
I never lost my license. But, if you live in Dunnville AND walk or ride a bike, clearly you’ve been slapped with a DUI. I was flabbergasted that Ingrid had come to such a conclusion, and then quickly realized that the whole of Dunnville probably thought the same.
Now, as I walk to work at Langdon Hall Country Hotel & Spa along the Blair Road (a measly 8km), co-workers slide to a dust-cloud stop on the gravel shoulder and wave me to their vehicles. I catch up and pant, “I’m okay! I’m happy to walk!” (Although, I did pass my shoulder bag off to Christina on one occasion. Later that day she confessed that she drives to the Tim’s drive-thru just a block from her house. Walking is not her je ne sais quoi.)
She made me wonder about the possibility that I have Masai blood. I definitely felt a connection to the Kenyan flats and could, even today, in this lifetime, imagine a content life amongst cattle. Walking. Looking for the next viable watering hole. Allowing the sun to be my beacon, not a watch.
Other friends (not drive-thru Christina) insist that they too would walk further and longer, given the time. Kids can be a stick in the spoke, bringing such grand notions to a screech. Some dogs don’t even make walking feasible—RIP dear Mila. If I caught Mila post-breakfast (and pre-Coronation-Street-nap) she was generally cooperative and almost willing to wander through Clearbrook Park. Suggest a walk anytime after 3pm and Mila was a no-go. According to her dog watch, 3:00 was cutting it way too close for her to squeeze in a walk before her 4:15 kibble. Insert image of me mildly dragging Mila halfway around the park only to give in to her anxiousness minutes later. Insert following image of me having to keep up to her sudden gallop and renewed energy to get back to the house in anticipation of dinner.
I’ve always walked. I think I missed the bus every other day in high school, mostly due to socializing. I had no qualms—it allowed me the excuse and pleasure to cut through West Brant and hop on the tracks and follow the rail line home. It was probably 10km—but I found cheerleaders in accompanying chickadees and cicadas. The soundtrack of that walk was outstanding. It was a pleasant departure from the bus and the reek of someone’s token tuna sandwich. Because of our “remote” location in the country, my siblings and I were the first ones on the bus and the last ones off. I’d rather be walking.
I even love books about walking. At night I have Karsten Heuer-like fantasies. Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison, followed the migration of a 125,000 member herd of endangered Porcupine Caribou for five months across the Yukon and Alaska. Heuer chronicled their 1,500km slog across the tundra to the calving grounds in Being Caribou.
I have Colin Angus fantasies too. The steely tendoned adventurer self-propelled his way around the world in Beyond the Horizon, clocking in 43,000km on bike and row boat from Alaska to Siberia to Portugal to Costa Rica to Vancouver, in a round-a-bout way (which only involved 4,000 chocolate bars and 72 inner tubes).
Shirley Maclaine’s The Camino revved me up even more. Maclaine walked the 600km pilgrimage route across Spain, her very marrow vibrating with the ley lines and their juxtaposition to the Milky Way. Surely, if Shirley could do it, we can too. Kim and I are eyeing this journey in a few years, so reading Maclaine’s experience was like rifling through a diary of secrets for me.
The Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) traces the route of the pilgrims to the burial place of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. Though I don’t have a Christian bone in my body, walking and sharing The Way with Kim will be marked with a parallel gratitude. The meditation and marvel for me will revolve around how we can design such miraculous experiences in our lives— simply by saying “let’s do it. We can make it happen.’
This weekend urban romantics around the world will be celebrating the vision of Jane Jacobs (author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities). “Jane’s Walks” are held annually to revisit her pioneer notion of walkable, sustainable, lively cities—something her 1961 book about urban life and redevelopment poured the foundation for. Walking is the framework of communities!
As George Macauley Trevelyan mused, “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.”
Where will you walk today?