Walking From Walk to Walk

In high school I decided to make walking a part of my life. From a perspective of twenty years later, I can say that I have succeeded. But sometimes I wonder-is the walking I do now the same kind of walking that I valued so much as a teenager and young adult?

On the surface of it, the answer is a plain No. As a young man with more imaginary than real miles under my belt, I aspired to walk. Like Colin Fletcher (who wrote The Complete Walker) and that Peter Jenkins guy who penned those cheesy A Walk Across America books, I saw myself walking wearing a big external frame backpack and holding a sturdy stick. I would camp in the pastures of friendly farmers and for cultural rejuvenation trek from one hippie enclave to another. By becoming part of the sociophysical environment I would drop out by dropping into what I imagined to be the real world. I longed to be the tiny solo walker on the horizon of someone else's vista, carrying all I would need on my back and in my mind. All this would happen by virtue of having chosen walking as my mode of travel, through space and through life.

Needless to say, there was a bit of flamboyance in this earlier concept of walking that long since has been reduced to something like a slightly embarrassing (but fond) memory. I've done my share of hiking and backpacking in the ensuing years, but travel by boot is no longer what I think of as primary walking-the walking that qualifies mine as a walked life. Nowadays, that stuff is just gravy, more associated with luxuries of time and recreational options than necessity.

What I have instead are my near-daily walks to the same few places around my neighborhood. The grocery store, the bakery, the dry cleaners. The bookstore, the bank, the hardware store. The post office, the shoe repair, and the accountant. The lakefront, the tavern, and the rib joint. And the art center, the gallery, and the museum. Because even the final trio of places are well integrated into the flow of local pedestrian traffic, the mundane stops that form my restricted treks reveal nothing of my former grandiosity of concept when it comes to walking. And yet, somehow I feel that I am only now on a practical level fully realizing the basic significance of walking.

It has to do with frequency, which has to do with necessity. And, necessity in turn has to do with the essentials of living. Preparing food. Buying, cleaning, and mending clothing. Maintaining a shelter. Nourishing one's mind and enjoying a little friendly social contact. So even though my walks now last forty-five minutes or an hour and a half instead of days, the meeting of essential needs is still a defining feature of my walking. Only now, I am running ordinary errands rather than packing my home with me. So I experience the significance of walking without the ostentation, which is probably more fitting to the unremarkable act of walking anyway.

But just as my former heroic notions of walking were the product of an imagination that belonged to my younger self, my current walking depends on the fact of my extremely walkable surroundings combined with my relatively many daily needs. Perhaps one day I will walk for changed primary reasons. For health, or for work. Or maybe for the spiritual and religious reasons that in my current life I prefer to explore in other ways. As my available resources and needs evolve, so too does the walking that I walk.


- Dan S. Wang