Yesterday morning, longtime Nebraska Energy Observer contributor Audre Myers shared a charming post, “Walking …“—a reflection of the late 1960s and Woodstock. Regular commenter Scoop posted an achingly nostalgic response that sums up the significance of Woodstock to that cohort of early Boomers—it was the last incandescent burst of rock ‘n’ roll’s triumph before petering out in the 1970s (which, I would argue, is when hard rock got good).
The tug of nostalgia is a strong one. I’m only thirty-five, and I already feel it from time to time. Indeed, I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia, which a psychologist might argue is one of the reasons I studied history. Perhaps. I also just enjoy learning trivia.
Regardless, Audre’s post caught my attention because I have been contemplating the literal, physical act of walking lately (although I often take metaphorical strolls down memory lane, too). I’ve put on a bit of weight in The Age of The Virus, so I’ve taken up walking as a way to complement a regimen of calorie counting (which is more of a loose, back-of-the-envelope calorie guesstimate each day).
I’m trying to get in around two miles of focused walking a day, mostly around Lamar. Although work commitments don’t always make that possible, I do find that simply going about my work results in around two miles of walking in aggregate. I’m curious to see what my step totals will be once the school year resumes, and I’m dashing about between classes, pacing the rows of students, and striding across the boards as I teach.
I’m not a runner, by any means. My older brother loves to run, and has the physique to show for it. More power to him, but I know myself well enough to know it’s not something I want to do. Runners swear oaths to running’s efficacy and delights, but gasping for breath in 100-degree weather with maximum humidity doesn’t appeal to me. Walking at a brisk clip in that weather, though, is at least bearable—once I’ve embraced the stickiness and the sweat, I can go for a couple of miles easily, and sometimes three or four.
What I find appealing about walking is that, even at a decent clip (I’m averaging just north of sixteen minutes per mile, so my pace is just below three miles per hour; it seems fast to me), I’m able to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Walking gives a perspective on a town that is impossible when driving—I can begin to see some of the details of my town.
The local elementary school, for example, is a node about 0.7 or 0.8 miles into one of the routes I’ve worked out. There are stone pillars with “Class of 1935” spelled out in rocks and shells—something I’d never noticed driving by the school. Imagine the children graduating from elementary school in 1935 picking up the pebbles to make that sign. Less profoundly, there is a winged Batman sticker placed perfectly in the center of a circular “Do Not Enter” sign in the driveway. What merry prankster planted that sticker? What were the conditions under which he thought to plop down the Bat Signal in that place and time?
I also cut through the backside of our impressive local library, which shares a border with the local United Methodist church. There is a fountain embedded into the side of the library, which provides some pleasant babbling (in that regard, it has much in common with this meandering blog post) as I hit the hot exposure of Main Street, with nary a shady spot in sight. From there, it’s a long, sunny stretch past Piggly Wiggly and some convenience stores (another detail—I now know which gas station doesn’t charge extra for using a credit card) before I hit US 401-N (with sidewalks, no worries) and the final leg home.
These short jaunts around town are fun, but I’m increasingly interested in longer distances, even if I don’t have the shoes or the stamina yet to pull them off. I’ve been rereading a book I picked up in Ireland in 2006, Michael Fewer‘s Walking Across Ireland: From Dublin Bay to Galway Bay. It’s revived an absurd interest I’ve had for some time in attempting a walk across the State of South Carolina—absurd because of the dangers and difficulties in walking in the country in the United States.
In Walking Across Ireland, Fewer points out that Great Britain has long-established traditions pertaining to walking, and that established trails must be maintained not just by the UK government, but by the farmers and landowners through who’s land the trails run. Legally, there are right-of-way customs and laws that make it possible for long-distance perambulators to walk through sections of private property. Ireland, apparently, has similar customs, though not as well-established legally as Britain.
The United States, on the other hand, does not have nearly such established protocols. We love our quasi-allodial land rights here, as evidenced by the ubiquity of dollar-store “No Trespassing” signs. So walking long distances becomes very difficult outside of hiking trails in State parks. But long-distance walking is not hiking—there is a subtle difference. It’s hard to put into words, but the goal isn’t necessarily to scale a mountain or to walk entirely in the country. Long-distance walking is strenuous, but a bit more accessible to novices than long-distance hiking or running.
There was a brief moment in the 1960s and 1970s, however, when long-distance walking was as popular as Major League Baseball. President John F. Kennedy’s emphasis on physical fitness inspired some long-distance walking clubs to pop up in the United States, and groups like the Boy Scouts would undertake long walks.
Sadly, that fad seems to have died out, though it’s still thriving in Europe. Climatically speaking, Europe seems far more comfortable for walking than traipsing from Aiken to Myrtle Beach. It’s a continent, too, that’s basically the size of a shopping mall, so walking from Spain to the Ukraine doesn’t seem quite so daunting.
Regardless, I’m excited to do more walking, albeit short-distance. Brace yourselves for more self-indulgent reflections on this hobby in the weeks to come.