‘Well, there’s always walking’
These were precisely the words a friend said to me when I was indulging in a bit of self-pity. I was lamenting the loss of my physical ability to participate in activities that I felt had defined my life.
She intended to console me and point out a physical activity I might enjoy – walking.
It didn’t work!
It would require a reckoning before my friend’s wisdom would become apparent to me. I had to continue feeling sorry for myself for several months first.
Finally, I gave my rock climbing gear, skis, bicycle and kayak to friends I knew would use them. Then, and only then, did I seriously consider walking – I thought of old people shuffling around a mall in the early hours before it opened.
It dawned on me that I am an oldster, too. The aches and pains I experience upon waking each morning are constant reminders of this fact.
Of course, I was aware of the primary benefits of walking regularly. First and foremost, the initial investment is mere chicken feed compared to other outdoor activities.
Walking is a minimalist’s dream. You don’t have to buy a lot of stuff.
The only absolute requirement, unless you live on a beach, is a suitable pair of footwear. Suitability is defined quite differently throughout the world. In many Asian countries and parts of Latin America, people walk incredible distances in nothing more than sandals, even flip-flops.
Here in the west, we tend to believe that our feet have an innate design flaw. We are encouraged to nestle our dogs in contoured, padded enclosures lest they fall off.
There is good paleontological evidence going back some six million years that states otherwise. (More on this aspect of walking in next week’s column.)
Although minimalist running wear was all the rage a few years ago, we are now back to wearing shoes and boots designed for specific terrain. My point here is that all you need to walk are your feet and, if you insist, a comfortable pair of shoes.
Most activities require the presence of other people. You can go rock climbing alone, although you probably shouldn’t expect to be present for the birth of your first grandchild.
Golfing alone may cause some real psychological problems. This involuntary solitude may stem from your grade school report card stating in all capital letters that you “Don’t play well with others.”
Walking can be a solo activity of meditation and thought, or you can share your ridiculously mundane thoughts with a fellow walker, as I unfortunately did.
I have a terrible habit of talking endlessly on arcane subjects of which I am not an expert in any sense of the word.
I was walking with a friend down the Greenbrier River Trail near Seebert when I launched into a lecture on a much-debated experiment in quantum mechanics. Somewhere near Burnside, I realized my friend was no longer with me, at least not mentally.
She was honest with me about her preferences while walking and made it clear they did not include classroom lectures. I was grateful for her honesty, albeit a bit embarrassed. She held a mirror up to me, and I made the necessary changes.
My point in telling you this story?
You may want to avoid hiking or walking with someone who will chew your ear off babbling for hours about his Art Deco ashtray collection. Likewise, be sensitive to those you are walking with, as many seek the woods for silence and reflection.
There are meet-up groups for walking, walking clubs, COVID walkers with masks and distancing, mall walkers, walking with a good friend, or walking with your significant other, or, in my case, walking with my dogs.
Walking can also be a wonderful experience all by oneself. Whether you are socially inclined or not, walking is a rewarding activity you may enjoy.
For decades, the health benefits of walking have been touted by health professionals, exercise gurus and, of course, sports shoe manufacturers.
There is no denying that even moderate walking results in lowered blood pressure, weight loss and reduced stress by releasing “feel good” endorphins. Walking is known to reduce the psychological effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The health benefits of walking will be discussed in greater detail next week in For Your Consideration.
Providing that you have the physical ability to walk, Pocahontas County is arguably one of the best locations anywhere for those inclined to “saunter out.”
We have more than 350,000 acres of public lands, including national and state forests and five state parks, within which are hundreds of miles of maintained trails.
Finding a suitable place to walk in Pocahontas County is close at hand wherever you are in Nature’s Playground. (Disclaimer – unpaid advertisement)
I listened to a few podcasts on the health benefits of walking and purchased Henry David Thoreau’s final book, “Walking.”
As I read through this short work about Thoreau’s penchant for walking, I am reminded of his wit and ability to turn the unseen and ignored into something of interest.
I was hooked when I read, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” This book also dispelled my former belief that walking was something you did when you could no longer run.
I would willingly put my 40-plus years of daily running behind me and be a novice student of the art of walking. I decided to share my new passion with readers, who may or may not be enticed to follow suit.
However, I do not feel that I am wholly qualified to speak about the art of walking. My entry into daily walking is relatively new, and I have yet to embrace the philosophical aspects of walking that Thoreau spoke of so fondly.
Though, I acknowledge that there are benefits of walking that extend beyond the physical and social.
Only one person comes to mind when I think of the type of walking that Thoreau advocated. Mark Mengele is the consummate walker – he was forest bathing long before it became a trendy pastime. *
Many hikers and walkers stare at the ground a yard or so ahead of their feet. Not Mark. He looks up and all around; he takes it all in as though he is absorbing the forest and its secrets. His pace is attuned to one that allows nothing to go unnoticed.
I don’t think he always knows how far he will walk or how long it will take when he initially begins hiking. Distance and time seem irrelevant to Mark.
I don’t think he has ever gotten lost. Likewise, he eschews the high-tech gadgetry that the younger hikers feel is a necessity. Maybe, just maybe, there is an old-school compass in some corner of his pack – maybe not.
He still loves maps!
You remember those, right?
Concerning those who truly understand the gift of walking, Thoreau says, “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering.”
Henry David Thoreau would have regarded Mark Mengele as a kindred spirit. Of that, I have no doubt.
In next week’s conclusion about walking, we’ll discuss the moment when we humans decided walking offered more advantages than living in trees. We will also discuss why walking upright is not all good news – there is a downside to it as well. Finally, we’ll examine a recent study showing that walking has more wide-ranging benefits than we previously thought.
* Forest Bathing means that in addition to just walking, you also observe and delight in the natural world surrounding you. It is a popular Japanese concept.