Reflections on Walking

By Sue Caulfield

I love to walk and have taken several walking pilgrimages over the years. I see walking as a way to connect not only with the present moment, but also with moments that span millennia of people walking on the earth. As soon as we became upright, we have walked and we have walked for longer periods of time than we have used any other modality to transport ourselves from one location to another.

Yet, walking is often viewed as an abnormality in U.S. culture. Within the last week, I had several interactions with people about my walking, to the extent they give me pause, leading to this reflection.

Walking to work, headed up a hill, a woman stops her car in the lane closest to me (which means she is going in the opposite direction I am walking) and asks me if I need a ride. I say, “no, thank you,” and she states that she felt sorry for me and wanted to offer me a ride. I thanked her again and we both went on our way.

Another day, as I am nearing my office building, a woman I do not know, but who must observe me, stopped to ask me if I was training for a specific event. I said, “No, I was just walking to work.”

It is not unusual for people to comment on my backpack when I arrive at an appointment. Getting my haircut, my stylist notes the backpack and asks if I walked to the salon. After I said, “Yes,” her response was “You did not!” That may be one of my favorite responses, as I have heard it multiple times.

On a more pleasant note, earlier in the week, I ran into an acquaintance that remarked on my walking. She had seen me walking down Oakland Drive and noted that I looked so happy while walking that she felt herself become happy just seeing me go by. It is true that I smile a lot when I walk, because I enjoy walking.

Perhaps one of the stranger conversations is one I had just the other day, with someone who was helping me at an appointment. Noting my backpack, she said I seemed to be carrying a lot with me. I replied that I walk everywhere and, therefore, need to carry whatever I will need at my various locations. Her immediate response was, “But don’t people hassle you when you walk?” I replied simply: “No, I walk all over the world and no person has ever hassled me.” She seemed genuinely puzzled at my response.

Indeed, I have had pleasant encounters when I walk. Walking in Wales admittedly lost trying to find my way from Llandovery (lambdovry) to Myddfai (mudvie), I came upon a home where a woman was shaking out her broom. I said hello and asked if she could point me toward Myddfai. Not only did she point me in the right direction, she pointed me toward a “short cut,” noted that her children had all gone to school in Myddfai and that it was uphill in both directions.

I found my way to Myddfai, stopped at the visitor center for coffee and a cookie, and journaled about how I now understood the truth of when my grandfather told me that in his day, not only did he have to walk to school, but also it was uphill in both directions. When you live in hilly country, you often navigate several hills just to get to the next place. It’s not a boast, just a statement of fact.

I do that here in Kalamazoo. Getting to work involves at least two uphill treks and two downhill treks. There is no straight route to work, so I zigzag to work, with a couple of different routes for a change of pace.

Recently in Turkey, I found myself walking from the hotel into town in a variety of places. In Kusadasi, the hotel was at the top of a hill and the town center was accessible via a sidewalk down the hill, past the town center, to a marina with wooden sailboats and a fortress that jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea. I would walk there at dusk and fit right in with the thousands of people out for a stroll in the evening air. Some would stop at outdoor cafes, others had ice cream, one night there was a giant screen and folks were watching a movie. No one was going to hassle me. I blended right in.

In Cappadocia, Turkey, the hotel was removed from any town, but was only about two kilometers from a great eshadowxpanse of lava (tufa in Turkish) rock formations that just called out for a good hike. So, one morning I got up and walked to the rocks, climbed all over the rocks, and walked back to the hotel. I did get to say good morning to one man, as he was opening up his business for the day. We exchanged pleasantries and I continued on my walk.

Walking in Paris in 2008, I found out-of-the-way museums and courtyards that I never would have experienced if I had relied on public transit tomont ferry me about the city. At Mont Saint-Michel, I walked in quicksand and now know just how uncomfortable it feels to do just that.

Out west this summer, I walked every chance I had to do so. At one park, the path to the trail was flooded, so I walked the circular parking lot for 30 minutes, because I could. It’s not always about getting somewhere. Sometimes, it’s just about moving.

The more I walk, the more I want to walk and I find myself just walking to where I need to go. Less and less days do I even contemplate whether to use my van. Granted, when there is heavy stuff to move or more than 4-5 miles in one direction, I use my van. I am grateful I have my van.

Yes, I keep track of my steps and miles. I do that, I believe, to feed the nerd part of me that loves data. Data provides baseline information. Data can lead to questions such as do I want to keep the same pace, aim for the same distance, up my game? I don’t know. I just keep moving. Its not about the FitBit, even though that small device has been instrumental in helping me develop a greater awareness of not only how far I walk in a day, but how far I can choose to walk in a day.

When I walk, I walk with my avocado-green backpack. I carry what I need, which most days have me pondering what I actually need for the day. Walking, for me, keeps me grounded and in the moment. It heightens awareness of my physical strength and my limitations. It provides a respite from the demands of the day. While I could wax sociologically on why walking is seen as an abnormality in my culture, I choose instead to note that walking is, quite simply, simple. Walking for me is like breathing. I just do it, every day.