There is a well-known walkers’ route in my hometown. As the weather gets warmer, dozens and dozens of women flock to these sidewalks. They have sweatshirts tied around their waists, and they exaggerate the movement of each arm swinging into the air. Left arm—whoosh. Right arm—whoosh. As a kid, you spot all your teachers, your dental hygienists, and your friends’ moms walking as the sun slips away.
As a kid, I knew: walking equaled boring, slow exercise. I didn’t know the power it held.
Walking isn’t just an exercise for the body; it’s a retreat for the soul.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.”
I became a walker in 2008. I wish I had some beautiful story about the epiphany of walking, but I don’t.
I was living in Berlin, Germany. It cost 2,60€ to ride the S-Bahn to my German lessons and back. My husband’s bike lock had just been cut (we had flimsy locks, which were adequate for the German village were we’d lived previously), and I was too afraid to leave my bike unattended at school. So I stubbornly announced, “I’m walking home tomorrow.”
I downloaded an audiobook on my iPod, and I started walking home after class. I’d pick up some groceries on the way home to justify the extended journey. Even the quietest streets of a city are loud. Cars are racing down the cobblestone. Bikers are ringing their little bells. Kids are laughing and shouting. My story was impossible to hear, so I yanked off my earbuds. I started listening to everything else.
Suddenly I found myself stepping through a whole new story. My senses came alive. I started seeing and hearing the story of German people and their culture. They were using the words I’d just learned. They were going in and out of churches and shops that I had never seen when I biked by dozens of times. I could smell fresh basil and croissants. My mind slipped into this euphoria of general happiness free of any frets. And that’s when I began walking to school and back every day. I even had rain pants!
Photo by Katie Clemons
Walking can transfix you.
You can feel comfort like you’ve never known. Step-by-step, your mind can let go of expectations and the millions of ideas running through it. I credit these long daily walks to the growth of my journal and scrapbook shop that I now run in the US (where I take long walks on gravel roads and dirt trails instead).
No one even knows that you are walking down the street in this state of bliss. I feel like walking long distances is a great secret that few people experience as we rush to multitask and cross off items on our lists. Try walking without doing anything else. No cell phone. No iPod. No chatting partner. Just you. In town. On a winding path. Let go of expectations and see where it takes you.
Where will that be?