A few days ago I finished reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I’m still chuckling. Bryson tried to walk the entire 2,000 miles and more of the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 1996. He never finished but I recommend the book as a reminder that finishing is not everything and that appreciating the journey (and having a sense of humor) is everything.
You don’t walk the Appalachian Trail, you hike. And there is a difference.
Every once in a while Bryson leaves the trail to search out a little civilization and he discovered what many of us power walkers already know. As Bryson says “hardly anyone…walks anywhere for anything”. Moreover, “…in America now, it is not actually possible to be a pedestrian, even if you want to be.” Bryson goes on to describe an adventurous one and a half mile walk he attempted in an effort to find insect repellant at K-Mart. He describes a walk that many of us training for marathons have experienced: one with 6 lanes of traffic, no intersections with “WALK” buttons, sidewalks ending for no reason, concrete barriers, bridges with no pedestrian way, and worse.
The bad news for Bryson, when he finally made it to K-Mart, the store did not carry insect repellant. The good news for us is that we’re usually just trying to cover miles on our training schedules and we can avoid areas that are not pedestrian friendly. Still, it amazes me that even in my home town of leafy, residential Oakville, which stretches probably 20 kilometres across the shore of Lake Ontario and 2o kilometres north from the shore, that we often walk the same roads again and again because so many routes are simply not feasible for people using two feet.
It’s a shame really. And as much as I laughed at Bryson’s description of his attempts to transverse urban America in search of insect repellant, there is a part of me that thinks we should be taking action to institute urban and suburban planning that encourages more walking. Not everyone may want to train to walk a marathon, but it would be good if more people walked to pick up milk and mail.