The Call of the Trail: An Ode to Walking

When my mind is in tangles, I walk. Sometimes it seems that there can’t possibly be enough miles in front of me to sort through the cobwebs, the demons of doubt, the frustrations or sadness or fear that sent me to the trail in the first place. Pounding the earth with my feet, I envision myself physically hammering out the swirls and tangles and figuring out the feelings that won’t easily give themselves up for understanding.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always a grumpy walker. Many days when I hit the trail, my feet feel like they are floating above the earth, like I am gliding effortlessly across the landscape. On these days, my heart does a happy dance with every step. Akin to a “runner’s high,” I would have never thought this state was achievable through walking. But here I am, a former runner, and an now an avowed walking addict.

I’d have to check my baby book to find out exactly when I literally started walking, but I feel like I only started truly walking in earnest– as a practice of meditation and awareness, as much as an exercise– back in 2007 when I was training for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure for the first time. I didn’t want to be under-prepared for the 20 miles a day of walking, so I over-prepared instead. If you follow the suggested 24 week training plan, you walk 585 miles to prepare yourself. I added at least a few extra for good measure. If you then count the 60 miles you log at the actual event, you have put in 645 miles of trail time in a 6-month period.

Walking is kinder and gentler on my joints than running, but obviously, the downside is that it takes much longer to walk ten miles than to run them. Yet, as I have gotten deeper and deeper into the practice, the time seems to work in my favor, forcing me to settle and calm into a steady, intentional rhythm. I know I’ve found it when my gait begins to have the same easy feeling of comfort that I have when I’m rocking on a porch swing, as if I could go forever. And in losing myself to this rhythm, I find myself more aware of everything around me, which in turn seems to magically loosen the knots in my mind, at least to some degree.

Once I start noticing things, I can’t stop. I never know what first will catch my attention and take me away from myself. Sometimes it’s a long wait. But eventually, it happens. Sunlight, shadow, dragonflies, chirping birds, irises in bloom that remind me of my grandmother, lilypads on water, geese with their goslings, the smell of lilacs. I know I’ve achieved walking nirvana when even ordinary weeds seem to leap out at me as if an emblem of ultimate beauty.

Forgive me for possibly seeming to portray walking as a panacea for all ills. No, it can’t fix everything. And while it happens to be my passion, it may not be for the next person. But my theory is that we all have something that will have this effect on us, if we let it find us.

Sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough miles in front of me to sort out my tangles. But almost always, by the time I finish, it seems like there were just enough.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Huge thanks to Steve Kaul & The Brass Kings, for permission to use “Big Jim’s Blues” from their new CD “Machine” as the soundtrack to this story.

8 Comments on “The Call of the Trail: An Ode to Walking

  1. What a delightful post. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it! In fact, I’m feeling so inspired that I think I need to go take a walk!! Best, Jeanie

  2. For years I’ve lived the word coined by the French poet Charles Baudelaire. He used the word “flaneur” for one who was a walker, stroller or observer of city life. I’ve spent many hours in that mode. So while your perambulations (I’ve always wanted to use that word at least once in my life) are of a rural nature the spirit is similar: They both represent a complete philosophical way of living and thinking.
    So how about we meet half-way, Lucy?
    Charlie

    • Charlie, thank you for introducing me to the notion of “flaneur.” I love the idea. Even though this particular walk was on my home trails which happen to be more of mother nature than city scape, I do adore a good city walk, as well. And the streets of Manhattan are amongst my favorite. Totally different, but yet somewhat the same in the experience of being lost in the flow of it all. Now you have me thinking about a city version of the walk video. I think that could be some good fun!

  3. Oh, and terrific story, Lucy. I got carried away in the true spirt of a flaneur, strolling by, observing and then moving on.

    • Thank you for the nice words on the story, Charlie. I appreciate your thoughts very much. I hope that if I undertake the city version of the walking story that you might steer me to the hidden nooks and crannies of NYC? Already having fun contemplating what music would accompany the city sequel.

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