Sunday, February 10, 2019

These Feet were Made for Walking

Worth noting this is from a NZ meander, not Brisbane
It was about a month ago. I finally made the leap and ventured on my first bushwalking trip using only public transit and my feet. It only took the nearly three years I've been living in Brisbane. Now, while I love sharing a good wander with a few moderately adventurous, low-key individuals, this little experiment was toute-seule. That meant I had a fair bit of time for thinking - after the work-related list-making and self-reflexive soul-searching, my mind started wandering to an apt topic: the act of walking.

Walking is such a simple, pedestrian activity for many of us, that day-to-day we don't tend to consider what incredible experiences we have at the tips of our toes. By all means, walking can take on considerable, even spiritual, significance. Consider El Camino de Santiago in Spain (and southern France), which sees upwards of 200,000 walkers (now not quite the religious bunch of yesteryears). While ultimately the goal is to reach holy sites, the journey itself is a central part of the experience. 

Unlike many forms of transport, walking requires patience and persistence (where you've pushed past the point of exhaustion) to get from A to B. There isn't the immediate reward, and sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated when there is no end in sight. However, once you've arrived, oh, that is an achievement to revel in.

It's more than that, though. If you think about it, walking is quite empowering.* Place one foot and then the other, propelling yourself forward with determination. And feet can take you to places you can get to no other way, or along routes that are themselves sites to see. Scrambling up creek beds or inching along narrow cliff-side tracks. But also down narrow alleys in old cities, or winding through bustling marketplaces. Walking to reach some place can make you realise that it is, in fact, possible to trust your feet. And I can't count the number of times those very same feet have surprised me with the feat of covering large distances.

Finally, I wanted to give a nod to urban walking. Not every place is designed to make walking enjoyable, easy, or safe. But yesterday, navigating my way around Jakarta jalan-jalan kaki, I got to thinking about how walking cultivates a very different perspective of the city. Rather than a taxi, a bus, or in some places underground rail, going by foot puts you right in the thick of life. You pass through the calm, tree-lined streets (yes, they exist) and the chaotic commercial thoroughfares. Not saying I care much for Jakarta, but I appreciate the experience.

I'm going to end on a quote from John Muir, which I think captures the greater nuances of the words we use to describe movement (here in the context of the word "hike") -
“I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”
Thanks for listening to my rambles ... perhaps it's time for another ramble! 

BONUS: One of my favourite (related) posts - An Ode to Chacos
* I realise that walking is not always possible, so please don't take this as a judgement in any way. It is one thing that I take great joy in, but understand that others do/must find satisfaction with other forms of transport and movement.