“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
I’ve been a walker all my life.
When I was little, I walked from necessity. I spent my childhood outdoors, and to get from home to anywhere you had to walk.
When I got a little older I woke up to the liberating power of walking.
I walked hundreds of miles on the streets of Berlin when it was still fenced in, still somewhat pockmarked from the war, wistful and forlorn. I walked the ruins, I walked the East, I walked the West. I saw it transform over the years, but every time I walk I still discover places I have never seen. I walked there from loneliness, I walked from curiosity, I walked from boredom.
I walked all over London, freshly arrived as a teenage runaway, I kept moving, to grasp the city, to understand England, to understand a culture that was entirely foreign to me and quite hostile. I walked many evenings and nights when I had nothing else to do, when I just wanted to be among people. I walked the East End, I walked the canals, the river, the old industrial areas, the docks, the cemeteries, the Metro-land suburbs.
And I fell in love with New York by walking endless hours until my feet were swollen and blistered, because I couldn’t possibly stop – the streets were so exciting, so busy, the people so beautiful and odd. I walked the Bronx, the outer reaches of Queens, every neighborhood in Brooklyn from Maspeth to Gravesend, and every block in Manhattan.
Many of my literary heroes used walking for epiphanies, for transformation, for understanding.
Louis Aragon, who wrote so well about the chance discoveries, the peculiar magic and mystery of Paris, creating a larger framework for experiencing the world.
WG Sebald whose books are from the perspective of the solitary walker, the solitary traveler.
I thought nothing of walking 10, 15 miles at a time, and I would have walked longer if my feet wouldn’t give out.
But the point is, I walked because I wanted to.
When I first got a pedometer I was intrigued to learn how much I actually walk. But when I started to set goals everything changed. I began walking for mileage. Five miles every day, six miles every day, eight miles every day. I walked circles in the neighborhood, circles in the park, circles in the cemetery because I had to hit my goal. I’d pace up and down the apartment just hit a round number.
I no longer walked for pleasure, for curiosity, for loneliness. I walked just to walk.
“And once had, the data mind is hard to shake” writes Craig Mod in his essay Paris and the Data Mind, where he describes the abject disappointment of climbing the Eiffel Tower and then realizing that he forgot his Fitbit, making the trek not count.
“Part of me wanted to cab it back to the hotel. Cab it back and clip on the Fitbit and do the walk again. All of it. Mirrored and remapped. Climb the Eiffel steps once more. Ground it. Make it real in the ether.”
I’m trying to rediscover my old way of walking – open to what’s around me, ready to be transformed, open to detours and adventure, unconcerned with mileage.
The basic rules are:
To never walk just for exercise
To walk into the uncharted
To walk with my eyes wide open
To lose myself
“To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away … to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” ― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost