I wasn’t locked into 30 miles, you know. I mean, I wasn’t married to it. Thirty just was the distance Google gave me for my walk from home to church. It just turned out that way. If it had been 25 miles, I wouldn’t have stretched it for the big Three-Oh.
But it was 30, or 29.8 to be exact, and with a couple of minor retraces (once I went in the wrong direction for a minute or so; another time I realized I’d dropped my phone charging cord and went back to retrieve it), so with that and various sweeps through parking lots to stay away from traffic I ended up with 30-1/2 miles.
Of note: After years of technical wordsmithing, I’m well aware that the U.S. stands alone with its customary units, as obstinate as we are (used to be that Liberia and Sierra Leone were the other non-metric users, although that appears to have changed. And there are variations within the British imperial system, if colloquial and minor). So when discussing distance, for example, in miles or segments of miles, we use fractions, not decimals. When I see someone write, “2.5 miles” I shudder from nerd alert.
So it wasn’t about a number. It was about finishing. You get that.
And I wasn’t married to that, either. The safety valve in this long day was that an injury or other situation that kept me from going on was a spouse with a car, never too far away. If I had to, I could stop.
I hit the willingness wall at 25 miles, then. There was gas in the tank, although I was out of water and getting thirsty. I wasn’t in the desert, just wandering past businesses and private homes and the occasional school, all of which had water, I assume. It just wasn’t that bad, yet. A dry mouth.
I could still pick up my feet and put one in front of the other, though, and even straighten my posture and pick up my speed. But I sat on the curb on a busy street, cars whizzing by at 50 six inches from my toes, and I stared at the hill I was required to climb, and I momentarily gave up. I texted my wife.
But she was in the middle of a celebratory dinner, and as they worked it out for a minute, who at the table was willing to leave and pick me up, I decided that I had come far but not far enough. And the longer I sat, the stiffer I’d get, so I stared at that hill and decided I’d at least see what was on the other side.
Turned out there was a grocery store, and I got hydrated, and that made the difference. I dropped my speed and tried not to look at the distance left, which would have been a nice walk on an ordinary day, but then. This wasn’t ordinary.
Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.” – Henry David Thoreau.
“Ruminate” comes from the Latin verb ruminari, which essentially means to chew over, like a cow and his cud. Take it in, then wrestle with it for a while. This is rumination. This is walking. This is me.
Thomas Jefferson was adamant. “Walking is the best possible exercise,” he wrote. “Habituate yourself to walk very far.” I’m not a particular fan of Jefferson in a historical sense, as he saw his future country as agrarian, a land of self-sufficient farmers, an apt philosophy from a solitary man who preferred thinking and reading. He was a conservative, if only in that simplistic way we try to connect centuries of political labels and thinking. It’s not a good match, not with today, and I prefer his arch-enemy, Hamilton, at least a little, when it comes to visionary republicanism (and no one had vision like Franklin), but we could say that he mastered a simple life, if bordering on luxurious (although, as with other Founders, particularly Washington and as opposed to Franklin), he carried a lot of debt through his later years, maintaining his lifestyle.
He ate sparingly and was a modern nutritionist’s dream, a semi-vegetarian who tolerated a little meat but mostly fruits and vegetables. He eschewed tobacco, the crop that made America and that he grew, and drank weak wine at dinner, which he enjoyed but kept in its place. As he did his teeth.
And he walked, daily rambling his estate, letting his mind go where it went.
I’ve run. Running is different. Biking is fun, and fast, but tricky and dangerous, and lends itself (from my limited observation) to a seriousness that doesn’t look appealing. Plenty of exceptions to that, but I like following Jefferson’s advice and letting my observations guide my mind. Thirty miles of walking will give you stuff to think about.
I listened to a couple of podcasts, one of which was fascinating and the other more resembling prattle I wish I hadn’t overheard, but mostly it was me and mine. I walked through neighborhoods I’d never see, not in a million years, and took in sights I would have whizzed by in a car.
And, eventually, I remembered. Even as a boy, I wanted to wander. I didn’t, not really, but I thought about it, gazed at hills stretching away from the highway on long family trips and imagined walking over them, to see what was next. I’d forgotten that boy, and so that was a benefit, a little reminder of who and what I was, and what I thought about way back when.
A lot of it was pedestrian, too, if you’ll forgive that, ordinary and necessary. Checking the map. Watching for cars. Stopping to sit on a bench or curb, long enough to rest a minute and post an update, then back to the road. There was plenty of time spent just negotiating with a world that moves a lot faster than a walking human, waiting at stoplights, looking both ways, staring down drivers who got too close.
But there were other things, covering my bases of rumination. Some were observational, particularly as I walked through Rich People Land (they walk their dogs very stylishly), and of course the sunshine made the beauty pop. I live in a great place.
There were other things, but this is getting long and I’m still ruminating. I walked to a church because that’s where my ride was, so it wasn’t a pilgrimage, but then of course it was. This is a home for me, a place and people I love, people who laugh and sing and then serve, not as a golden ticket to heaven but because that’s what you do when you laugh and sing. You want everyone to.
But I’d still call it sacred, or at least in the neighborhood, and I was grateful. Nine years ago I was dying, lost in my own screwed-up psychology and biology and sociology, addicted and sour and completely disconnected from The Other.
And I walked 30 miles the other day, as I told a few people, because sometimes I need to do something that’s hard, because sometimes when I’m confused and a little lost it helps. Just so I can say, if you can do this, you can do anything. It’s something I’ve repeated several times since 2006, and I hope a few more times to come. It was about the future, then, and also the past.
I didn’t get unlost. I just got a chance to see where I had been, where I started, what battles I found myself in and which ones are to come, and to know that on this particular day, I won.