The Miles We've Walked
Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don't think, "Hey, I did sixteen miles today," any more than you think, "Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today." It's just what you do.
Bill Bryson, "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail"
A car is a prosthetic device, according to Rebecca Solnit in her book, Wanderlust; A History of Walking, that confounds our bodily experience of the earth, its unfolding rhythms obscured by tarmac and painted lines. We usually drive to get somewhere, or to run an errand. Walking, on the other hand, is automatic, as natural as sleep or hunger, yet before the pandemic, many of us had forgotten its pleasures, or walked only for exercise, checking our mileage and steps on a Fitbit or an app. Then our daily routines unraveled, and we began walking without destination, without purpose. City or country dweller, we set out on foot to remain healthy, to get outside, to inhale fresh air after being inside for too many hours, or to walk and talk well-distanced with a friend. One of my city students wrote to say he left his apartment one day and before he knew it time had passed, he was daydreaming, and ten miles from home, on the other side of the park, ambling along the Hudson River. The bus ride back broke his reverie, but he has never forgotten the sensation of walking just to walk, without a goal, without clocking his miles, his thoughts unfolding like the road in front of him, or like the draft of a short story he was working on.
I am hopeful that we are re-discovering America on our rambles—what remains majestic and pristine, and what has been destroyed. If we continue the habit of walking into the landscape and using all our senses to experience it, we will most certainly become devoted conservationists, an unexpected yet welcome consequence of so many months of staying close to home.