by Alan Cook
Step, step, step, step,
left, right, left, right,
rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm,
chin up, shoulders back,
arms swinging, muscles singing,
blood is coursing through the body,
breathing, breathing, breathing, breathing.
Payoff for this undertaking?
Dawn is breaking, world is waking.
Flowers open, greet the morning,
waft aromas through the air.
Rabbits hopping shyly, scorning
safety of a hidden lair.
Hear the harmonizing voices,
small and mighty join in chorus;
bass, soprano, alto—choices
of cricket, frog and brontosaurus.
Faces kissed by baby breezes,
clouds play tag with newborn sun.
Hummingbird darts, hovers, teases,
Mother Nature's having fun.
Step, step, step, step,
left, right, left, right,
walking, walking, walking, walking,
muscles tensing, senses sensing.
Walking is the world’s oldest physical activity for human beings.
People have walked since long before bicycles were invented. Walking
also became the world’s first sporting event, predating the first
marathon run by Phidipides to announce the victory of the Greeks over
the Persians. Maybe if he had walked he wouldn’t have dropped dead at
the finish. Walking requires less equipment than other sports. Anyone
can become a walker who has two operational legs with attached feet—real
Our ancestors did a lot of walking when they hunted and gathered.
(Sometimes they also did some running, by necessity, when what they
hunted decided to hunt them.) Husbands and wives would walk to visit
their neighbors in other caves, to check out the animal skins their
friends sat on and the pictograph murals on their walls, and determine
whether they needed to remodel their own caves based on the current fads.
More recently, our ancestors walked because it was the only way to get
from point A to point B. There weren’t enough horses or camels to go
around. The working stiffs who were fortunate enough to have horses or
camels found them more valuable as farm animals or beasts of burden than
for personal transportation. In addition, many of the roads weren’t
paved, which made it difficult to ride bicycles and skateboards.
Then along came the internal combustion engine and eventually everybody
stopped walking. Well, not everybody. A few intrepid souls still went out
on the roads, the sidewalks, the paths and the trails and put one foot in
front of the other. Other people stared at them and wondered whether they
were executing a new dance step. What the non-walkers didn’t realize was
that the walkers were happier and healthier (both physically and mentally)
than they were and also looked better in short shorts.
Some people say that walking is boring. Since boredom is a state of mind,
just about anything can bore us if we let it. On the other hand, with our
advanced brains, we can turn walking into an exciting adventure. But we
must be open to the possibilities.
For example, as I said, walking is healthy. I suppose good health may be
boring to those who have never known the contrast of poor health, but
since most of us have had health problems at one time or another, the
feeling of being healthy shouldn’t be boring. So doing something to
improve one’s health shouldn’t be boring, either. We’ve all read the
studies that demonstrate the salubrious effects of walking on
cardiovascular systems, weight, cholesterol, bone density, mental
health—and on and on. The wonderful thing about the benefits of walking
is that almost everybody can enjoy them.
Walking is social. Many people walk in pairs. Two is probably
the ideal number for walking and talking at the same time. When I take
my morning walk I often meet two people walking together. How much they
talk depends on the sexual mix of the couple. A male and a female or two
males talk intermittently; two females walking together usually chatter
incessantly, as if they hadn’t seen each other for a month, rather than
a day. Sometime I’m going to do research on what it is they find to talk
Walking is sensual. Why do children run and jump, just for the fun of it?
Because it feels good. Because body movement is sensual. And we are
sensual beings. Sorry, but there is nothing sensual about driving a
Lexus Sport Utility Vehicle. All right, we use our eyes and ears, but
the rest of our bodies don’t participate. They vegetate while the
healthiness drains out of our health globules.
Walking is a great way to see the country. You can see a lot more at
three or four miles-per-hour than you can at 50 or 60—or 500. Every
tree, every fencepost, every cow, comes into complete focus and isn’t
gone before you can blink. You become part of the place where you are
walking. You can interact with your surroundings when you emerge from
your artificial shell. You are no longer just a spectator watching the
landscape whiz by faster than scenes in a movie on fast-forward.
Walking is a time for fantasy. Don’t tell me you don’t have fantasies.
Everybody has fantasies. Everybody needs to take time to fantasize. Some
people call it daydreaming. If we do our daydreaming while we walk we
will be more productive when we are working. We can scale Mt. Everest as
we labor up a hill. We can run a marathon and live to tell about it. We
can walk across the country instead of around the block.
Or we can step completely outside our bodies and do something unrelated
to walking. Take a trip, hit a homerun, become a movie star or the
lord-high executioner. Daydreams are good for us. They get us away from
our humdrum lives and clean out our psyches. And when we are walking we
don’t feel guilty about taking the time to daydream.
Walking is a stimulus to creativity. It gives us time to think. It gives
us time to solve problems, such as how to afford retirement after the
stock market has gone south, or how to keep a daughter from putting a
ring through her tongue or some other body part. We can figure out what
we want to do with the rest of our lives. Or invent things, such as a
tonic to make us eternally young and beautiful. And many a poem has been
born during a walk, as well as paintings, books and musical compositions.
This book is partly a memoir, partly my observations about walking (and
life) and partly a compendium of interesting places to walk in various
parts of the world. It is my contention that walking will make anybody
a healthier and happier person (it has certainly made me one) and that if
you are going to walk you should do so as much as possible in captivating
surroundings, even if we have to imagine them.
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Walking the World: Memories and Adventures copyright 2003 Alan L. Cook