Until recently, the idea of going for a walk for fun never crossed my mind. I preferred mountain biking or skiing. But in July 2019, my fiancé, Andrew, 34, was hit by a van while riding his bike. He survived—just barely—but his left leg was paralyzed.
He came home from the hospital in October. Wearing a rigid, full-leg orthotic brace and wielding forearm crutches, Andrew ventured out in our neighbourhood in Boulder, Colorado. Initially, going up and down the block exhausted him. But by February, he was able to unlock the knee joint of his brace and stabilize his leg on his own. By mid-March, we were walking up to 90 minutes at a time.
When COVID-19 came to Colorado, the ski resorts, breweries and many other vestiges of normalcy began shutting down. Suddenly the streets were filled with people who were also just … walking around. Couples sauntered. Families with young children trooped the sidewalks. I started walking on my own, too.
Each evening, I’d get on a local trail. I drew deep breaths of the damp, piney air, and gaped at the panoramic views of the Flatirons [rock formations] jutting up over the horizon. The walks seemed to loosen my thoughts, bestowing clarity and inspiring ideas that I jotted down trailside in my phone.
But as much as I enjoyed my new walking habit, I was conflicted about it. Walking with Andrew was a wonderful way to spend time together. But when I wasn’t with him, well—I was an athletic, fit 36-year-old. Shouldn’t I be doing something more vigorous?
Billed for so long as a gentle, slow-speed form of exercise for older people, or for those looking to lose a little weight, walking had lost its appeal to much of the younger, outdoorsier set. But maybe all this stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of why we walk at all.
The history of walking as a means of liberating the mind spans cultures and centuries. Great thinkers from Nietzsche to Kant to Thoreau to early-feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir had walking practices. The hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, often involves walking several kilometres per day. Thru-hikers traverse entire continents in search of challenge, adventure and self-knowledge.
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