Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Endangered Walker - Boers

I recently volunteered to be endangered. I became a Toronto pedestrian when the media was preoccupied with the number of walkers killed on our streets.

My wife and I moved here last year, determined to reduce our reliance on motor vehicles. At first, I traveled to work by taking the bus with my bike in the morning (concluding that trip with a quick largely downhill bike coast to the school from the last stop) and then riding my bike all the way home in the evening.

I don’t mind riding in the cold. So I did that until late November. But once the snow came down, roads grew slippery, and drivers even more predictable, I decided no more bicycling until the spring. So I caught the bus and walked the remaining 15 minutes to work every morning through a lovely East Don River park.

That did not seem enough exercise, however. I am middle-aged guy with a middle-aged shaped body and a long aversion to athletics. Add to that a family history on both sides of heart problems and I am a very good candidate for very bad coronary issues. What’s a geek like me to do?

On and off over the decades, I exercised on foot. One year, I walked 7 kilometres every day at 5 a.m. I wondered if I could do something similar again. I explored our area, trying to find a one hour early morning route. This was not satisfying. Although we are within city limits, it’s solidly suburban here, reflecting what some call the “geography of nowhere.”

Around then I read a book about urban walking and the author made a throw-away observation that people once did not think much about walking an hour to work. That struck a nerve. Many friends casually drive or bus an hour or more each way everyday but few go on foot for that long.

I wondered what would happen if I strolled an hour toward work and then grabbed a bus the rest of the way? I was delighted to find that 60 minutes got me into the East Don park. Then not much distance remained. So on most days, I walk to work. It takes between 65 and 75 minutes, depending on sidewalk conditions and how I feel that day.

When I begin I’m often preoccupied by what lies ahead in the day and the tasks that need completing. But as I walk, moving legs and swinging arms, I gradually release preoccupations. By the time I get to the park, I’m no longer anxious but in a good space to enjoy the scenery of icy stream, snow covered trees, and frozen fields. As I descend from the street into the greenbelt, traffic noises recede and I am embraced by growing silence. Even better, I see wildlife right in the city. One morning I studied a clump that looked like a deer. I realized that it was only a bush but then heard a noise, turned around, and saw a fox trotting nearby. The following week I saw a bush that resembled a deer. This time it was two deer!

Walking can be countercultural. A friend likes to stroll two hours every evening. He’s afraid to tell anyone because they might consider it eccentric. But not many of us are embarrassed about watching television, surfing the net, playing video games, or driving for two hours. Why are those things normal but walking not? Walking habits are endangered too.

For now, I lace up my boots most mornings and walk to work. I just make double sure – even at intersections with traffic lights – to look both ways and around the corner behind me as well. Endangered is one thing; extinct is another.

Arthur Paul Boers is the author of The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and holds the RJ Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.


Dolores Ayotte said...

I love your article Arthur! Walking changed my life. I started over twnety-five years ago and I haven't stopped since. It's great to know I'm in such good company! :)

Peter Black said...

Refreshing, Arthur!
I felt, and caught a sense your regained health and wellbeing, and saw nature through your eyes. And just ... just perhaps, your piece will play some part of moving this post-middle-aged guy into action, too.:) (That's not a commitment, but a thought -- a point and place of new possibilities!)Thanks.

Glynis said...

Oh to have such discipline. My intentions are always so good. But somewhere in my day, I lose sight. Maybe I should read your post again (and again) and fortify my spirit and desire to 'make time' to walk. Such an opportune time to be still in the spirit and commune with God! Great Post, sir!

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