I have a special place in my heart for Bonn because I spent around 5 hours walking and stopping and walking and stopping along the Rhine. During which time I stroked a lovable golden retriever through a fence; lay against a tree to watch and listen to other trees shimmering in the wind and light; got asked for directions I didn’t really know by two German women; and sat down on a shore of pebbles where clear, miniature waves would come in from the river to topple. I saw the sexiest tree bark in my life, and walked a long way on a small path flanked on both sides by swaying grass as tall as myself.
I know it would have been quicker and more comfortable to cycle. At the start I kicked myself for not going that route as I watched carefree person after carefree person whiz by. But I got into my walking groove, which only gets groovier as surroundings get woollier. I hope I can bike more throughout my life – it’s refreshing, not slow, energy saving and energy harnessing (psst, this = muscles for you!). I love the wind through my hair, although the full brunt of it on my face and torso on a cold evening is a tad less thrilling.
Walking is my first love though. It comes from somewhere. It comes from the extreme disgust and boredom I felt as a child as my mum made us trudge over some big grey bridge in Singapore after what seemed like hours of being on foot already. From the cynicism and boredom I felt as an adolescent as our teachers made us trudge through soggy, dripping New Zealand bush for school camp. From the anticipation and desperation (so, so far from boredom!) I felt a few years ago in Madagascar when my volunteer co-ordinators guided me in trudging through rural land and forest to get to base at the end of a long, effortful day with no food in stomach… But two soggy baguettes wrapped in newspaper in hand 🙂 Dunking soggy baguette into nutella in the hut that’s been yours for 10 minutes as the world outside starts to grey with the ending day and quieten with rainfall. That’s the definition of heaven! :))
Clearly I digress.
I walk when I arrive in a new place to find out about my environment and to feel the life about me. My housemates in France were perennially astonished that I preferred to use my feet to get me to Biarritz and to explore Anglet. It’s true that in that area of France, the southwest coast, it is very hard to get around if not by car. Public transportation is scarce unless you’re making your moves in the height of summer along with thousands of other tourists, and it is expensive. The 15 minute bus ride from the house to Biarritz cost me 2 euros one way. But I didn’t have a car. They offered to pick me up and drop me off places of course, and one guy in particular was an angel in coming to get me when on occasion I would set back for home just a bit too late in the day. But they had lives. There was no way I was going to call on them for every wandering holidayer whim I had. What mattered to me even more than being considerate however was feeling like I had my own understanding of the area I was in. You don’t learn when you’re being removed from your location, shuttled to another in a matter of minutes, and all of a sudden dropped down there. Well, I don’t 🙂 Maybe I enjoy the ride too much.
Beyond this, walking is a vital component to developing a sense of intimacy with places. Let’s be honest, the travel aspect of it is almost incidental to me, I just can’t get to places quickly with my leg span. Walking makes me feel like I’m being with the place. I can see more, I can stop more readily if something stirs or rustles. I can hear and feel the wind as it is.
I’m a New Zealand girl, don’t ask me why it’s important that I can sense the wind as it is…
When I walk I feel like I’m not trying to change anything. I’m not using and then dispensing with the land. It’s not something I pass through to get to more relevant places. I’m not a powerful human whizzing, zooming, rushing on to do my obviously important things.
I’m just completely a limited, humble and yet entirely appropriate creature in my environment. I feel like I fit in with the world when I am walking.
What is life without a twist though? Not life, methinks.
This weekend I went on a hike with three Swiss guys in Swiss Romandie (the French portion). The plan was roughly 7 hours of hiking on the Saturday and Sunday. Well, instead it took me and my lifesaving friend 10 hours to get to the hotel on Saturday because I started to feel a lot of pain on the outer side of my left knee about 4 hours in. Pain that only got worse the more upping and downing we had to do. In addition to carrying my pack for me, my friend scrounged up a big walking stick, without which we probably would not have made it to the hotel the last second before nightfall. I took the train I hadn’t known existed down on Sunday.
Oh well. There is a difference between simple walking and hiking on mountains. And I’m still really glad that I got the opportunity to be in the midst of all that beauty. And I’m amazed that I walked through 5-6 hours of pain, not to mention at one point I had been trying so hard not to cry with each step that I could feel myself on the verge of hyperventilation. I now know that the answer to this problem is: stop and get calm again, it’s better to cry standing still; and most importantly of all, get a stick. Nature (with the help of a friend in my case) provides. Just got to figure out now if the harder version of walking is something I can train myself up to. It would suck immeasurably to find out at the age of 23 that I shouldn’t consider such an undertaking again in the future.