Before Wild and the blogger who walks the coast of Wales with a donkey, there was pre-teen and teenage me, who walked all over Chicago’s far South Side.
That’s right. I was way into extreme walking before it was cool.* Because I didn’t have a car until I was 19.
Walking is essential to my well-being. I’m not much of a hiker; I’m a city walker, a promenader and pontificator. Seattle is one of the best walking cities; there’s water everywhere, our gentle weather rarely interferes with a good stroll, and it’s only the most beautiful place on the planet.
But Chicago is where I learned to walk. First to our coffee table, then to the end of the driveway, then to my little brick school, and then to everywhere.
Ode to Travel on Foot
Sometimes, I didn’t walk, I ran down city streets, avoiding garbage cans, almost crashing into pedestrians. I ran so fast I thought my lungs would burst. I wish someone would have warned me that running would never feel That Good again. Sure, a run feels good and necessary, but it not like a teenage anything-can-happen run, a run where you’re laughing so hard tears stream down your face, a run where your only goal is to topple into your best friend or escape some kind of trouble.
I walked with friends, a big group of them. I walked to their houses miles away, in the next neighborhood. I walked in red Chuck Tailors or heavy black boots. Sometimes we’d meet at halfway points, usually a cemetery or a fast-food restaurant or a pizza place. We didn’t have enough money to do anything but walk. It led to the greatest teenage adventures. Screw the boring old scheduled parental drop-offs at the mall, we were wild and free. We strutted under star-sprinkled skies like we owned the world. We walked to train stations that would whisk us into downtown, where we’d walk some more.
I walked to Chicago’s South Side Irish parade, not the one where they dye the river green, the one where they start drinking at noon. It was one of those must-not-miss events where every.single.person you knew would be there and they would all be wearing Notre Dame sweatshirts, green wigs, and shamrock stickers. (Side note: this parade was cancelled because it got too rowdy.)
I walked before iPods, no Walkman, just me and a cracked sidewalk, sprinklers, sometimes yells from passing cars. I walked through my own perpetual inner dialogue, through corridors in my mind. I walked until I came to conclusions, epiphanies, inventions. All forgotten when I returned. (I wonder if Einstein was a walker?)
I walked into characters; an old woman who fed about fifty cats in her yard everyday. Once she put down the food, they would come from all angles, mewing and rubbing against each other. Then there was the complete stranger who leaned over a fence and asked me if I wanted a job taking care of his bed-ridden wife. (I declined).
I walked in winter, crunching snow under my feet and sliding it off fences with a swoop of my gloved hand. Icy curbs became balancing beams, snow piles grew into mountains, and slippery puddles turned into skating ponds.
I walked in summer to the corner to buy Slurpees from 7-11 and Bazooka Joe bubble gum (grape!). My cousins, sister, and I saved all the wrappers because we thought the fortunes on the bottom of the comics would come true. We stored them in a box under a circle of bushes at an apartment complex. Weeks later, we walked back to reread all 150 or so of the comics we collected. Still waiting for my fortunes to come true.
I walked to the library where I first fell in love (books, not boys) and I walked back with a big stack of them.
Sometimes, I walked into trouble. My old neighborhood is full of the kind of tough kids who not only refuse to take any gruff, they give it to you once in awhile. So a few times, I’ve been “jumped”, slang for when a big group of thirteen-year-olds throw rocks or eggs at you, push you, call you names, steal your bike, or any of the above. To this day, I’m kind-of jumpy when confronted with a group of teenagers.
Sometimes, I walked home and into a house full of people who cared where I had been, what I had been doing. This is the single best thing one could have.
*This is me being kind of sarcastic. I love the Seaside donkey blog, it’s great.
Tell me, did you used to walk everywhere? And what’s the longest you’ve ever walked?