Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A lot of people claim to love traveling.  But when you ask a few questions it quickly becomes clear that they actually hate traveling.  What they like is getting there.  They take the quickest route possible and complain intensely about five minutes of delay.  Sometimes they even shut the airplane window and sleep the whole way.

I like going places.  But what I really like is traveling.  I like being in transit between one place and another place.  The slower and more scenic the route, the better I like it.

For instance, I like flying.  But given the choice, I prefer a small plane to a big one so we can fly low and look at the scenery.  Or a train--trains are wonderful.  While we were in the middle of a twelve-hour drive from our house to Chicago the other week, I commented that I am so glad we always drive instead of flying.  John looked at me like I'd grown a third eye.  We drive because it's hard to wrangle the kids on a plane and because if we had to buy three, soon four, tickets every time we wanted to visit his family, we would never be able to do it.

You see, flying, especially on a commercial jet, gives you the surreal sense that you've just walked into a metal tube, rumbled for a few hours, and walked back out to find the airport rearranged.  The whole thing could be an illusion.  But when you drive, you see every mile between here and Chicago.  There are a lot of miles between here and Chicago, it turns out.  And in that space there are so many people, and fields, and cows, and water towers, and silos.  You can see the scenery changing; you see the real difference between Virginia and Illinois.  Each is its own unique place, you see.  We're not yet to a homogenous America, and I hope it never becomes that way.

My favorite method of transportation, where practical (and it hardly ever is) ... is walking.  There's no better way to get a real sense of the distance between things.  And you can actually take in the stuff in between -- the cars with no wheels and dozen bumper stickers and the toys sitting out in people's yards and the historical markers and the old guys sitting out on the porch.  It's nothing exciting.  People would be annoyed if you promised them a chance to "travel" and then showed them a succession of these suburban delights.  But these are the bricks and mortar of our lives, and of other people's lives.

It's not just about the scenery.  I also love the way walking makes me feel independent.  Some people get that feeling from a car, but I've never owned a car.  We own one now, but John is the primary driver and the one listed on the title.  What has always made me feel independent is knowing that if I need to go somewhere, I don't need to rely on anything outside myself.  The trip doesn't cost a cent, and it can't be canceled because of a flat tire.  If I lived a thousand years ago or a thousand years from now, I could still get around the same way.

I mean, imagine if you were transported back to the Middle Ages.  (Something I keep wishing would happen to me.  Not really ... but ... maybe?  I hear they had cows back then!  But no tomatoes, so maybe not.)  We think of the challenges of getting by without a flushing toilet, drawing water, having to start a fire before you could cook anything.  But perhaps the real challenge for a modern person would be having to walk everywhere you wanted to go.

This really came to mind as I was researching my book.  Did I mention it's a historical fantasy?  It is, and sometimes my characters need to get around.  You know how in the Middle Ages everyone just galloped around on horses every time they needed to get somewhere?  About that.  Turns out horses are expensive to keep and there were large segments of the population who didn't have one sitting in their garage, er, stable.  Shank's pony was the way to go for most people.  So I ended up having to do a lot of research on how long it might take to walk from Liverpool to Cardiff, or Bath to Gloucester, or, you know, all over the place.  Google Maps is a start, but it tells you just how long it would take, in hours, if you kept up a constant speed of 3 mph.  Turns out you can't actually walk for 96 hours at a constant speed of 3 mph.  That speed is going to vary a heck of a lot based on who you are, how fit you are, how long you've been walking, what terrain you're walking on, what you're carrying, and what sort of weather you're walking in.  So I read up on walking.  What is it like to run 100 miles in a supermarathon?  (Hellish, apparently, but they do it in 24 hours or so.)  How many days would it take you to hike 100 miles?  That would be on rough terrain, having to carry a tent and your entire food and water supply for however long you thought it might take.  Experienced hikers said to budget a week for it.  What if you were a member of the United States infantry, or a Roman legionnaire?  In that case you could do it in four days, or if you were really pushing it, three.  But what if you were just walking through the suburbs, not carrying anything, and no particular hurry?

The answer here gave me pause.  Someone on yahoo answers said that he didn't think your average American could do it at all.  They just wouldn't make it.

Personally, I think that's hogwash.  I don't care how out of shape you are.  (I don't mean disabled, but out of shape.)  If you start somewhere and start walking, sooner or later you'll get where you're going.  You may find yourself wanting to die at some point along the way.   You may also find yourself thinner and stronger when you get there.  But the human body has never been tested against distance and found lacking.  Humans spread from Africa all the way to the tip of South America on foot.  It just took awhile.

This of course made me resolve not to let myself get stranded at home for days in the future, but to use the two legs God gave me to get where I want to go.  Grocery store?  It's 1.3 miles.  That's nothing.  I might not want to lug all the stuff home, but I can go buy a jar of peanut butter, no problem.  The library is a mile even; the church is less.  I do the church one every Holy Day of Obligation.  (This is, incidentally, the reason I switched from "yay, more feast days!" to "can't we have this one dispensed with too, please!")

But before I was married I really did walk everywhere I wanted to go, and it was awesome.  I remember exploring every street in our neighborhood when I was 14, feeling like an explorer and drawing a map.  I remember the awesome feeling of walking 45 minutes to the grocery store at the age of 16 or so to buy a candy bar.  I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do.  I remember how it jolted me out of my blue mood every Sunday when I walked to church when I was 22, and how I got to see the weather slowly change and the cherry blossoms come out.  Why can't I get back to that?

I tried it today and now I remember.  Two things hold me up: hills, and kids.  The hills around here are really something.  And it's not like you can go up a hill on the way there, and down on the way back.  No, it's UP-DOWN-up-DOWN-down-UP the whole way.  To get to church, I have to go down maybe 30 total feet of elevation.  But there's simply no way to get there without going up and down, each by quite a bit more than 30 feet.  Most of the options are very steep.

And kids throw in a whole monkey wrench.  By myself, I don't mind hills much.  The ups are harder than flat, and the downs are easier, so it comes out even.  With a stroller, the ups are torturous and the downs are scary.  You have to lean back against the stroller the whole time too, so it's as exhausting as the ups, or almost.  Right now I have an umbrella stroller and a carrier, and we tend to mix it up -- Marko riding and Michael in the carrier, or Michael riding and Marko walking.  I can't really ask Marko to walk as far as I do, but together the two kids weigh over 50 pounds, so it's no insignificant weight to haul no matter how I slice it.  Then of course there's questions like working around their naps (never go when it's not naptime, or they'll nap in the stroller; never go when it is naptime, because they will invariably be kept awake), planning ahead (bring a sandwich that no one wants, or don't bring it and have them whine the whole way that they wanted it?), and weather (I don't mind most weather if I'm sufficiently bundled, but how extreme should my kids be expected to endure?).

My mother managed with me, and manages now.  I have vivid memories of being dragged along on walks that felt interminable.  If I whined that I was cold, she would tell me to imagine I was sitting by a hot fire, drinking hot cocoa.  I seem to remember that this worked really well.  And in more recent memory I have seen her with my own eyes pushing a loaded double stroller up an incline that (to me) looked almost vertical ... while carrying a third baby in a front pack.  Apparently all she made me endure, walking-wise, has not put me off walks forever; rather the opposite.  And the main whining I have to endure on walks is, "No, not home again already!" so maybe I should stop worrying about what I'm subjecting my kids to.  They like it.

Building up the serious muscle it's going to take to truck them all the places I want to go, though ... that's the challenge.  I was tired just going about a mile today.  (Ooh, actually it was 1.6 miles!  I feel so much better about life!)  But perhaps tomorrow ... or later this week ... I can try for two, and actually brave that steep hill between us and everything else.  In case of exhaustion or emergency, I can carry 50 cents for the bus.

I can do this.

P.S.  Guess why I'm blogging today instead of writing?  I finished the first draft of my novel!  (That is to say, the first draft of this version.  Since it's a totally new thing compared to what I started with, I count it as a first draft.)  It's 99,000 words.  Pretty sure that's too long.  It might be 99,000 words too long.  I finished it too recently to be able to tell you whether or not it's complete drivel.

I have some edits I already know I need to make, and when I'm done with that phase maybe I'll be brave enough to have someone read it.


Amy said...

We walk. Mostly because we have no car and the buses cost considerably more than 50 cents. But I love it. Places that once seemed much too far away, we now walk to regularly. We do have a really pedestrian-friendly town, though. And no hills, thank goodness! This Illinois native does not cope well with hills! Now I just need to convince Gus that he can walk more than 30 feet. He'll trace the lines of a soccer field for an hour, but ask him to walk 5 minutes to actually get somewhere, and he acts like his legs don't work!

Enbrethiliel said...


Walking for the win! =D

I learned to love walking in New Zealand, where most of the people--well, most of the locals--in my hostel were happy to walk to uni. It was about an hour away in good weather, and my culture shocked Filipino brain could not at first comprehend why anyone would do that when they could take the bus. =P But I eventually learned to love walking. If the Manila weren't so muggy and smoggy (and her roads so badly maintained), I'd probably walk to work regularly, too. It's only an hour and ten minutes away--and I know because I've completed the walk twice! (This may not seem like a big deal, but I had colleagues gaping at me when I told them.)

PS -- You may have noticed that I measure those walks in time. I find that only practical! =) In fact, I did not realise, until today, that my hostel and my university's campus were five kilometres apart! I had misread the hostel brochure. So all this time, I was bragging that I could walk 1 km in one hour without realising what a piddling figure that actually is. LOL!

Sheila said...

Yeah, one km in one hour is more like the speed Michael walks. ;) Three miles an hour is pretty standard, but I'm a bit slower than that with the kids along.

In Rome we all walked a lot, but you're right, it's a heck of a lot less pleasant in a polluted, smelly, not-always-safe city. John actually did a pilgrimage with a friend from St. Paul Outside the Walls to St. Peters, which took them most of the day. I kinda wish I'd done something like that.

I have a dream of someday walking from Maine to Florida. I would take Route 1, which is historic in many places and is basically regarded as the first road to connect all 13 colonies. It would be awesome. It would also take two or three months. I can't imagine doing anything like that in the next ten or maybe twenty years. But a girl can dream!

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