I recently did something I haven’t done in a very long time: I sat down and read a book for hours on end. I listen to a lot of books on tape on my way to and from work — and I’m usually pretty sad at the end of my commute because story time is over — but I haven’t actually sat down with a book for a while. So for a few days this week I threw caution to the wind, ignored my school work, my family and my friends and yes, read a book. I’d forgotten how good it feels to get lost in a book and feel yourself transported to an alternative, seemingly more exciting and inspiring universe where people use fancy words and everything just seems perfect and ideal.
The lucky book was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I picked it up from the library’s monthly “featured” section because it’s about hiking the Appalachian Trail, and in an ideal world, one in which I can take six months off work, and am a fit, outdoorsy, resourceful, hands-on kind of person who has no problem carrying around a 50-pound pack, sleeping on the ground in proximity of bears and going without a shower for days, I’d hike the Appalachian Trail. It seems like a very romantic-discover-yourself-one-with-nature kind of thing, but then reality sinks in and I’d really rather sleep in my bed, shower on a daily basis and stick to day hikes. Anyway, I’m not sure why I haven’t read any of Bill Bryson’s books. He loves traveling, I love traveling; he’s a writer (of books), I’m a writer (of blog posts); he makes his living writing about his travels; I got paid poverty-level wages once upon a time write about MY travels. Obviously, Bill and I have some things in common. Anyway, like I said, this book is about his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I use the word attempt because it turns out he didn’t make it. Still, I admire Bill. When he attempted this trek, he was a slightly overweight middle-aged guy and successfully hiked 10-15 miles a day with a 50-pound pack on his back up and down mountains and made it 800 miles. That’s more than I’m willing to commit to.
So there I was, curled up on a chair, Alfie at my feet, night-time quickly approaching (I already miss long summer days) having a grand old time (really, the best time I’ve had in a long time), reading about one of the things I love most, at least theoretically: Walking. I’m not some hardcore hiker, but I go on one-hour walks on an almost daily basis and longer walks on the weekend when I can. It’s one of the things that makes me feel really good about life. So I started thinking about all the different types of walks I take on a somewhat regular basis and came up with this list:
1.) Urban walking. Although it’s not my favorite kind of walking, I enjoy a good, sensory-overload, maybe-I-should-seriously-consider-moving-to-a-city walk. It’s nice to see people walking to an actual destination rather than walking from Maple Drive to Oak Street in a power-walking frenzy. A sub-type here is the urban park-in-the-middle-of-the-city walk, which is always nice because it feels so far removed from the urban environment surrounding it; and in a way, nature is so much more valuable — and noticeable — when it’s scarce.
2.) Suburban walking. Though it may be considered the most bland and boring among the walking varietals, suburban walking is probably the most popular. When you embark on a suburban walk you can expect to encounter the following: Exactly three types of houses painted in exactly three different colors, lawns in various states of attractiveness, adequately maintained concrete sidewalks, aesthetically pleasing, efficiently spaced out trees (needle pines, oaks and pear trees mostly), an impressive variety of Japanese cars, overly pampered dogs, joggers in tiny shorts and yes, arm-pumping, determined-looking power-walkers. Like urban walking, there exists a sub-type here as well, which I will call the suburban-wooded trail varietal, where an asphalt or dirt trail magically appears at the far end of a neighborhood. Follow that trail and you will be warmly and satisfyingly enveloped in a world of trees, creeks and squirrels. Millions upon millions of squirrels. I actually really like this type of walking because I always feel like I’ve discovered some secret world nobody else knows about (although the presence of other walkers on the trail puts a dent in that theory) and I can pretend I’m doing real hiking without actually doing real hiking. It makes me feel very…creative. And inspired, if that makes sense.
3.) Fear walking. I do a lot of fear walking. I used to do a lot more, before I had a smart phone with GPS. I’m prone to fear walking because I’m prone to getting lost. I’ve spent way too much time lost in the middle of Bogotá, Panama City, D.C, Athens…but nature fear walking is the worst because there are no street names to ask you, no arm-pumpers to point you in the right directions and ultimately, you could end up stranded, starving and thirsty in the middle of nowhere with no one to rescue you. But there are other feeling related walks: There’s anger walking, happy walking, relaxing walking, de-stressing walking, insightful walking, think-things-through walking, inspirational walking, motivational walking, thought-provoking walking, creative walking…the list goes on and on. Mostly, when I walk, I happily zone out.
4.) Semi-Nature walking. I think of local and county parks as semi-nature walking. Yes, you absolutely feel like you’re in nature. You’ll likely see plenty of birds, squirrels and deer and maybe even a fox or some wild turkeys — but you’re not more than a few miles from the nearest Census-designated place (here in Northern Virginia, most places are CDPs rather than towns; I find that strangely sad) and the nature is generally tame, managed and manicured for the visitor’s pleasure. For example, I love going over to Walney Park after work for a nice two or three-mile walk. It’s just a couple of miles from my house, but I have to drive there and there aren’t really any houses visible from the park. Just this lonely, semi-isolated green space designated for recreational use.
5.) Nature walks. I think of nature walks as parks, areas or trails further removed from civilization. Places, if you live in the suburbs as I do, that you generally have to drive quite a distance to get to. These are my favorite kinds of walks but the kind I do least, mostly because gas is expensive and I’m afraid it’ll turn into fear walking due to my horrible sense of direction. But when I do go nature walking, I enjoy the whole process: Seeing the flat, uncomplicated landscape turn into hills then mountains, driving down country roads with the windows down, stopping at general stores to buy runts and diet Pepsi, Getting some apples from a roadside vendor, taking pictures of old barns, houses and paths, wondering what life would be like in a rural place and, of course, the actual walking part. So long as you don’t get lost, there’s something very soothing and comforting about walking in nature.
So thank you, Bill Bryson, for reminding me how much I enjoy being in nature and for inspiring me to head over to Shenandoah National Park this weekend for a nice walk in the woods!