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Walking Distance

October 23, 2011
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“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright

That is mostly true, but I’m pretty sure I can’t walk to Japan. Not because of the distance involved but because it is an island. As much as I like to think I’m perfect, my water walking skills are strangely underdeveloped.

But the larger point is accurate. Plenty of people walk the entire 2,181-mile length of the Appalachian Trail. Others have walked coast to coast. Further treks are possible for anyone with the determination to undertake them. So it’s true that “walking distance” isn’t really an objective distance at all but rather a personal preference.

For a long time our preference was to walk. We didn’t own our first car until the age of 32. Five years later, the thing had a whopping 11,000 miles on it. Walking is how we got just about everywhere. Driving to the store for some milk fell in the same category as flying to Paris for dinner: things that never happened.

Then we moved out of the city. Now we take the car everywhere. We’ve discovered that much of the U.S. is designed to maximize distances between things. We regularly use the phrase “Sprawl Y’all” as shorthand for the way southern and western cities grow forever outward.

Wall-E, Disney-Pixar Studios

To accommodate the sprawl, and the cars it necessitates, drive-through windows are everywhere and for everything: prepared food, groceries, drug store items, financial services, dry cleaning, even liquor. We’re fast approaching the point where people never need to leave their car. Can Wall-E type lethargy be far behind?

Walking in this environment isn’t impossible, but it sure is inconvenient.

Old habits die hard, but they do die. Just today I caught myself jumping in the car to drive someplace I could walk in ten minutes. I never thought I’d become one of those people who considers a long walk to be what you take when a store parking lot is half full.

I can’t say I’m particularly pleased with this latest development.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2011 9:06 am

    Great photo. Where is it.

    • October 23, 2011 10:22 am

      Hi Pat,
      That photo was taken at the top of Saddle Pass Trail in Badlands National Park

  2. October 23, 2011 9:07 am

    It does seem to be a paradox that the people who walk the most are city dwellers!

  3. October 23, 2011 9:24 am

    And then we walk or run on a treadmill. Where does that get us?

  4. October 23, 2011 9:28 am

    We live in our motorhome, and we don’t tow a vehicle, so we do a lot of walking. We also have bicycles with us, but tend to walk more often than bike. We’ve noticed in the U.S. more than Canada that many new shopping developments don’t have sidewalks…you can’t even easily walk across the street to get to another store.

    We also think it’s funny how many people will drive around a parking lot (sometimes two or three times!) looking for the closest spot to the entrance to a store, even though an easy convenient empty spot is usually only a 30 second walk away. We don’t get it, but we know that we are in the minority!

    Anyway, enough computer time for now. Time to go for a walk…

    • October 23, 2011 10:31 am

      Originally we weren’t planning on towing a car either, but now I can’t imagine not having one. We put three times as many miles on our tow vehicle as we do our R.V. I suppose it’s possible to drive the motor home 30 minutes to a hiking trail, or to the grocery store, but I wouldn’t like the idea of having to pack up the house every time I wanted to go sightseeing or run an errand. We’ve also done several things with the car that I couldn’t do with the RV.

      You guys have been doing this longer than us, how do you manage without a car?

      • October 24, 2011 10:20 am

        Part of our reasoning is the cost of having a tow vehicle. First, the initial setup is expensive. Then, the wear and tear on the vehicle itself. And, we figure we get more exercise by not having a car around. We manage to find places to park the motorhome that allow us to do the things we need to do, plus not having a tow vehicle makes the motorhome itself much more maneuverable, and we’re only 28 feet to begin with. We like to get into out of the way spots sometimes, so we like that aspect of it.

        We also don’t mind taking public transportation, which is especially cheap here in Mexico. Taxis are cheap here too, so we’ve been known to use them as well, although I will never again pay for a taxi in Canada or the U.S.

        Yes, we probably miss some things along the way that we would be able to take in with a car. But, we manage to fulfill our days otherwise, so the tradeoff is worth it to us.

      • October 24, 2011 10:37 am

        It is all about trade offs isn’t it? The challenge is finding the right individual mix, and it sounds like you nailed it.

        Taking the RV down to Mexico is something I’d like to explore. We’re flying over Mexico this winter to backpack around Central America for two months. But maybe next winter we’ll RV through Mexico. I’ll probably be hitting you up for some advice on that, if you don’t mind.
        Happy travels,
        Brian

  5. October 23, 2011 4:12 pm

    Hi Brian,
    I would love to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I am drawn to do this. One day I may. I’ve walked eight miles before at one time but that’s as far as I’ve gone. So to walk the Appalachian Trail would be monumental for me. Thanks for the post! Have a great Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…

  6. Chris H. permalink
    October 23, 2011 7:12 pm

    This struck a chord. Whenever I go back to the UK I walk everywhere within reason (3 miles or less these days, since older age beckons) or take the local bus. Walking…what we called Shank’s Pony…was the norm when I grew up. Either that or ride a bicycle. We would take bike rides into the countryside for miles and miles as a family when I was a child, often to a pub with a garden in the summer.

    These days, I always feel fitter when I come back from a trip ‘home.’

    • October 24, 2011 9:50 am

      We’ve found most European cities are more walkable than those in the U.S. and generally have far better public transportation systems too. I think part of that is geography (the entire country of France is the size of Texas), part history (their cities are far older and their development was less impacted by the automobile) and part cultural. When and if we settle down again, we’ll be looking for somewhere we can walk and bike most everywhere. We’re finding slim pickings here in the U.S.

  7. October 24, 2011 6:57 am

    Sigh. I love your blog. I feel like it’s the life I could never have.

    Walking in Kuwait is inconvenient and sometimes even impossible. I miss living in the US!

    • October 24, 2011 10:32 am

      I’m very sorry to hear that you feel the life you want is out of reach. I don’t know your circumstances so I won’t glibly say “You can do it.” What I do know is that we’ve met all kinds of people living lives similar to ours; people of limited means; people with young children; people with disability; the very old and the very young. Often times more is possible than we realize. The only way to know what you can accomplish is to try. Good luck!

  8. October 24, 2011 9:17 am

    It also helps that when you walk, you don’t mind the time spent to reach your destination but to taste and appreciate those that you see and encounter along the way!

  9. joycedevivre permalink
    October 24, 2011 3:35 pm

    Walking is indeed a great part of travelling 🙂 Thank you for visiting my post. May your feet will lead you wandering in Cebu soon 🙂 God bless! – Joyce

  10. October 25, 2011 9:09 am

    Love this and your comment referring to Wall-E is right on the money!!

    • October 25, 2011 9:25 am

      When we left the NY metropolitan area, we were kind of floored by the whole drive-thru everything concept. We were so used to walk-up ATMs for example, we just assumed that they existed everywhere. So here we are, searching the entire circumference of a free-standing bank in a futile attempt to find the ATM. To this day, I’ve walked through more bank drive-thru windows than I’ve driven through.

  11. Atari permalink
    October 26, 2011 12:44 am

    I know what you mean about sprawl. I grew up in what was semi-rural (now suburban) Georgia, and it was almost 5 miles to the nearest grocery store. Atlanta is a city built on car culture where the idea of taken public transportation is laughed at. Even when I was visiting a friend in New York, walking from Grand Central to Times Square was seen as inhuman! Here in suburban LA, I walk a lot (and I walk fast, apparently, as an “East Coaster”), and people give me the strangest looks–as if I must be wallowing in poverty or something.

    And people wonder why the US has an obesity problem.

    • October 26, 2011 9:07 am

      Absolutely right. We inquired about the public transportation system in Dallas and were met by looks of shock and horror.

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