The comedian Steven Wright said, "everywhere is walking distance if you have the time." The line makes me smile, but it makes me wistful too. If only I had the time to go on a long, long walk, one without an agenda or an end point.
Walking embeds the walker in the pace and life of the world, while at the same time providing respite from the cares and worries that are sometimes attached to our home or workplace. Baudelaire used the word "flaneur" to describe the person who explores the world by walking: "For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world." (Charles Baudelaire: The Painter of Modern Life, De Capo Press, 1964)
Short walks can be enjoyable, but if you're hankering to take off for weeks on end, here are some titles to try, and a longer list, to boot. (Sorry! Couldn't resist.)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of a man in early retirement who has the uneasy sense that he has made nothing of his life. Then one day he receives a letter from an old friend who is dying, and who wants to thank him for his kindness. Harold writes a letter of condolence, but when he goes to mail it, he's struck with the sense that nothing will do but to deliver the letter by hand. And so he sets off on a journey of several hundred miles, with only the clothes on his back. As he walks he reflects on the events that shaped his life.
If you'd rather read a true account, there are a number that are engaging and informative to boot. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed and A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson cover both edges of the country and are equally compelling stories of the kind of change that a long walk will effect. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane details the author's effort to become more intimately acquainted with his country by starting at his home in Cambridge, England and following the old roads and ancient tracks that crisscross his country.
Happy reading, and happy trails.