On Walking

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I am not a natural walker. Given the choice between walking and lying on my couch I would choose lying on my couch – every time. By extension I am not a natural athlete – I never took part in school sports beyond senior primary. In high school I tried out for the athletics team (once) for hurdles, because I liked the way the hurdlers looked – for me the moment at the top of the hurdle still remains pure poetry. I came third in the try-outs and was picked to compete (I have to confess there were only three people in the try-outs). I never went to practice and never competed.

What I remember from my schooling years is my friends and I walked everywhere. Both my parents worked, the parents of my friends worked, there was no other way to get around. We walked to catch the bus for school in the morning. We walked home from the bus in the afternoon. If we wanted to see friends, we walked. If I wanted to go fishing with my brother and his friends I walked. If we wanted to play in the mud at the local dam we walked. If we wanted to go and meet the boys from the local boy’s school or watch them play rugby, we walked

During my first year of university I stayed at a residence a 20 minute walk away from campus. In the morning I walked down the hill and in the afternoon I walked up the hill. Hillbrow was within walking distance – so we walked into Hillbrow and walked back.

I walked out of necessity.

And then I met someone and fell in love, and his family walked. Sturdy boots walking. Away for a few days walking. Yes, that kind of walking. I bought my first pair of hiking boots and spent holidays walking in mountains, skinny-dipping in cold streams and camping.  (My parents never camped – I remember one holiday where we did go away in a caravan – but only once!)

I walked because of love.

I moved to Cape Town in the mid-90s. Divorced. I didn’t know anyone living in there but I did connect with people who liked to walk.  Cape Town is a haven for walkers, there are so many accessible walks, easy walks and more difficult walks. Everyone talks about walking on the mountain or in Tokai forest or on the beach; they talk about their favourite routes, places to stop to rest, places to swim.

I walked to connect with people and nature.

When I moved to London I used public transport and walked. I worked in Marble Arch for a period of time and I deliberately got off the underground two stops earlier to walk through a small park with these immense tall trees. As I walked through the park I shouted hello to the trees in my head – and I imagined the trees shouting hello back to me.

I walked out of necessity and to connect with nature.

The walking didn’t help my obsession with eating though, I was unhappy so I ate. By the time I came back to Cape Town I had stopped walking (and actively avoided it if I could). I was overweight and unfit.

My journey to better health started with yoga and walking. I used to drive to Muizenberg two or three times a week and walk between Muizenberg and St James. A voice chanted ‘I hate this, I hate this, I hate walking’ over and over in my head for the entire walk. I would give myself small goals: ‘get to the thatch cottage, okay you have made it this far walk to the beach huts’; ‘okay you have made it so far you might as well walk to the end of the path’. And finally: ‘you now have to walk back because there is no other way of getting home’.

One day that chanting hate voice in my head stopped – I don’t remember how long after I started walking. I then started noticing the walk. The colours of the beach. The flowers. The whales. I found a group to walk with, started walking with friends. My fitness and health improved.

I walk for my health, both physical and to keep those nagging addict voices out of my head.

The more I walk, the more creative I am. I find it helpful to memorise a poem I am working on and say the poem over and over in my head as I walk. In this way the rhythm of the poem is smoothed out; and fresh ways of expressing ideas emerge.

I walk for creativity.

I no longer need to walk out of necessity, but sometimes I walk to my local supermarket to buy groceries. I walk to connect with nature, friends, my health and creativity.

This year I have struggled to walk. I damaged my achilles tendon by wearing the wrong hiking boots and even a short flat walk has been painful. And it has taken a long time to heal. My fitness has dropped, I have gained weight – I feel unhealthy. My creativity has slowed.

I always tell my mother to maintain her health all she needs is a brisk 30 minutes’ walk a day and she has to do it every day. Maybe it is time to heed my own advice. My achilles tendon is healing, I bought a softer pair of walking shoes and have broken them in. I tried a flat slow walk a week ago and although there were some twinges afterwards, my achilles tendon is not worse.

If you google ‘helpful hints to start walking’ you will get 31 million suggested results… with schedules to help you walk, pedometers to buy, speed-walking, side-walking, power-walking, goal setting, shoes to buy, preparing to walk, improving your performance…

That feels overwhelming to me… I am going to start with one of my favourite walks: Muizenberg to St James and back – without the voices and with a poem in my head.

I need to walk for creativity again.

I need to walk for love again. Love for myself.