Well, OK! Really insane mission #1, accomplished! Today I strolled from my apartment to campus and back. It was a five hour roundtrip! The walk there was more pleasant than the one home. In fact, the last three blocks coming home were damn near impossible. 

But first, the equipment. I wore my most comfortable sneakers. They’re a pair of three-year-old Simples. When I got dressed in the morning I was trying to decide between my Simples and my Doc Martens. I’m not sure I made the right choice, but I’m also probably not going to walk that route again to find out. On my top half I wore my REI rain jacket because the sky was looking slightly less friendly than last week. Not too ominous, but something liquid could (and did) fall from it. On my lower half I wore my delightfully light linen cargo pants (for ease of movement!). These choices are in stark contrast to kids with whom I went to high school who wore shorts all twelve months of the year. If you’re getting a ride in a heated car to a heated classroom, there might not be much reason to wear long pants. But for those of us still aware that we live in a temperate rain forest and not a tropical one, clothing choice definitely matters.

As I walked on and on I started to think that cement might not be the best material for walkers. I thought about how running tracks get paved in rubber because rubber is better on the runner’s hips and knees. I found myself walking off the edge of the sidewalk on the soft turf when I had the choice. Sometimes I didn’t have the choice and it was between a paved road and a rutted and rock-strewn shoulder. Then I chose the road. Of course most people walking don’t walk this far. Not in this part of the world, anyway. Most people probably don’t walk far enough for the hard surfaces to bother them. And then, maybe they wouldn’t bother me if I walked that distance more often. 

As a thought experiment I started to wonder what life would be like if bike lanes were the only paved routes? For one thing, cars would travel more slowly. I mean, car lanes could be paved, but not in asphalt. Maybe gravel? Level the playing field while reducing costs? Vermont boasts that only 49% of the roads in their state are paved. Now if only they had bike routes through those unpaved areas…

I wonder how often people walk these distances in this county. Kids living near Evergreen who made it downtown without a way home when the Nightline isn’t running? People in the southern part of the county, outside of Intercity Transit’s service area, whose car broke down, or don’t have a license and don’t or can’t ride a bicycle?

I definitely noticed more animals on my route than by any other mode of transit. As I was crossing the Fourth Ave. Bridge I saw a redwing blackbird and a great blue heron. As I was ascending Fourth Avenue hill, up to the Westside I had the pleasure of having a deer trot not more than twenty paces in front of me. It felt really, really close! And then, as I started to get into the countryside I swear I saw what looked like a dove! What could be more poetic for the most basic and peaceful form of transportation?

Before I got to the countryside, as I wended my way through the Westside neighborhood I chose to take alleys as often as possible. I love alleys. They are so different from the main street. People show a very different side of their houses and their lives to the alleys. Is it voyeuristic? 

Even if I thought I was peeping in on their worlds, at times I wished I had my own, at least my own soundtrack. I listen to music a lot when it’s available. Right now I am without an iPod or other portable music device. An iPod could have kept me more distracted from the length of the journey or the blisters growing on my toes. And yet, it was also nice to have the natural soundtrack of the walk. I think walking and driving might be the only modes of transit I feel comfortable listening to music. I used to do it sometimes on the bus but I feel guilty shutting myself off with so many other people present. Even if no one talks to me, I want to be able to be talked to. And riding a bike while listening to headphones seems dangerous to me. I had a friend in Berkeley get pulled over by a cop for that. Most people know you don’t drive while wearing headphones but people forget about it on a bike. You just can’t be as aware of your surroundings as you need to be on a bike. 

My final thought for this mammoth day of walking was my shock at the time scale. Jake and I left campus around 4:30 and I knew I wouldn’t be home until at least 7:00. That is really crazy. That’s how long it would take to drive up to Anacortes! Or somewhere between Salem and Portland! Or most of the way to Yakima! That’s no small chunk of time! More than three times as long as by bus or bike and about thirteen times as long as in the car. Wow!

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