Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Month: December, 2014

A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson went for a walk in the woods. Well, actually, he walked part of the Appalachian Trail one spring and summer in the 1990s and wrote a book, A Walk in the Woods, about the experience. Completed in 1937, making it one of the oldest long-distance hiking trails in the world, the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 2,000 miles (the official maps and guidebooks disagree about its length) from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian Mountains–hence the name. Compared to the walks I’ve done, the AT is a gruelling experience, and only a handful of thru-hikers–people who set out to walk the entire trail–complete the journey. And no wonder: it would take four months to walk every step of the trail, and that’s a long time to be in the woods, sleeping in a tent, carrying a 40 or 50 pound pack and eating instant noodles for supper. I’m not sure I could do it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. Not all in one go. If I were to attempt something like the AT, I’d have to do it as a section hiker–walking part of the trail every year.

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Like Bryson’s other books, A Walk in the Woods is engaging and funny and informative. The comedy of his stories about being an overweight, inexperienced, middle-aged man hiking through the forest is juxtaposed against discussions of the various failings of the U.S. National Parks Service, the impact of our industrial economy on the forests of eastern North America (not good, as the story of the extinction of the American chestnut suggests), and the history and geology of the AT. His relationship with his sometime hiking partner, an old friend from Des Moines, is both comic and poignant. It’s a great read–I tore through it in two days–and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever imagined attempting the AT.

It’s a beautiful day here and not impossibly cold, so we went out for a walk around the lake. The sun came out and we could actually feel its warmth on our faces. That will be something to remember over the next couple of months, because it might be that long before we experience it again.

Winter Solstice Walk

You couldn’t ask for a better day to celebrate the winter solstice: sun, a bright blue sky, and hoarfrost (thanks to last night’s heavy fog). Despite the breeze and the relatively warm temperature, the frost took a long time to melt–usually it only sticks around when the thermometer reading is somewhere south of minus 20, but that’s not the case today.

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We walked the usual route, but we went around the lake clockwise, rather than counter-clockwise–not a huge change but enough to make things a little more interesting.

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I thought the snowman’s nose was a carrot, but it’s actually a crushed Tim Horton’s cup.

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A stop for coffee, and then home: another 12 kilometres. What a great way to spend part of the afternoon!

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Walking Around the Lake

Now that the semester is over, I have time to walk. This afternoon I walked around the lake, again. In the last week I’ve logged 66 kilometres, all walked on the same path under the same leaden December sky. The lake route does have a couple of advantages, though: there are places to stop and get warm if I get too cold; the path is kept relatively free of snow and, more importantly, ice; and it can’t get any duller than walking on a treadmill, can it? Usually I don’t listen to my iPod when I’m walking–I try to practice being in the moment, with varying degrees of success–but I’ve listened to the entirety of the Serial podcast in the past week, and now that I’ve finished the last episode I wonder what I’ll listen to now.

I’ve been thinking about where next summer’s big walk is going to be. The Rideau Trail? The Grand Valley Trail? The West Coast Trail? All of the Canadian options are going to be harder than the Camino or the Cotswold Way because they’re going to mean carrying food and a tent and other gear. I know I’m going to have to keep fit over the winter if I’m going to be carrying a 60 litre backpack for two weeks next summer. So I’m going to spend as much time as possible this winter trudging around the lake, one step at a time.