Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Month: June, 2017

A Different Route to Rochdale Boulevard

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More than a month goes by. It seems that every day something is going on that keeps me from going for a walk: errands, the garden, a sick cat who has to be taken to the vet–it’s always something. Finally, a free day. Well, not completely free. I have a few errands, but I can incorporate them into a walk. So off I go.

This time I try something new: I leave my walking sticks at home. I haven’t gone on a long walk without them for years–not since I bought my first pair, in fact, six months before I walked the Camino de Santiago. In Spain, there were two kinds of walkers: people with sticks, and people without sticks. I was always someone who walked with sticks. What’s it like to walk without them? I decide to find out.

I head up Albert Street. It’s not a nice place to walk, but that’s where my errands take me. Lots of traffic and few pedestrians. That’s no surprise: who’d want to walk up Albert Street?


I turn left onto Avonhurst Drive. I’m hungry and I know I have a long walk before lunch. So I buy a bag of peanuts at a south Asian grocery. I eat them as I walk. You can do that when you’re not using walking sticks.


I’ve never walked this way before and I miss a turn, going straight where I should’ve turned left. I check Google Maps. I don’t have to turn around; I can keep going and turn left after I cross the bridge over the expressway. I walk past a high school, and three girls point at me and laugh. Tilley hats, you see, are the opposite of cool.


I cross Pasqua Street. That’s another busy road, and there’s no sidewalk. I walk along an alley behind some houses on the west side of the road. The alley ends, but a road allowance continues north. The road allowance ends at a cluster of stores grouped around a Home Depot. I walk through the parking lot and turn onto Rochdale Boulevard. I’m close to the halfway point.

But first, lunch. I stop at the place where I had the delicious soup on my last walk. At the last minute, I decide to order tofu with ginger and onions. It’s colourful but otherwise a disappointment. Oh well. My mother always said, “What won’t fatten will fill.” I think that means that even if it doesn’t taste that great, it’ll keep me going. And it does.

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I walk to the end of Rochdale Boulevard and turn south on Courtney Street. This is the real halfway point, this intersection. A big sign announcing the new Coopertown development stands where Courtney ends at 9th Avenue North, but there’s no construction going on–not yet, anyway.


Now I’m on the footpath that runs along Wascana Creek. Cyclists pass me, along with a few people walking their dogs. I amuse myself by taking photos of the clouds.


I don’t see any loggerhead shrikes, but I see the sign inviting them to hang around (and inviting people to leave them alone, I suppose).


I cross under the CP bridge across Wascana Creek and have to make a decision. Will I carry on along the creek, or will I turn east onto 13th Avenue and treat myself to an ice cream? The ice cream wins out. I cut short my walk, and head for the ice cream shop, where I get a mango frozen yogurt. Then I turn for home.


My phone tells me I walked 23 kilometres. Would I walk that far without my sticks again? I don’t think so. Somehow I think it’s easier walking with the sticks. Maybe I’m just used to them. Anyway, I’m tired and stiff and I can feel blisters starting to form on the soles of my feet. When I get home, I take a nap. I’ll need to get used to walking longer distances and carrying a full pack if I’m going to enjoy the walk I have planned for August. I’d better get serious about training! Maybe another walk tomorrow?


Thinking About Boots


Since I finished Planetwalker, I’ve been thinking about boots. You see, John Francis started on his long walk across the U.S. more than 30 years ago, and footwear was different then. Francis wore heavy leather boots, the kind that, today, you’d consider old-fashioned. Now if you wear boots when you walk–and a lot of people prefer shoes–they’re probably lightweight, with GoreTex uppers and one-piece soles.

Heavy leather boots are, well, heavy. That makes them tiring to wear when you’re walking long distances. But they have advantages over fabric boots. They last a long time: I bought a pair when I was 17, and I was still wearing them 20 years later. They last that long because you can get them fixed: when the heels or soles wear out, a cobbler can replace them. That’s not the case with fabric boots. When the heels wear down, you have to buy a whole new pair.

When Francis walked across the U.S., he would stop and get his boots repaired when they needed it. He even carried spare Vibram heels with him, just in case a small-town cobbler didn’t have the right ones in stock. Two things about that are striking. First, 30 years ago, people still got their shoes fixed, because their shoes were designed to be fixable, and second, it wasn’t unusual to find a shoe-repair shop, even in a small town. Today, everything’s different. Shoes and boots are more likely to be designed to be disposable now. So if Francis were to walk across the U.S. today, he’d be replacing his boots every thousand miles, instead of repairing them.

We’ve gained something with lighter footwear designs: they’re more comfortable and not as hot. But we’ve lost something, too. Sometimes I wish I had the old-fashioned kind of boots. After all, isn’t it better to fix something instead of throwing it away?