Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Month: July, 2017

30 Degree Training Walk

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When you’re on a long walk, you take what comes. If it’s hot, you walk. If it’s cold, you walk. If it’s raining, you walk. There are alternatives–taking a day off, although there’s no guarantee the following day’s weather will be any different, or catching a lift or taking a bus, something that’s hard to do in today’s Saskatchewan–but neither of those appeals to me. I want to walk every step of the Swift Current to Battleford Trail Walk, whatever it costs.

We leave next week for that walk. It’s August, so it’s going to be hot. And we’re in a drought, so there probably won’t be any cooling rain. So today, we walked 24 kilometres in 30 degree heat, to see if we’re ready for what’s coming. I carried the pack I intend to carry. It was only half full–a tent, sleeping bag and pad, after-walk sandals, a reserve supply of Milk Bones, my iPad, and other odds and ends–but I’m not quite ready to walk in the heat with a full pack. You see, I just got back from ten days in a playwriting workshop at the Sage Hill Writing Experience. It was fantastic, and the manuscript I’m working on is much improved, thanks to the workshop facilitator, two-time Governor General’s Award winner Catherine Banks, and her clear thinking and incisive and insightful comments, delivered with kindness and gentleness. I can’t say enough good things about Catherine, or about Sage Hill. Still, sitting and writing and eating cookies hasn’t exactly prepared me for the walk. I’m behind in my training and I have to catch up. And I haven’t been walking in the heat. Something drastic needed to be done.

So this morning, we set out for Rochdale Boulevard’s infamous pho joints. We’d be there by lunch, we thought, and we’d be back before the worst of the day’s heat. We were wrong about that.

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I’ve walked this route many times, on the footpath along Wascana Creek until that footpath ends, and then on sidewalks and desire paths as far as the strip of restaurants on Rochdale Boulevard in the city’s northwest. You’d think there were no surprises left. But there were. We walked past a gaggle of geese that seemed to be mourning one of their own, a bird in convulsions after some terrible accident. We watched for a while, until we realized that the goose was merely cleaning its feathers. Later we surprised a pod of pelicans resting in the shade of a footbridge over Wascana Creek. They came splashing out from their hiding place, dipping their beaks into the creek in unison, a behaviour neither of us had ever seen before.

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Inspired by my Sage Hill colleague Kate Sutherland‘s wonderful photographs of paths and roads around Lumsden, where the writers’ retreat was held, I took lots of photos of the paths we walked. I always do that, anyway, but Kate’s photographs made me think there might be something of aesthetic value in those images. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

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At Sage Hill, Catherine led us in a guided timed-writing exercise every morning, which tried to get us to engage senses other than vision in our writing. As I walked, I thought about Catherine and the sounds and smells I was experiencing: birdsong, the wind, the sweet scent of yellow sweet clover and thistles, the occasional hint of the creek’s fetid stink. It’s good practice to engage the senses while you walk, and Catherine’s exercise reminded me of that.

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We ate lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and then headed back south, towards home. There were few walkers or cyclists braving the afternoon heat, compared to the morning, when we chatted with several people walking their dogs. One woman asked what I was training for and was surprised by my answer. But after lunch, the sidewalks and paths were mostly deserted. Everyone with any sense was somewhere cool.

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The big concern you face when you walk on a hot day is heat exhaustion. We were five or six kilometres from home when I saw Christine begin to flag. More water, more electrolytes. Pour some water on your wrist, on the inside of your elbow. Take a rest in a shady place, if you can find one. Take some ibuprofen. She recovered, and then it was my turn to suffer. I’m not used to walking with a large pack–hell, I’m not really used to walking at all, not after Sage Hill, where my longest walk was a four-kilometre stroll along the Saw Whet Trail–and the heat and the weight I was carrying really hit me with just a kilometre left to walk. But a kilometre? You can stagger that far without too much trouble, and I did. When I got home, though, I took off my boots and had a nap. When I woke up, Christine was sleeping. My legs are a little stiff, but I’ll be fine tomorrow.

It’s the heat, I think, that sapped our strength, rather than the distance. And it’s that same heat we’ll be facing as we walk from Swift Current to Battleford. But we knew it would be hot in August when we signed up. I hope we get used to it, quickly. If we don’t, the walk won’t be a lot of fun, will it?

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Sunday South End Walk

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In less than a month, we’ll be walking some 300 kilometres through southwestern Saskatchewan, from Swift Current to Battleford, following the route of a trail used by settlers, Métis traders and buffalo hunters, and First Nations. (You can learn more about that walk here.) The days will be relatively short–just 20 or 25 kilometres–but it’s going to be hot and there will be little shade, and I need to get ready for both the heat and the distance. So does Christine, my walking partner. But we’re at different stages in our training. I’ve been walking 25 kilometres when I go for a walking, but Christine has been covering 12 or 14 kilometres. (I started walking before she did this year, almost as soon as the snow melted in April.) We wanted to walk together today, but how were we to do that, given our different needs and goals and distances?

Obviously, we needed to compromise. Christine is very methodical and concerned about getting injured. Injuries happen–a good friend of mine had to abandon a walk in France a while back because he ended up with a stress fracture. So Christine is right to be concerned. We talked about where we could go. I suggested we try walking around the lake and then through the neighbourhoods in the south end of the city. That should add up to 15 or 16 kilometres, I said. Christine thought that would be okay. And off we went.

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We got to the only hill in the city–the Goose Island Overlook–and climbed it. You have to take your interval training where you find it, and unless you want to climb stairs in an office building, you need to make use of the Goose Island Overlook. Halfway to the top, a young fellow stopped us. He was in his twenties, from somewhere in south Asia. “Excuse me,” he said. “Can I ask you a question? You see, I’m new in this city, and I have to ask you: what motivates you to get up every morning and walk around the lake?” We explained that we were training for a longer walk in August, and that I’d walked 1,000 kilometres in Spain four years ago. “I could never do that,” he said. “It’s all I can do to drive here and then go home and have a cigarette.” “You’d be surprised,” I said. “When I was in my twenties, I couldn’t have imagined walking across Spain. But when I turned 50, I did it.” He wished us well and we finished climbing the hill.

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We finished walking around the lake. We went through the university campus, past a stand of fireweed on the shore of the lake, and headed back into the city. By the time we got to Albert Street, some 12 kilometres into our walk, we were thinking about lunch.

“We could have salad at the Lancaster Taphouse, on the patio.”

“They have salad?”

“Every place has salad.”

“I don’t feel like sitting in a bar. What about the Japanese place in the mall?”

“That’ll be too much food. What about the falafel place in Harbour Landing?”

“Okay. Let’s go there.”

And that’s what we did. We walked along Gordon Road to Harbour Landing, a new commercial and residential development on the southwest corner of the city, right under the airport’s flightpath. We ate falafel. And then we turned north, towards home.

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It was getting hot. And the walk had turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated–some 21 kilometres. But we made it home without any symptoms of heat exhaustion, without any injuries. All is well. And now it’s time for a cool drink in the shade.