Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Wood Mountain Walk, Day Seven

All I’ve done in Assiniboia today is eat and sleep. And laundry. That’s what rest days are for.

It’s hot again today and I’m glad I’m not out on the highway. Tomorrow will be a shorter day, just 20 kilometres to Limerick. Sunday is supposed to be cooler, so I might try to finish the last 40 kilometres in one go. I haven’t decided. Maybe that’s a bad idea.

Watching cars and trucks speed past me the past few days has left me thinking about the freedom–or the illusion of freedom–petroleum has given us. Our planet–the only home we have–is on fire, but we can get to Moose Jaw in an hour. What a trade-off. Of course, I’ve been busy proving just how hard it is to travel without burning petroleum. We’ve created quite a dilemma for ourselves, and we’re mostly ignoring the consequences. I need to read Rebecca Solnit’s new book on hope in dark times, because I feel terribly overwhelmed.

It’s been years since I read Don Quixote, but I’ve been thinking about the distinction between the man of ideals and the man of appetites, between the Don and Sancho Panza. Sleeping in a ditch during a bizarre quest like this one doesn’t make you an ascetic or an idealist. When I get to town, I think only of my belly, like Sancho. And I haven’t even seen a wind farm.

I’ll go to the Co-op to pick up a couple of things, then back to the hotel to rest. Then I’ll walk back downtown for supper. Such a lazy day.

Wood Mountain Walk, Day Six

I didn’t end up at the campground last night after all: I found a room for rent behind a shop and leapt at it. This morning I slept late and got up stiff and sore and tired. There was coffee in the cupboard so I made a pot. That helped. And for once I enjoyed Ryvita and peanut butter, so I had a decent breakfast.

On my way out of town, an old fellow I’d met at lunch yesterday invited me into the Seniors’ Centre for a coffee. “No thanks, I’m already coffeed up,” I said. “Okay, then, have a good walk,” he said. I realize my refusal was ungracious and that I missed an opportunity to connect with people, but I also know that I couldn’t afford to pass up an hour of relatively cool temperatures. I like to get at least halfway to where I’m going before it gets too hot. But I regret my answer anyway.

Today’s walking is as hard as yesterday’s: the same crumbling, narrow shoulder, the same fist-sized chunks of broken asphalt to pick my way through when oncoming traffic forces me to the edge of the highway. The going is slow. I tried walking in the ditch for a while, like my friend Hugh, but it was too hard. I don’t know how Hugh does it. So I’m taking a rest in the shade of a hay bale, where about a million flies are inspecting me.

I’ve been waving at passing vehicles, the way you do in rural Saskatchewan, but I only get a return wave half the time. I was wondering why that might be when a fellow stopped to offer me a lift. He was deeply tanned, driving an old grey GMC pickup–a farmer, I suppose. Of course I thanked him and said no–I’m not hitchhiking, right? But it was another lost opportunity for connection. The ritual of waving is otherwise the only sign of common humanity on the highway.

My goal today is Assiniboia, where I hope to take a day off tomorrow. I’m just too exhausted to keep walking tomorrow. I have more than 20 kilometres of walking before I get there, and while I know that by five o’clock I’ll be eating an early supper at the hotel, it’s going to be a long day.

Later: What a difference between lunch yesterday and lunch today. Yesterday, food and drink in an air conditioned room. Today, trying to find respite from the sun behind a hay bale and wondering if I can keep going in this heat. A couple more people offered me rides this morning. Maybe I should’ve accepted.

Still later: A kind woman named Linda stopped and gave me a litre of water. She knew about Suknaski’s work, but was curious about why I am walking. “It’s a pilgrimage,” I answered. “The pilgrim must suffer.” Of course it’s not all suffering, but today’s been quite difficult, and it’s nowhere near being over.

Odd that I started out thinking about connection today and have received so many kind gestures.

I’m hiding from the sun in a row of poplars in the middle of a field of chick peas. It’s still hot and I’m running out of water. I won’t be in Assiniboia by supper, but I will get there eventually.

Still later: I’m in Assiniboia with food and drink and a bed. But not entirely under my own steam. For the last three or four kilometres, I caught a lift from two fellows, Maurice and Leo. Maurice works on offshore rigs in Texas; Leo, his father, is a farmer. They’d passed me earlier today and noticed how my pace had slowed. Yes, I was beat: 35 kilometres in this heat. I would rather have been able to walk in, but I just couldn’t say no to the ride. Thanks to Maurice and Leo for helping me!