Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Louisville East End Walk - 8/31/2014

Louisville East End: Sunday, August 31, 2014

13.0 Miles / 4:20 / 07:55 – 12:15

“Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Confucius’s words still ring true today, despite the fact that most of us never start our longest journeys that way.

As a Louisville native, I’ve seen every part of the city, and I’ve been around long enough to see those parts change.  Derelict stores, forgotten warehouses, and shuttered restaurants have been replaced by the progress of the 21st century.  Some neighborhoods have advanced more than others, but this transition from old to new is something every city slicker faces.  In our city, you quickly show your age not by the wrinkles on your face or the wisdom in your voice, but by the landmarks with which you conduct your way around the city.  Bashford Manor Mall?  Gone, but everyone my age and older knows that you’re talking about the Walmart and Target off Bardstown and Newburg Road.  The large, Kentucky-based Bigg’s supermarket has been out of business for over a decade, but everyone still knows the East End shopping center that’s sprung up in its place, intriguingly, with another Walmart and Target. 

Thankfully, what makes Louisville a city of unique, enjoyable locales is the same thing that makes every city unique: its citizens.  Everyone has a part to play, and what better way to see Louisville at its heart than with a long walk spanning multiple neighborhoods, zones, and economic sectors? 

As an initial, official foray into this particular mode of walking, I chose a one-way, long-distance route that involved close flybys of familiar haunts near my day job and my parents’ old home.  My original plan, to walk to the latter all the way from downtown, was thwarted by a late start and questionable weather.  Therefore, the route was pretty much ad hoc and, as always, deviations were welcome.

My first step landed on Bowling Boulevard in the St. Matthews area.  An area surrounded by parks, broad sidewalks, and low traffic, this locale proved to be an ideal start to a lengthy morning stroll. 

It wasn’t long before I crossed my first highway, Interstate 64.  This road goes all the way to St. Louis, but in considerably more than a day’s walk.  At the top right of the photo, where the road’s shoulders seem to narrow a bit, you’ll notice there is a short overpass; below it, a winding footpath follows a leg of Beargrass Creek towards downtown.  The path is lined with graffiti and litter, but after a good rain, the gentle whoosh of the creek drowns out the pollution. 

I made this walk on a Sunday; here in Louisville and in most other places in America, this is the quietest day for business.  As such, it offers an unusually bare view of the city’s commercial and industrial core. 

Looking back towards the medical centers on Dutchmans Lane, I noticed this building’s windows, each a different shade of green in the overcast pallor of the morning.  They looked solid, like perfectly cut gems on a necklace. 

Only on a muggy Sunday would you ever see a vacant Browns Lane.

After only a brief walk, I found myself standing over another freeway, but this one, I-264, is much shorter.  Locally called “the Watterson,” this beltway is named after a former editor of the local newspaper, the Courier-Journal.  Although most every limited access road in Louisville has a name associated it, only the inner and outer freeways (called the Snyder for former U.S. Representative Gene Snyder) have retained their names in local parlance.

On any weekday, this road, particularly the westbound direction on the right side of the picture, would be swimming with merging traffic.  Today, though, I could have walked across it as easily as any surface street.

Browns Lane is the first of several “straightaways;” at a mile and a half, I’d be on Browns Lane for a full half-hour before turning.  On the right, I encountered St. Andrew United Church of Christ, a simple, postmodern sanctuary that proudly flew a colorful marriage equality banner from its front awning.  I also couldn’t help noticing how empty the building appeared at 8:30 on a Sunday, even though Sunday school was set to start less than an hour later. On the left, the St. Regis Park neighborhood sprawled out in dated, but highly functional houses.  This was the side of the road on which I walked, so I could gather clues from the people who lived there.  Lawn decorations, scattered leaves, and even a few kids’ toys tossed about in the yard told countless stories.  Every home was neat and cozy, and several side streets invited passersby to meander into the neighborhood.

Shortly after reaching my planned turn onto Lowe Road, I came upon the Cambridge neighborhood.  The signage was in a similar style as those from St. Regis Park a couple thousand feet back, but the Cambridge homes were nicer, larger, and on more substantial property lots.  This meant one of two things: St. Regis Park and Cambridge used the same sign company, or more likely, Cambridge was a “step up” from the middle-class level of St. Regis Park.  It’s interesting to me that this kind of tiered system still works, even when you consider the long-term, concrete purchase of a house.  It’s unsettling to think the strategy and allure of “moving upmarket” is fundamentally the same whether you’re buying a house or choosing laundry detergent.

A curve on Lowe brought me to a church and a Jewish temple adjacent to one another and a rehabilitation facility across the street.  Unsurprisingly, the Jewish temple was empty (as Shabbat was yesterday), but even the Episcopal Church next door seemed devoid of activity from the street.

I passed a neighborhood where a frenemy of mine lived for some time; you know, someone you get along with but secretly each of you hate the other’s guts?  Adjacent to that entrance that, a park I never knew existed was filled with morning runners.  Soon, I was staring down Taylorsville Road, one of the cities’ busier surface streets. 

What I immediately noticed was an absence of sidewalks foiled by the presence of a single bike lane on the opposite side of the road.  After a lengthy wait at the light, my first noticeable break, I crossed the normally bustling streets to the pedestrian-friendly lane, fully an hour into the walk.

6. Turn left onto Taylorsville Rd

0.5 mi

Taylorsville Road frequently carries me from work to home, but seeing it from this angle was enlightening.  It was no longer just “Taylorsville Road,” it was actually an asphalt path that’s flanked on all sides by trees, a creek, and numerous establishments I’d never noticed, from a framing shop to an extended stay hotel.  When staying at a hotel on the road, I always like to look at the other parked cars and see which license plate comes from the farthest distance.  A recent stay at a hotel in Tennessee reaped good results, including plates from New York, Ontario, Texas, and as far away as Montana.  This short pause yielded a similar result, South Dakota being the oddest find this time.

A new gym opened a couple years ago, and although I’ve heard everyone jab it for being too serious and high-pressure, the newer architecture does break up the area’s historical look. 

9. Turn left onto S Hurstbourne Pkwy

0.3 mi

The stretch of road I was about to mount has been called the busiest stretch of non-freeway road in the state, a dubious title it shares with a U.S. route in the southern part of Lexington.  I decided it’d be best to cut through the string of strip malls that separated me from Bunsen Parkway, the road into the Bluegrass Industrial Park.

While crossing the parking lot, I found this oddity of nature.

That, my friends, is a Gatorade bottle filled with some unholy, yellowish blight.  Even upon further inspection, I could not determine what in the world this spongy-looking matter was.  I’m not sure if it was very, very old Gatorade that had somehow metamorphosed into a foamy, unearthly mass or if something had been added to the Gatorade bottle sometime in the Clinton administration that, after decades of neglect, had finally devolved into some amorphous mass.  Regardless, I was amazed that it was in a relatively prominent location; given that, I’d argue it was something placed in the bottle OR that someone knowingly placed it there for some schmuck to find.  I didn’t touch it for fear of contracting an alien plague.

After seeing that science experiment gone awry, I continued walking through the rows of unopened storefronts.  I passed a Penn Station sandwich shop which, even at 9 AM on a Sunday, had half a dozen workers already going, baking bread or prepping the line’s ingredients, perhaps.  Even though I lingered for a moment to discard a water bottle, they didn’t seem to notice me right outside their window.

13. Turn right onto Bunsen Pkwy

0.6 mi

The cool morning air was a great surprise given the normally muggy, hazy mess that normally fills August forecasts.  Although it hadn’t started raining yet, as I rounded the corner, a faint drizzle commenced.  It wasn’t rain; rain is something you feel.  Drizzle simply gives you the wet sensation without the smack of full water droplets on your head. 

Peering down another commercial park’s parking lot.  The people who will fill that lot this week are hopefully enjoying time with their family and friends.  

While the rain is a nuisance to us humans, geese love it.  A whole gaggle of geese preened themselves in the shower, milling about in the cool mist. 

At the intersection of Bunsen Parkway and Plantside Drive, I had to make a decision: proceed onto Bunsen Parkway and then awkwardly navigate the non-shouldered Watterson Trail on the other side, or follow Plantside southeast and swing wide? 

14. Turn right onto Plantside Dr

0.8 mi

Though I didn’t have a sidewalk, I had a bike lane.  I’d seen one car come down the road in ten minutes, so why not?

On the right, a business named Adam Matthews Cheesecakes had several trucks loading what I assume to be millions of calories of delicious cream cheese and sugar into well-tended stacks, certainly headed out to businesses around the area.  One such truck bore the brand of a prominent local bakery that billed themselves as “homemade.” OK, so maybe not everything’s made on-site, but it’s too good to turn down.  That just means I know which chef to complement.

If the retail outlets I’d passed were empty, the industrial sites I passed where utter vacuums.

This deserted parking lot was particularly enticing for a stroll.  The precipitation had increased to something more like typical rain at this point.  Moments after taking this shot, a man on a moped zipped past me, his face stoic in the cold, windy rain. 

This is peering down the cleverly named “Data Drive” and potentially represents one of my favorite shots of the day.  Tanks full of some chemical, no doubt humming as they maintain their contents on everyone else’s off day.  Some business park lies stranded at the end.

I met another turning point; a park I frequently visit on my lunch break was down one way to the right and a quicker journey continued straight.

15. Turn right onto Grassland Dr

0.4 mi

Grassland Drive is much like the Data Drive before it; it goes to an end, has no other roads, and stops.  Although I’d driven this short lane in a hustle dozens of times, I realized, now that I walked down the road itself, that I’d not noticed half the buildings there.

This abandoned, windowless warehouse already shows signs of decay and neglect.  Notice how the grass is long only adjacent to the building.  The tenants of this warehouse’s neighbor tend their own grass, but this ugly shack’s lawn isn’t worth the 10 minutes to clean up.  And you can’t say it’s because they’re not allowed.  What business minds someone cutting their unkempt grass for free?

One of those neighbors, a bluish warehouse, looks rather bland itself.  These aren’t the high profile slots in the industrial park; captured from the raised lawn next door (I ain’t no trespasser), the empty truck yard lets you see industry for what it is: massive amounts of metal and wood moving together to make something we need.

It appears that, next to the sheet metal wall, a tree, or some mutant shrub, has forcibly shoved itself between the warehouse and the pavement.  It’s clear that the pavement and building were there first.  I wonder how long it took them to do something about it, and if they decided to live the dead husk there intentionally, either because the cost was too high to remove it or because the stump had become necessary to the integrity of either structure.

From there, a duck into Skyview Park was next.  I walked beside the Jeffersontown Youth Football stadium as the rain picked up a bit more.  After crossing the narrow drainage creek, I stopped in their pavilion for a well-deserved sit.  10 AM, about halfway there. 

20. Turn right onto Plantside Dr

0.8 mi

I found Plantside across the street from the park and went east.  The rain had stopped, which put a bit more spring in my step.  Although the map says one thing, I slipped up Ampere Drive, despite its glaring “no outlet” sign.  No outlet for cars and unadventurous pedestrians, maybe.

After proceeding to the “end” of Ampere Drive, I was forced to cross a parking lot that wasn’t connected to the drive.  The company’s lot that I crossed was nearly abandoned, save one late-model Jetta out front.  As I walked by the company, I kept my distance from the building but peered in its windows.  There was a man working in one corner of the building who was only visible for a moment.  However, as his eyes met mine, he stood in a hurry, though I’m not sure if it was for fear or for justice to come and apprehend the wanton interloper.  Either way, he never came outside, and I crossed onto Carrier Court, a small side-road to Blankenbaker Road, where I ended up.

Blankenbaker Road is almost a daily haunt for me on my lunch break.  If you work in the area, you’ll almost certainly find me wandering around there or nearby.  In fact, as part of my daily walks, Blankenbaker Road is potentially the most essential road on my standardized mile walk.  My preferred vigorous walk, which I call “the Plantside Mile,” is exactly one mile from my desk to the intersection of this road and Plantside road down the hill.  I’ve counted my steps several times, and it’s accurate to a couple dozen feet. 

Today the road was completely empty.  Some houses still linger on this stretch, despite decades of acquisition and development; I passed a young girl, maybe ten years old, sitting on her porch and playing with a cat.  I smiled in her direction, but she didn’t seem to notice the bloke walking down the double yellow.

Just a dogtail, right, left, then straight, and I was at work, on a Sunday of all things.

I had reached my first major marker, and I fancied a selfie.

The campus was more quiet than on Saturdays, of which I’d worked a couple in the past there.  Just security guards, I’m sure, and they’d all be parked on the other side.

Now for the final leg.

Connecting with Blankenbaker Parkway, Blankenbaker Road’s successor, was a more challenging ordeal.  While the industrial park was a boneyard, Blankenbaker Parkway was awash with weekend commuters.  I hung a left and stayed safely next to the fences on this high-speed road.  The ground was soft from what I’d assume was a combination of the morning drizzle and some overnight shower that downtown didn’t get.  This was the first moment, some nine miles into my walk, that I realized my feet were very sore.  Whether it was the slower pace or the mushy, unsteady earth, I finally felt the bottoms of my feet again, and I wished I hadn’t.

Blankenbaker Parkway crosses Interstate 64 again, but the shoulder is plenty wide to accommodate the rare pedestrian who wanders over it.  However, I had to dodge an inordinate amount of litter that had accrued along its edge; without a grass shoulder, the concrete barrier trapped everything the wind might normally take.

At this point it was hard to think that the last time I crossed this thoroughfare was over two hours ago.  From this point to there would take any car five minutes.  It was, however, at this point that I felt like I had truly made progress.  No matter how much I strained, I couldn’t see the Browns Lane overpass down the valley of the interstate.  I couldn’t even see one exit down.  I had truly walked out of sight. 

Admittedly, my choice to walk this path at this time was a tiny bit strategic.  For those of you not from Louisville, this is Southeast Christian Church, the largest religious congregation in Kentucky.  They moved to this location at the end of the last century, and since then, their campus has expanded and grown outwards and upwards.  At a bit before 11 AM, it’s service time, which means traffic moves slower, people are nicer, and cops are on hand.  It also provided an interesting perspective.  You see, I’m a member there.

Although not attending this particular week, I enjoyed walking by each car full of people I didn’t know (it’s hard to know everyone at a church where service attendance numbers in the thousands), and you got to see them prepare for church.  I was raised in a family that attended Southeast, and to be outside looking in was interesting.  Everyone had a reason to attend, a reason to wrestle with traffic and delays and put up with long lines at the bathroom.  I’ll never know what each person’s reason was, but I’ll always know they had one.

After a short delay in crossing at the high-traffic entrance, I moseyed out of the church bustle and onto quieter roads again.  A short turn onto Watterson trail a few moments later and I found another church, Middletown Christian Church. 

We’re now officially in Middletown, where I laid my head for fifteen years of my life.  These names and places are all familiar to me; I knew people who went to XYZ Church and played sports at ABC Park.  Seeing them on foot makes them as real as they can be.  I don’t mean “real” as in nostalgic, I mean “real” in the sense of you can see what the place you remember actually is, especially without the mental input and romantic image creation you’d lent it in your youth.  Middletown Christian’s service had just started, so lots of cars filled the parking lot.  A friendly pair of drivers there paused in their cars, rolled down their windows, and exchanged a conversation out of earshot.  Along the sidewalk, two carved statues stood silently by.

The inscription reads, “Mark 4:19 – Jesus said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’”  I always took this to mean that a passionate following of God fueled by grace made you magnetic to those who wanted the same thing.

I rounded the corner ahead and walked down the hilly length of Watterson Trail.  A large wooded area flanked me on my left and every now and then, there’d be a very purposeful break in the foliage.

Turns out, after following one of these paths, they cut through the trees to the church on the other side.  Maybe they put it there as a nice way to walk amongst nature for a moment before service?  My first thought was less pious; if you’re running late for service, they provide a quick, convenient, and clandestine to slip into church. 

These little flowers bloomed right alongside the sidewalk, and they smelled very unique.  It was a distinctly sweet, buttery smell, not like the typical rose or lily smell that many flowers carry.  Maybe I discovered the first Land O’ Lakes plant. 

On the other side of this forest was a bit of a flat, grassy space that led around the wooded area. 

Although it had access to the rear of the church, it appeared to be nothing more than dug up piles of dirt, a victory garden, and a pedestrian-only mailbox.  It was still unclear whether it was for use by the church congregation, the adjacent assisted living facility, both, or neither.  More perplexed now than ever, I cautiously retreated.

Watterson Trail begat Main Street, and turning down the historic street, I noted the new sidewalks and restoration occurring up and down the road.  New shops and caf├ęs had sprung up, while the town florist and attorney’s office continued to go strong, proving that nothing is more constant than death and taxes.  Middletown is still able to support its share of boutiques for out-of-towners and local antique hunters, too.  Crossing behind the main Middletown strip mall, I came into the small, narrow streets of the quintessential residential Middeltown.  Thin roads and no sidewalks, but I never saw a car on the road, nor would I have even in the middle of a weekday.  A friendly hello and a thoughtful glance from the locals kept my spirits strong in the last couple miles of my trip.

A quick jaunt across Shelbyville Road put me in the home stretch of my journey, no pun intended.  A mid-crossing shot was all I could manage with the luminescent walking man’s short fuse.

All those years ago, when my mother told me to “put on my little sneakers” and walk up the street to the Walgreens, this is the one she meant.  Except for a Redbox outside the door, very little has changed.

Down Old Henry Road I went, closing in on the final few minutes of my walk.  After walking down street after street, my old stomping ground just feels...typical.  No heralding call as I round the corner, just another half-mile of recently-paved asphalt.

This school looks fairly new, and it is; the building is less than a decade old, but when my family first moved out here from Bonnycastle in the Highlands in the early 90s, this was just a grassy field with a wooden sign declaring that it was the future home of Holy Angels.  It remained “the future home” for years without so much as a bulldozer showing up.  Finally, and quite suddenly, the school sprang up from the earth in a matter of months.  Lack of funding, perhaps.  Now, school buses roll down the road more frequently, and young, uniformed Catholics coat the campus during the week.

Thirteen miles later, I’d arrived.  Just a few more steps and I’d be home.  This was my last picture of the journey, but I’d taken many more in my head and in my heart.

A trek like this gives me the opportunity to see the world in a way many would never think to experience it.  Our parents and our parents’ parents are familiar with a long walk, but our generation has often been afforded the “luxury” of taking a car or bus anywhere we need.  Walking is the cheapest form of active entertainment; you don’t need any equipment, training, or much practice at all.  Your body already knows how to do it, and it doesn’t need any help.
If you find yourself with some time to do something non-productive, I urge you to consider taking a walk instead.  Take one stroll to somewhere you go to all the time, or maybe venture to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but have never had a reason.  Make it your destination, but enjoy the journey, too.

Keep going – 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Baby Steps

My mother taught me to walk twice.

One spring night in 1998, I was doing what every fifth grader does best: procrastinating.  My parents had gone off for a church function or some other brief outing.  I had a project due the following day that I hadn’t started on, so my parents instructed me to get to work on it while they were gone. 

Though I nodded in agreement, I had other plans.

I knew I’d need posterboard, and we’d run out last week for a project my artistic sister was completing.  I’d conveniently neglected to tell Mom, so I’d just put it off until they got home.  The pleasant spring evening aged outside until the sun was low and the trees glowed while I sat blithely playing a video game in the living room.  

A couple hours whizzed by, and suddenly I heard the van rolling to a stop outside.  I practiced my planned excuse: “Mom, I couldn’t start on the project because we don’t have any posterboard.”  Put the blame on her for something I’d purposefully neglected to tell her.  It was genius.

The creak of the porch door filled the quiet house, and my parents came strolling in through the kitchen to find me in front of the TV.

My mother looked surprised.  “Did you finish your project, Matthew?” she asked expectantly.   She stopped walking as she anticipated my response.

There was a pregnant pause as I moved my excuse-voice into position.

“Mom, I couldn’t start on the project because we don’t have any posterboard.”  A little whinier than I rehearsed, but it should pass muster.

Mom’s brow grew stiff and lowered.  “No posterboard, huh?  Well, where can you buy posterboard around here?” 
I didn’t anticipate a rebuttal.  “Walgreens?” I squeaked.  

My mother looked positively amazed.  “Well, why didn’t you just put your little sneakers on and go up there and get some?”

I was speechless.  Even without playing dumb, I’d never even considered walking the measly half-mile to the Walgreens down the street.  Something that would have taken my fifth-grade self all of thirty minutes to walk to and back.  Disgruntled, my mother drove me up the street to the drug store, as it had gotten too dark by then for me to safely walk.  

This stuck with me; we often forget that, even in a world dominated by cars, we can still walk places. 
Walking is the most primitive and basic form of human transportation.  There’s very little training involved, most of which you get before you can even remember walking, and there’s no special equipment needed.  All you need is a bottle of water and an open mind!

My name’s Matt, and this is Miles by Foot, a travel blog dedicated to getting around the old-fashioned way.  There’s so much about the world we miss when we drive; walking gives us an opportunity to feel every second and know every step of seeing the world around us.

My mother’s whole generation walked.  In small-town America, both of my parents thought nothing of walking a couple miles to the store, or a few miles to school; they did it every day.  For them, a car was reserved for long or difficult trips, but many of the day’s mundane errands were fulfilled on foot.  My generation is quite the opposite.  I’ve seen folks drive across a parking lot to avoid walking from one part of a shopping center to another, and I’ve done it myself a time or two.  While our reliance on powered transportation has helped make us a prosperous, efficient people, it has a tendency to rob our explorative spirit if we let it.

I’m not advocating that we abandon cars or motorized transport; they have a critical role to play in our society, and they save countless hours of repetitive transit.  What I am advocating is the opportunity to enjoy walking and exploring.  I guarantee that the first time you walk two miles to the grocery, you’ll never see those two miles the same way again.

What’s more, walking is excellent, highly accessible exercise.  Walking is not only a great place to start exercising, it’s a great way to maintain your health.  It’s the purest form of sustainable exercise; you’re never out of breath, but you’re always moving.  You’re not sweating your shirt off, but you’re not sitting in an icebox, either.  These add up to letting you stretch walks long, and the longer you exercise, the more long-term fat you’re burning.  From an accessibility standpoint, walking is at the bottom of the difficulty scale.  People walk every day, so increasing the amount significantly while incorporating a bit of exploration means you’re both mentally and physically stimulated.  If you’re just starting out, have faith in your body; while a double-digit mile count could be intimidating, your body can do a lot more than you think it can.

Although I’ve walked all over the world in countries and cities that look very different than Louisville, Kentucky, I love my home.  As such, I’ll be starting here, bringing you themed walks, as I always think it’s best to have a significant destination in mind while you walk.  For my first documented walk, I’m walking to my parents’ house in the East End.  I live downtown, some fifteen miles away, so I’ve already got a healthy first walk ahead of me.

Each post will contain stream-of-consciousness comments accompanying pictures I take on the journey.  Except for some cropping and resizing, these pictures are purposefully left unedited.  The world is pretty in its own way, and I don’t want to mess with it.  They might not be the high-quality, shopped set of pictures some show, but they’re as real as they get.

I’m excited to start this journey with you, and I hope you’ll have fun planning your own walks.  Feel free to leave comments about long walks you’ve taken in your own hometown.  Together, we can explore the world in a whole new way.  Grab your sneakers and let’s go!