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!

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