We homo-sapiens have never been considered the primo specimens of physicality in the animal world. How to compare our strength and speed and agility—the attributes of athletes—to the superiority of the apes, the cheetahs, the blue whales?
But there is one activity, one athletic endeavor, where the human race has proven its superiority over the eons. And that is walking.
Yes, when still in Africa, as early homo-erectus beings, we rose from all fours, and over those first few evolutionary millennia, we became walkers extraordinaire.
For hunting and gathering, our clans would cover 30, 40, 50 miles per day. Then, to sum up several centuries, the intolerable heat of Africa drove us to walk, walk, walk all the way to Asia and Eurasia.
The nobles, from the Egyptians to the Romans to the Greeks, might have been paraded around on wheeled carts or fanned as they lay on barges down the Nile, but we the masses continued to walk.
The famous Camino de Santiago is Spain derived from long walks emanating from many points around what is now considered the center of Western Europe. Imagine in previous centuries, with sandals or stiff boots, walking all the way from what is now Paris down and over the Pyrenees to the point of worship of Santiago in northern Spain.
And we can skip to more modern times, the 19th century, to recall people walking mammoth distances across South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States.
In the mid-to-late 1800s, people thought nothing of walking to a friend’s home some 50 miles away on a Saturday. That was a time also when competition walks around ovals were the rage.
Perhaps the most famous American walker was one Edward Payson Weston. A dandy, usually sporting such eccentric garb as purple velvet pants or a white plumed hat, Weston had many many miles under his laced boots….he had walked from New York to Maine, New York to Chicago, among other outings, and in 1909, in his statement of lament against the advent of the slick, fast, popular automobile, Weston walked at the age of 70 all the way from NYC to San Francisco. He did this largely on unstable railroad tracks and through unhewn fields, not to mention over the Rockies and through the Sierras, at the age of 70, averaging 40 miles per day for 100 days.
We at the EverWalk Book Club are now engaged in the Wayne Curtis recounting of that outrageous feat by Weston. The book is called The Last Great Walk and what is fascinating about it is that is expands beyond the incredible trek by Weston. The Last Great Walk is more a sociological longview of the human history of walking. Until the car came on our scene in the early 1900s, we were defined as WALKERS. But once the car arrived, we quickly and shockingly left behind the modus operandi that had been the backbone of our species.
One sentence in the introduction to Curtis’s book hit me right between the eyes: “NOT walking, I believe, is one of the most radical things we’ve ever decided to do.”
Bonnie and I, both East Coasters now living in Los Angeles, have often expressed our vision of EverWalk turning the car culture of LA into a walking culture. Talk about radical. Instead of driving to the local newsstand, only a quarter-mile away, we would now all walk to get our morning paper and coffee??????