When we walk there are other benefits apart from the brutally systemic ones of doing miles and ticking off days. If long distance walking, as a model of a successful enterprise, is to have any resonance beyond the soundbite and the catchphrase, one has to excavate deeper into its lasting appeal. So, one walks for:
And, similar, but not the same: exercise
The effect on the mind.
Adventure- pure adventure albeit not of a very dangerous kind.
Wild animal watching.
Making fires and living in a simplified way- not to be underestimated.
I won’t deal with these in any order, partly as a counterweight to the urgent tone, which sometimes has to be adopted, of the self-help text. But those moments of urgency can benefit from a few meanders, just as, from a kayaker’s point of view, rapids benefit from periods of slack water for recovery and preparation for the next onslaught.
The effect on the mind. This has to be a centrally important part of the whole enterprise, indeed, it explains partly the addiction many show to walking. Old heroin addicts reformed take to ticking off Munros, each 3000 foot peak the healthful equivalent of a syringe of dope. There is no question that sustained walking beyond the merely nominal 45 minute stroll, builds up a complex mental state bordering on a mild euphoria. I say complex because it is more complex than a predictable hit. One never really goes walking simply to get the hit, but one is mildly disappointed when one doesn’t. Weather has something to do with it, light and views also. A walk through woods can be an exercise in ecstasy if the woods are, perhaps, ancient and gnarled beeches, but close packed firs or sycamores dripping a rain storm that ended hours ago can be simply depressing, unnerving even.
And then, when walking, all rumination seems positive, getting somewhere, unlike when we are sitting down and pondering when thoughts tend to spiral in and pile up, clogging everything up. Not for nothing is this condition of introspection known as ‘satan’s intestines’.
But walking thoughts aren’t like that. You can think things through, if the walk is long enough. You can certainly gain perspective, zooming out and seeing it’s just a hill of beans after all.
When I do long distance walks I sleep less and awake refreshed, partly because, I am sure, the act of walking and thinking attains the state of meditation. It fulfils the role of dreaming, reordering the mind’s contents in a beneficial way. I know I feel as if things are sorted, decks cleaned, ready to get on with something new.
You can go years circling stale old thoughts, thoughts that hold you back. A long distance walk is one way to break free from all this.