When I was 19 years old I lived in the South American country of Argentina. I lived there for two years and for almost all that time I lived in the cities of Cordoba and Mendoza. For the first six months I used a bike to get around. After six months, I decided to walk instead.
After a year and a half of doing this, I had essentially walked the entire distance of those two large cities several times. In the process, I became street wise in the best sense of the word. I met and formed friendships with hundreds of people. I learned what food I could buy off street vendors. I never needed a watch because I could tell by the aromas wafting out from homes and restaurants what time it was. I quickly developed a sense for which streets were safe to go down, and I learned in which direction I was walking by the movement of the breezes touching my cheeks.
I particularly enjoyed the mornings when everyone was hustling to get to work. Their energy, coupled with the crisp morning air, created an excitement that made city living attractive to me. I also liked the nights of the city, when a relaxed atmosphere descended and the day’s activity began to wind down and music could be heard coming from whatever building you were walking by or whatever neighborhood you were in. The mornings excited me, and the evenings relaxed me.
Being outside and walking became almost spiritual for me. I felt like I was in contact with what was happening in the world. In fact, I became so comfortable with walking the streets of Cordoba and Mendoza, I felt I could be dropped off in any city in the world and within hours learn how to get around, survive, and thrive.
Years later, I took myself up on that opportunity. About five years ago, I feel I was inspired to make a goal of walking, not riding on a bus or in a car or on a bike, but walking through 50 great cities of the world. The moment that idea came into my mind, I knew I was going to do it. My wife shared my enthusiasm as I shared the idea with her. Together, we set about creating plans to accomplish this ambitious vision. To start, we defined what we meant by “walking through a city.” For example, for us it meant walking 17 miles within a city over a three day period. So far, even though we have visited over 30 cities, we can claim no more than seven that we can chalk up as absolute victories. Instead of reducing the amount of miles, we decided to stay with 17 miles and work harder to complete it. Hence, we have 43 more cities to go. Knowing that, we are good about staying in condition when we are at home. We consider ourselves in a constant state of preparation for “walking the cities of the world.”
In my own way, I feel like a modern day Marco Polo. For many years travel by walking has become a lost art among today’s civilized people of the world. I’ve concluded that walking the streets of the world is one of the real life experiences we can have as humans.
A while back I shared these thoughts with a friend and the response I got back was, “I’d do that if I had the time and money to do it.” That was a kind of wake call for me. I thought, “Have I lost touch with people around me?” So I took this as a personal challenge to figure out how walking could be done by anyone irrespective of time, money, or physical condition. I’ve come up with three ideas I’d like to share.
One, if your budget can’t afford walking through a city in a foreign country, pick a city that conforms to your financial condition. For example, if you live in Salt Lake City, maybe you could walk through San Francisco, or even closer to home, Las Vegas or Ogden. If not, then maybe you can walk through your own city. My wife and I have done the latter several times. We’ve walked from the north of the city to the south. Another day we walked from the east to the west. During each walk we’ve had an entirely different experience. We soon realized how diverse Salt Lake City has become. We have discovered the world in our own city just by walking.
Two, if your physical condition prohibits you from walking, choose a place that can accommodate your situation. For example, Liberty Park in Salt Lake City is one of the most interesting places I have ever experienced. Every morning that my wife and I go there to walk, we find every sort of person imaginable going around the several oval walkways that frame this beautiful park. As we’ve walked we’ve seen people on crutches, and on bikes that are powered by the arms of paraplegics; we’ve seen moms pushing strollers (a lot of moms with strollers, moms feel safe at Liberty Park); we’ve seen athletes, running and walking, preparing for big races; we’ve seen army and navy military personnel running to qualify for one thing or another, and people pretty much like us walking as a form of exercise. At the park, we’re all rooting each other on in our own way. In this instance, the world converges in one spot every day. One is not prohibited by physical limitation from enjoying it.
Three, if your schedule is too hectic, try walking around your neighborhood. Consider walking down a street you’ve never gone down before. Believe me there are plenty of them. Like they say about Paris, there’s something new around every corner. A woman who stopped talking to us some years back actually gave us a compliment the other day. I was as shocked and delighted by her greeting as I was the first time I saw the pyramids. (I am not exaggerating.) And, all we did was venture outside.
Cities are wonderful places. There is nothing more exotic than a city when experienced on foot. Anymore, we are probably never more alive than we are in engaging life through walking.