When you find yourself stranded on a desert island far far away and when it’s way too hot for running, all there is to do is to walk – around the whole island! Long distance walking is very different to running, but nevertheless deeply fulfilling. And although you might be asking what’s the title got to do with walking, here’s what you might want to know about the joys of walking a long long way…
I went on a walk. About 100 miles long, so it was quite a long walk although I didn’t clock it. This is what I learnt –
Walking is slow.
Even when you’re walking quickly, walking takes time, and we’ve become pretty conditioned to wanting to get from a to b as quickly as possible, but know that on foot it will take you a good while.
And in that slowness, time disappears.
When the only thing that you have to do is to put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, there is no time. You are time. You are in the perpetual now, because there is nothing else, just being in it…over and over. (You have to leave your watch at home to experience this though.)
When your only aim is to walk, there is nothing else to do.
Some thoughts will come. They’ll go. You may get lost in others, but the act of walking, purposefully, will bring you back into the, well, act of walking… Round and round into the now.
When time disappears, hours will go by while you’re just doing the same thing…and you’ll barely notice it.
This is non-time. Granted, the scenery will change around you, slowly. So slowly, that it’s barely a thing to notice, but it changes.
And yet there is a knowing that if you keep putting one step in front of the other, you will get where you want to be.
This applies to all of life (as do all other points, I believe), as well as walking. It sounds cheesy, but this truism can escape us when we’re surrounded with lots and lots of other shiny objects everywhere. There is an inevitability – a deep truth – that every step you take takes you closer to where you want to be. It’s a very cathartic experience – to know this unquestionably, to garner the deep important lesson here.
Trusting that is equally important.
Because when you haven’t seen a single human being for over an hour and a half, even in the non-time, you definitely want to trust that you’re going to reach your destination! When you start to hurt, knowing that it will come to an end at some definitive point is essential.
Seeing your destination – a landmark, a waiting car, the minaret of the mosque that you’re heading towards – for the very first time, is a very powerful driver.
It enhances trust. It creates a sense of expectation, and it triggers something in the brain – perhaps it’s hope, perhaps it’s the reward mechanisms kicking in, but it will lift you and reinforce your own capacity to achieve.
Another cheesism, but achieving the small goals enables the larger ones to unfold without you noticing. Keeping your focus on the small goal that every day offers a fabulous sense of satisfaction.
We cannot achieve these things alone.
We might go on the journey alone, but we don’t achieve goals without support from others. And help comes in many forms – it comes in the form of the husband who drops you off, or picks you up and offers you unending support in your ability to do a thing. It comes in the form of drivers giving you a wide berth on the road, or of others slowing down to a walking pace to check whether you want help? ‘Want lift?!’ No, thank you, I’m just walking. Well in that case, do you ‘want water?!’
It comes in the form of being tooted toots of passing encouragement maybe a thousand times, and hundreds more friendly waves; it comes in the form of multiples of drivers turning their cars around to check you’re ok – multiples, daily! It comes in the form of one particular family stopping by with a million smiling, waving boys being ferried around in the back of the truck. Support comes in so many forms. And each and every form offers a new dimension to warming the heart and bringing a smile to your face. A long lasting, genuine smile. A smile that lingers way after the car has disappeared…
When a culture are less precious about time (than we are in the west), they seem to take the time to care.
Boundaries are essential.
If I’d said yes to every bottle of water that I was offered, I’d have been able to start up my own recycling plant. Grateful, I was, for every single offer of kindness that I received, but knowing that carrying something was not only going to be a hindrance but also a pain in the backside when it was empty and consumed; setting a boundary from the outset is imperative. Throw-away is not an option.
A soupcon of singlemindedness with an attitude of gratitude seems goes a long way to achieving the thing you’re aiming for…
That said, when the man in the memorable pink Toyota passes you every single day and waves, and when on your last day happens by and stops just when you’re having a 5-minute break, it’s essential to say yes, thank you, I would love a coffee from your flask. And blow it, I’ll extend my break as well…and let’s chat over a smattering of English.
Nothing is so important that honouring some particular connections should be overlooked.
But mostly, I learned that we are never alone.
On the long days, on the day with a bit of a slog ahead, on the days when I literally didn’t see even a car for whole stretches of kilometers, there were the birds. The larks, the crows, the Egyptian vulture – they’re all following you, keeping their eye, making sure you’re ok (or maybe waiting for their next meal?!). Flying ahead, waiting on a post, or a rock, allowing you to almost catch up, then flying on again. And when their stint is up, they seem to pass an invisible baton on to another, sending their cries forward to be picked up and carried ahead by the wind, and the next guiding flying friend.
I walked the whole way round a near-deserted island by myself and I have never felt so cared for and supported in my whole life. (Ok, so on my wedding day, perhaps…at a push ; )
I wholly recommend going on a long walk.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t push through massive pain barriers and try to do it all on one day, but it was a case of getting up before daybreak day after day for uncomfortably long and hot but wholly enjoyably doable sections.
Choose your route carefully – walking into the headstrong winds for hours on end is far more difficult than having that same breeze behind you (so it turns out!). And make sure you walk on uneven ground for as long as possible – it’s like giving your entire body a moving massage; it will rejuvenate and invigorate you as you go.
That said, and this is the final piece of learning that I extracted from the whole experience – planning, training, doing, hurting, sleeping and healing and doing some more – sand, when walked on for long enough, drains your entire will from your body. Choose something with a little bit of resistance under your feet, and you’ll find you can stride on for almost ever… ; )