Walking: The Human Story
There’s an extensive list on my website of books that I referred to while writing A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time. They’re broken up into handy categories: Mind/Body, History/Culture, Memoir/Travel, Urban Planning, and a separate section of delights like Robert Moor’s On Trails and Tristan Gooley’s The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs. You’ll find the usual Rebecca Solnit and Henry David Thoreau, along with lesser-known writers like Lynn K. Hall and John Francis (aka Planetwalker).
But several walking essays were far more formative for my thinking and research directions because they took walking out of a world dominated by Thoreau, Wordsworth, Muir, and other mostly white men wandering at will through the world — and into the lives of ordinary people.
Chief among these is Garnette Cadogan’s “Walking While Black,” which contrasts Cadogan’s experiences developing a love of walking for hours in his Kingston, Jamaica, home with the stark reality of being a Black man walking in America. On moving to New Orleans for college, he has to find a completely different way of physically existing in the world, which he’s used to walking freely:
“In this city of exuberant streets, walking became a complex and often oppressive negotiation. I would see a white woman walking toward me at night and cross the street to reassure her that she was safe. . . . New Orleans suddenly felt more dangerous than Jamaica. The sidewalk was a minefield, and every hesitation and self-censored compensation reduced my dignity. Despite my best efforts, the streets never felt comfortably safe.”
Cadogan is a skilled and lyrical writer, and while this essay is now several years old, it hits me fresh every time I read it.
Rahawa Haile’s “Going It Alone,” published in Outside in 2017, takes a similarly seemingly familiar trek — walking the entire Appalachian Trail — to remind readers that not all walking experiences will, or can, reflect that of the most well-known writers of walking. Haile’s clear writing voice and honed observation skills reminded me that everyone should be able to walk the world without fear — of other humans, at least, if not fear of…