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Paul Willis

On Foot

The virtues of walking

In the heady Oregon spring of my senior year of high school I embarked on a grand experiment: for 30 days, I would not ride in an automobile. I was curious to see if life could be lived, and what life might be like, on my own two feet (and occasionally on the two fat wheels of my one-speed Schwinn). School was six miles away by road, but four by shortcut through woods and fields, and that part I liked. A little extra time in transit was rewarded by a zesty hike and the scenic wonders of buttercups and barbed wire. I remember practicing my choir numbers in the forest. And I loved the sense of my home being connected to school in one, steady, bodily motion. For the last few yards I strode through a large and thoroughly needless parking lot; I was already there, with nothing to encumber me. For the 30 days I quite literally paced myself and managed to get to my various obligations in due time.

The only problems I remember were with the women in my life. My mother asked me to rush down to the grocery store to buy some eggs for a recipe she was baking for some company that was soon to arrive. I calmly informed her I would ride my bicycle down to the store, but not drive. That, she said, made no sense at all. She was mad. And I seem to recall that my girfriend and I may have broken up that fateful month. Her house was eight miles from mine, and I showed up less frequently and sometimes asked for a shower when I got there. Evening dates became difficult, as did making out in the nonexistent front seat of the nonexistent car.

As it turns out, I married a woman who likes to walk, though unfortunately her natural pace is about twice the speed of mine. I have heard that in some parts of India the husband walks 20 paces in front of his wife. In our own progressive but pedestrian marriage, this arrangement is reversed. Just a couple of summers ago we spent a week in Tuolumne Meadows to celebrate our 20th anniversary, scrambling up some of the peaks we had first climbed on our honeymoon. ...

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