(From The Journey Home.)
Whenever possible I avoid the practice myself. If God had meant us to walk, he would have kept us down on all fours, with well-padded paws. He would have constructed our planet on the model of the simple cube, so that the notion of circularity and consequently the wheel might never have arisen. He surely would not have made mountains.
There is something unnatural about walking. Especially walking uphill, which always seems to me not only unnatural but so unnecessary. That iron tug of gravitation should be all the reminder we need that in walking uphill we are violating a basic law of nature. Yet we persist in doing it. No one can explain why. George H. Leigh-Mallory’s asinine rationale for climbing a mountain—because it’s there—could easily be refuted with a few well-placed hydrogen bombs. But our common sense continues to lag far behind the available technology.
My own first Group Outing was with the United States Infantry. The experience made a bad impression on my psyche—a blister on my soul that has never healed completely. Of course, we were outfitted with the very best hiking equipment the army could provide: heavy-gauge steel helmet; gas mask; knee-length wool overcoat; fully loaded ammunition belt around the waist, resting on the kidneys; full field pack including a shovel (“entrenching tool”), a rugged canvas tarpaulin (“shelter half”) and a pair of wool blankets for bivouac; steel canteen filled with briny water (our group leader insisted on dumping salt tablets into each member’s canteen at the beginning of the hike); and such obvious essentials as combat boots, bayonet, and the M-1 rifle. Since resigning from the infantry, some time ago, I have not participated in any group outings.
However, some of us do walk best under duress. Or only under duress. Certainly my own most memorable hikes can be classified as Shortcuts that Backfired. For example, showing my wife the easy way to drive from Deadhorse Point to Moab, via Pucker Pass, I took a wrong turn in the twilight, got lost in a maze of jeep trails, ran out of gas. We walked about twenty miles that night, through the rain, she in tennis shoes and me in cowboy boots. Better than waiting for the heat of the day. Or take the time I tried to force a Hertz rented car up Elephant Hill on the Needles Jeep Trail—another long, impromptu walk. Or one night on the eastern outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a bunch of student drunks decided to climb the Sandia Mountains by moonlight. About twelve started; two of us made it, arriving at the crest sixteen hours later, famished, disillusioned, lacerated, and exhausted. But it sure cured the hangover.
There are some good thins to say about walking. No many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and therefore more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport himself anywhere, instantly. Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me. That’s God’s job, not ours; that what we pay Him for. Her for.
The longest journey begins with a single step, not with a turn of the ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right where you started.
Which reminds me of circles. Which reminds me of wheels. Which reminds me my old truck needs another front-end job. Any good mechanics out there, wandering through the smog?