I walk a lot. When my neighbors see me on the road they recognize me and my dog. I’m a hard guy to miss. I’ve been trotting these roads for a few decades. People usually honk, or wave, or hurl steel objects out the windows.
I have been walking a lot in the past four months of quarantines since there isn’t much else to do besides eat.
My favorite time of day for walking has always been night. You sweat less. You can think more clearly. And you have no idea how immense the night sky is until you try to take the whole thing in at once.
I started this walking business after my father died. I was a chubby boy, and I was only getting chubbier. Lots of people feed you when someone in your family dies. And they just never quit. You can gain a lot of weight going to funerals.
Pretty soon I was eating homemade biscuits like they were gummy bears. And don’t get me started on Mounds. Sweet God. There are support groups for people who like Mounds the way I did.
Above all, I was a big fan of cheese. Cheese is a lot more magical than some give it credit. There are thousands of different kinds, not just the varieties you see in the supermarket. People in European countries, for instance, name their children after cheese. Lutherans in Wisconsin, I understand, actually thank God for cheese as part of the Lord’s Prayer.
Anyway, when I was a boy, the longest duration I had ever walked was nine minutes. I know this because right before my father died I was in P.E. class and the teacher told us to walk around the gymnasium so he could time us.
I don’t know why he had us do this. Physical education class was supposed to be about dodgeball, climbing ropes, and snapping towels in the locker room hard enough to draw blood.
But there we were, walking the wood-floored gym like a bunch of inmates in the exercise yard. After nine minutes, I was so winded that my chubby little ribs hurt and all I wanted was a Mounds.
Then my father died. I got so depressed that I didn’t think I would make it. Looking back, I think I was really depressed. Maybe the clinical kind. When I’d wake up I couldn’t wait until night arrived so I could go back to sleep.
Then, one night—and I can’t explain why—I just went outside and started walking. I laced up my ratty Chuck Taylors and went.
It was black outside, and the moon was out. I think my mother was a little concerned since we lived on a secluded gravel road. But the stars were above me, and I’ve always had a thing for stars.
That night, I was gone for what seemed like a hundred years until sweat was pouring down my back and I couldn’t breathe. When I got back home the clock said I’d been gone almost five minutes.
I was a little embarrassed. Five minutes? I was breathing like Darth Vader.
So the next night, I went out again. This time, I brought a wristwatch. I timed myself. I was going to walk for nine minutes or die trying. I did 12 minutes. And I don’t recall ever being so proud.
So that’s how I started walking. I walked in the evenings to watch the sky. To watch seasons change. To breathe. To think. Who knows why Young Me walked so much? I can’t figure Young Me out sometimes.
It took a few years to build my distance up from minutes to miles. Pretty soon, I was going three miles almost every evening. Everyone was asking if I’d been losing weight, and whether I had a terminal illness. Old women appeared from the doorways and tried to feed me.
I went from being a husky kid to a size small. I wish I could tell you that I felt like a rockstar, being slim and lanky, but I still just felt like me.
Even so, three miles was a long way, and I did it every single evening, and that made me a little proud.
Then I started running some. I sent in a few bucks for a subscription to “Runner’s World.” I spent my inheritance ordering one pair of shoes.
And whenever I took to the road, I would get intoxicated simply by thinking about stuff. “Why am I here?” “Who will I marry one day?” “Why is there braille on the drive-up ATM?”
Today, I still walk and run. I go through a lot of cheap shoes because I wear them out. I take my dog with me and we have great conversations. My dog never looks at me when I speak, she is too busy looking for something new and adventurous to pee on.
Sometimes, late at night, I think about that chubby kid who had no clue what was happening in a terrifying world. Mostly, he was just afraid. And walking made him feel less scared.
I haven’t changed much. I still have Chuck Taylors in my closet. And I still wonder about this world sometimes. I still get lost in large, immense skies that display the light of an entire solar system.
And I am still reminded that whatever is worrying me will pass in time. And I’m reminded that no matter how godawful this life gets, the quickest way through hell is simply to start walking.
Now I’m going to eat a Mounds.