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Walking as a Way of Life

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, art, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

I think walking has always been in my blood. As a kid, I was always exploring the neighborhood on foot with friends, always pushing the boundaries and heading out in a new direction where we hadn’t been before. Always motivated to see what lies beyond the horizon.

The coastal trail in Anchorage, Alaska

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As a 20-year old visiting NYC for the first time in my life, I walked from Brooklyn, all the way through Manhattan to the area near Harlem. Just spent the whole day exploring, taking in the sights, sounds, and energy of the city. Imagining the past and all of my writer and musician heroes, the places where they lived and did their work. At the end of each day, my legs were burning and sore, but I felt great. When you’re in your teens or twenties, inspiration will usually trump pain and discomfort. I was out of my home town at last, on one of the first trips of my life, and felt like I was really beginning to live. I wanted to travel the world, to be outside, where things were happening and where the energy was/is.

Hiking on a trail near Minneapolis, in early Winter

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I’ve often wished I lived out in the country, far away from the cities, where I could hike through forests, and out into isolated places, to my heart’s content. But I’m a city dweller. For many years I haven’t owned a car, and I’ve needed to live in the city to be close to a job.

When I lived in Minneapolis, near the Mississippi river, one of my favorite walks was the mile and a half route taking the 10th Street bridge to the river, then looping back on the pedestrian footbridge, and through the University of MN campus. Many days I would take this walk to clear my mind, and burn off the stress, after the long workday at a nearby hotel. A nice long walk after the workday, and many days during the lunch break, has become an ordinary part of my routine.


Walking along the Mississippi river in La Crosse, Wisconsin

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In La Crosse, Wisconsin, I could walk right out of the downtown onto the marsh trails. I’ve seen a beaver, and regularly see the eagles that live along the Mississippi. In springtime there is an explosion of color, and many migrating birds. Swallows make their homes under the highway bridges over the La Crosse and Black rivers. In winter there, I saw a red-headed woodpecker, and had a close encounter on the walking path with a fox.

In Valdez, Alaska, I routinely walked several miles along the trails that wind out from the town. You are surrounded by green mountains, sometimes with snow on the peaks, glimmering in the sunshine. You pass a stream where salmon can be seen jumping, trying to head further upriver. If you are lucky, early in the morning or late in the evening, you might see an eagle, or even a black bear (hopefully from a distance).

Walking is the fountain of youth

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Hordes of people seem to be walking only from their office to their car each day, and are missing one of the most basic and fundamental joys of being alive.

I met an 80-year old man from the Iron Range of Minnesota who moved about with the spry energy of a man 20 years younger. He was staying at the hotel while his wife had surgery at the U of M hospital. Most days he walked the 1.5 miles from hotel to hospital, and back again, to visit her. On days of rainy weather, I would give him a ride back in the hotel shuttle van. If the weather was good, he preferred to walk. He told me, for years he had walked at least a mile each day – it had become his habit. He said it helped keep him young. He was sharp-minded and full of energy, and obviously had found the fountain of youth.

A path near Valdez, Alaska in late Summer

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Walking is something you can always do, almost anywhere you are. The fresh air and exercise will always do you good. I walk year-round, in below zero temps and in snowstorms, in the rain as well as the hot summer sun. I average 15-20 miles a week walking. If you have two legs, a pair of working lungs, eyes that function reasonably well, blood pumping through your veins, and a song or two in your heart, you have everything you need to get out there and start moving. You’ll always be glad you did, and you will look forward to the next chance to get outside. You may be surprised, for the serendipitous discoveries along the way – a once-in-a-lifetime photo, a chance encounter, a scene that sparks memory and moves you to write a story or draw.

In all seasons of the year, and the changing seasons of your life, walking is a constant wellspring of inspiration. It will take your mind places where it might not otherwise go, and allow space for inspiration and new ideas to flow in.

The rays of the sun on your face, your sometimes sore, but happy feet meeting the earth, one step at a time.

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