The book that captured my imagination most as a teenager was Peter Jenkins' A Walk Across America. In the 1970s, disappointed with the state of the world, Jenkins set off walking with his dog Cooper from upstate New York down to New Orleans and across to the coast of Oregon. After high school, I wanted nothing more than to walk across the country, getting to know as many zip codes as possible. In retrospect, I can't quite remember why I drove up to Alaska instead. I think my idea was to save up money by working on a fishing boat in Alaska and then drive back down to San Diego with some savings so I could spend the following year hiking up the Pacific Crest Trail.
I wasn't able to get the mythic job on a fishing boat, so I returned cashless and disappointed to San Diego and started working full time in coffeeshops while taking a few community college classes. I got into rock climbing in a serious way and was admitted to a study abroad program in Nepal, where I figured I could learn how to be a mountain climbing guide — one of the few jobs that interested me at the time.
It was in a Kathmandu coffee shop in 1999 when I met Hawk McGinnis, a 70-something son of a Texan minister, who had been walking around the world since 1983. In fact, I first came across him in Kathmandu's English-language newspaper, the Kathmandu Post, and was excited when I saw him walk in with a heavy backpack, a wizard-length walking stick, and a loud sigh. I let him get settled and then walked over to chat him up. Hawk was eager to talk about his adventures and life philosophy but wasn't interested in any of my tips for what to do off the beaten track in Nepal. How odd it seemed to me that someone could be so motivated by his curiosity to see the world, but then showed little interest in understanding his surroundings. He repeated emphatically with a finger in the air that "the journey is the destination," but it seemed like he was more motivated by the bucket list. Still, Hawk inspired me and I promised myself I'd fulfill my dream of walking across America after I finished college.
It never happened, of course. I didn't even make it up the Pacific Crest Trail — at least not yet.
My wife and I love walking. Our favorite way to spend an unscheduled weekend is to just pick a neighborhood and explore for three or four hours by walking its streets and parks. On our coffee table is the book 1,0001 Walks You Must Take Before You Die, a gift from a friend. If we had more time or more money, we would walk them all.
For now, we take shorter walks through the Sierra Nevada and along the California Coast. And we hope to walk the Camino de Santiago in the next couple of years.
I hope to always be a flâneur — in nature and in cities, even online. All it takes is a pair of good walking shoes and the willingness to pay attention.