The Walking Commute

Walking each day lets me inhabit my body, and my mind.

Sarah Bumbarger
Feb 5, 2014 · 3 min read

I work at a desk and spend large parts of my day sitting, without natural light, moving only my fingers to type and eyes to strain at a screen. But for an hour every day, I walk. For the last three and half years, almost every day, I’ve walked to and from work. With the exception of a two-month period of bus riding last year, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used anything other than my legs to get to work.

A few years ago, when my job was closer to my apartment, it only took 15 minutes to walk there, 15 minutes back. But when I switched jobs, the walk got longer, 30 minutes there, 30 minutes back. I checked the bus routes and metro, but neither would get me there any faster, and I couldn’t think of a good reason to spend the extra time and money to ride. So I walked.

When it’s really cold, I wear two hats, two scarves, two pairs of tights, walk fast, and hope for the best. When DC gets hot and swampy in the summer, I move slower, stop for iced coffee, and map elaborate routes to avoid the open sun. If you are going to be a year round walker, you need to let yourself bend with the weather.

When I took a bus, for two months last year, things became disjointed. The thing is, if you get into a car, or metro, you aren’t interacting with the world around you. You are just being transported, in a box, from A to B. Worse still if you get on a highway. There are no reference points, nothing to ground you in the outside lived world, just mile markers to guide you from one inside environment to another.

But when I walk, I can see things. Often it’s the same things, the same routes, over and over again. But this repetition allows me to notice – the people living in my neighborhood, the feather on the street, the lovely slice of sky in between buildings. Once, I found the shell of a robin’s egg on the pavement, blue and delicate and perfect.

One hour each day is a lot of time to put down, or at least, it adds up. Over three and a half years, it comes out to around 910 hours. Sometimes I listen to music or talk on the phone, sometimes I walk with a friend, and sometimes, I just walk. I’ve spent a lot of those hours anxious about work or personal life. I’ve worried, I’ve obsessed, I’ve cried. Sometimes I can’t bear to be with myself for that long, a whole hour, 30 minutes there, 30 minutes back. But like it or not, I’m stuck with myself for that time. And it’s a valuable thing, to be stuck with yourself. To be bored, depressed, frustrated, annoyed by yourself.

Because of this, because I’m stuck with myself, I’ve also solved problems on those walks. I gotten up my resolve to change jobs, mulled career changes, fought and made up with loved ones, made peace, with others and with myself. I’ve generated ideas, come to realizations. I composed this on my walk home.

I’ve had to live with myself and notice the world around me, often with no distractions, for one hour, each day.

    Sarah Bumbarger

    Written by

    I like cities, systems, and the stories we tell ourselves and each other.