The Walking Commute

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

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.