Why have we lost the joy of walking?

If you’d rather ride in a soft seat than walk on the hard ground, read this.

HOWARD O'HAGAN May 11 1957

Why have we lost the joy of walking?

If you’d rather ride in a soft seat than walk on the hard ground, read this.

HOWARD O'HAGAN May 11 1957

Why have we lost the joy of walking?

If you’d rather ride in a soft seat than walk on the hard ground, read this.


Early man, a hunter, walked an average of twenty miles a day, according to an estimate by Robert Briffault, the anthropologist, in his epic, The Mothers; this distance, traveled over rough country, is still well within the daily capacities of Rocky Mountain guides and trappers. Yet in September 1955 the Gallup Poll surveyed the physical habits of Canadians and concluded that during that autumn month the average citizen walked a fraction less than two miles a day. The survey covered women as well as men. Women with their housework and shopping probably outwalked men, who are tied to desks and machines.

A similar enquiry into the day-by-day routine of people in the United States,


where the motorcar is in equal if not greater use, would doubtless reveal a similar picture of an immobilized humanity. The results would be widely different in other parts of the world—in Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America —where walking is an accepted way of life and people do not, at a given signal, clamber aboard a motorcar.

But north of the Rio Grande—except for a few remaining frontier districts— walking is not only avoided, as though it were God’s punishment to man in this place below, but is even looked down upon. Canadians and Americans are truly sedentary—a word from the Latin sedere, “to sit.” A walk to a Canadian means the few steps requircontinued on page 58

Why have we lost the joy of walking?

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ed to shift from one sitting position to another—from the soft chair in the living room to the soft seat in the automobile outside. If he lacks a car, he will often stand for fifteen minutes under a bus sign to go a distance he might have walked in halt the time. More than mere laziness is involved in this mass inertia, in the reluctance to plant firm foot on city pavement or to stretch one’s legs up a country lane. This is not to say that no Canadian walks unless he has to. Some of them, a diminishing breed, still do. and so have not forgotten the shape of the shadow cast before them by the sun. They stroll on city streets. In the country they walk to enjoy the feel of turf beneath their boot soles and to partake in the wonder of a world that grows below them as they climb a hill.

Their preference for walking is not always easy to explain to those who habitually drive or arc driven. In the city I like to go for a walk before turning in. Away from the downtown section, it’s seldom that I meet another person afoot. To the sound of my step, dogs bark. Yet when cars pass with a swish of tires or blare of horn, the dogs are silent. It is the rarely heard footfall down the dimly lit street that disturbs them.

Not long ago when I was walking at night in Victoria, B.C., a police car pulled up beside me. The constable asked me where I was going. I answered that I was out for the exercise. He regarded me carefully, then said. “Oh, I see. Walking, eh?" His tone disparaged walking— no fit diversion for a grown man.

The brief encounter reminded me of another, years before. I was walking under a back-pack down the Athabaska to my home town of Jasper. Alta. I had left Brazeau Lake that morning and, after crossing Poboktan Pass, planned to spend the night in the ranger's cabin at A-^k^aska Falls, a day’s travel of about sixty miles. This was before the motor road connecting Jasper with Lake Louise and Banff had been cut through the Athabaska valley.

Shortly after noon, above Sunwapta Falls, I met a party of Banff outfitters heading south. The man in the lead, tall and travel-worn, wearing red shirt, buckskin vest, batwing chaps and riding gaiters with spurs, reined in his big roan. When he learned that I was hiking in from Brazeau Lake, not for pay or personal gain but, as he phrased it, “just for the taste of the sweat" on my lips, he gazed down at me thoughtfully, wagged his head and said, “Man. you must be crazy!”

He rode on. secure in his eminence. Like the policeman who accosted me in Victoria, he looked askance at walking, but from a slightly different angle. The policeman seemed to consider that a walk along the street at night was frivolous, a waste of time. In contrast, the rider on the Athabaska would have been harder put to give his reason, not because he was necessarily less articulate, but because the reasons were not so consciously felt. To his mind walking, especially under a pack, subtly demeaned a man.

Back-packing, he might have said, was no more than “scabbing on a horse.” A man could hardly sink further below his proper estate, which was, of course, astride. The Spanish word for “gentleman,” caballero, has its root in the Latin caballus, “a horse,” as has the French title of chevalier and the English “chivalry.” In feudal times horsemanship denoted a man’s class. The upper classes rode, the poorer walked, or at best sat on the rump of a burro. Metaphorically and in fact, the man on horseback was above the man on foot.

The red-shirted rider on the Athabaska could not have walked far had he wanted to. Mounted, his high-heeled gaiters and his heavy batwing chaps protected him. The high heel would not easily slip through the stirrup to hang him up if his horse bucked, and the chaps gave him good purchase on his saddle leather— together they made walking an awkward and cumbersome exercise. Indeed, they marked his emancipation from walking and from the dull and menial tasks associated with those who walked — the slaves, the serfs, the peasants. The adjective “pedestrian” has come to mean the dull, the humdrum or the commonplace.

Modern woman, though she may not know it, is also the victim of this bias against all that is “pedestrian.” Her high heels are no more adapted for walking than are those of the cowboy’s boot or gaiter. Although they push her pelvis out of place and afflict her with corns and bunions, she suffers them for fashion's sake. Deprived of her natural swinging gait, on her foreshortened foot, she cannot walk far or fast: she stabs the pavement at each step with a stilt-like heel, as if in anger at the earth that bears her up, while man stands by to admire and acclaim her progress as a thing of beauty.

More forthrightly, the Chinese used to bind the feet of their high-born baby girls. Later, in the Middle Ages, the Venetians introduced the zoccoli. These were elaborate slippers, raised on tiny stilts sometimes as high as eighteen inches. On them, like her Chinese sister with bound feet, the lady could barely totter from place to place. Unable to walk, much less work in the fields, or to stray far from home, at least in theory, she offered uneasy testimony to her husband’s affluence and to the virtue of his household.

Similarly, the modern woman’s high heels by implication limit her mobility and set her high in the social scale. The cowboy’s gaiter, though it impedes his walking, shows that he is more mobile than his social inferior, the man afoot.

These days, of course, the motorcar and not the horse or style of heel, sets the standard of mobility. The more expensive the car, the further its driver is removed from the mundane necessity of walking. The pedestrian, glimpsed through the windshield, is no more than an encumbrance to the highway. But man’s essential physical dignity, setting him above the beasts, is that he alone among them walks upright, lifting his forehead to the sun.

Millennia ago, with a crude stone implement in his hand, he walked out of the shadows to conquer and populate the world. Behind his somber brow were visions, and in his hand, swinging free because he was erect, the slow-growing power that would change and shape the place he walked and make those visions real. Man walked across six continents, and the act of walking became a part of his religion and philosophy.

The Book of Genesis says, “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . God was not borne along above the

ground. He walked upon it. Moses walked up the mountain in Sinai to meet his God and walked back down with the Ten Commandments.

The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is one hundred and twenty miles and Joseph and Mary, according to one Biblical authority, were a week on the way. an average of seventeen miles a day. this though Mary was “great with child.“ Jesus Himself was stout of limb, a walker and climber of hills, going from town to town in Judaea and traveling the rugged country of Galilee with the message of man's hope.

Military history, as well as Biblical history, is a convincing chronicle of how far and fast men can travel on foot. In World War II Russian troops marched in tattered footwear two thousand miles from Stalingrad to the Elbe.

Historians have claimed that Saxon King Harold lost the Battle of Hastings to William the Conqueror in 1066 because his men had marched two hundred miles in the preceding ten days. Last summer six volunteers set out over part of the same route to prove that it could be done. They wore chain mail and carried battle-axes and walked the required twenty miles in a day. One was asked if he could keep it up for another nine days. He said, “Yes, but I wouldn’t be fit to fight any battle when 1 got there.”

To Harold’s plowboys and yeomen a march of two hundred miles in ten days would not have been excessive. In the frontier years of North America it was mere routine. In October 1808, John Coulter, a trapper, was seized by the Blackfeet on the headwaters of the Missouri. near the present town of Zeman, Montana. The Indians stripped him of his clothes and moccasins and turned him loose. For six miles Coulter outran his pursuers. Then he swam the Missouri river and, stark naked and barefoot, walked two hundred miles over the mountains to a fort on the lower Yellowstone, traversing in freezing weather a large part of today's Montana. It took him eight days.

In those days men often measured their walks not in hundreds, but in thousands of miles. One, John Pritchard, listed in the records of the Hudson’s Bay Company, is an example. In October 1814 his canoe was “taken with the ice” at Abitibi while he was traveling from Montreal with a message for the governor of the Red River settlement. Pritchard tied on snowshoes and tramped two thousand miles, hauling his provisions on a sled, with the temperature below zero.

Perhaps a more remarkable overland journey is that of Robert Campbell, also of the HBC. According to the journal of Sir George Simpson, then governor of the company, Campbell left the White River tributary to the Yukon on the Alaskan boundary on September 6, 1852. He reached Crow Wing on the head of the Mississippi on March 13. 1853. In his journey, most of it by snowshoe, he had traveled from the watershed of the Bering Sea to that of the Gulf of Mexico, crossing those of the Arctic and Hudson Bay en route, covering 16 degrees of latitude and 46 of longitude, a total distance of about three thousand miles in a little over six months.

Such walks may sound heroic today, yet under proper conditions a walk of a hundred miles or more need entail no hardship for a man who is physically able. In September 1925 I hiked from Jasper to Lake Louise with Douglas Bulgin of Winnipeg. The route we took was not the direct one of the present-day highway and on it we covered more than two hundred miles through mountain country, some of it without a trail, and lost half a day in making a raft and crossing the North Saskatchewan river. We reached Lake Louise after eight days in better shape than at the beginning of the journey. Unlike Saxon King Harold's soldiers, we were not wearing chain mail. Instead, we set out under fifty-five-pound packs. This walk from Jasper to Lake Louise was no exceptional feat. It was a casual outing, a way of living for a while close to the mountains.

Since then I have often sat on a high shoulder and watched below me the cars on the highway leading south from Jasper. They resemble black beetles, each pursued by the one behind it. Encased in his glass bubble mounted on a steel frame, the driver and those with him see little of the mountains. They have no time. They are impatient to be home again and tell of the places they have been.

Mountains are loneliness and mystery. To them from early days man has gone to dream his dreams and seek his God. He has gone, not in a machine, the frozen labor of other men, and certainly not in haste, but humbly and on foot. The reward the mountains give him is in the effort they exact from him.

The motorist, who rarely walks a mile from the highway, knows none of this. The mountains to him are so many miles of road between motels and his journey through them only a flight from one familiarity to another. Driving the same car that in the city takes him from

house to office or factory, his radio beside him blaring music and commercials, he is securely insulated from intimate contact with what is around him. In a sense he has not left home at all, for the motorcar, carrying him along at fifty miles an hour, is but a microcosm of the environment he thinks he has left behind.

Buried and forgotten under the gravel or asphalt of the highway is the trace of a trail, not more than two hands wide, never going more than a few paces in a straight line, where men once led packhorses or toiled under back-packs to blaze the way that he would one day follow.

The unknown and its wonder, for which they sought, are still there in the mountains, up the streams, along the shadowed draws that touch the highway. No signpost points to them; the motorist, with few exceptions, passes them by. To get to them, he would have to walk.

Walking in the mountains means climbing. One climbs on his toes, taking short steps up a steep slope. This calls for footwear that the motorist lacks: hobnailed boots, or boots with composition soles which hold on grass, moss or rock. Thus shod, a fit man or woman can climb without being winded. For an older person to attempt to climb on slippery soles may be to invite a heart attack. The comfort of woollen socks and a stop to bathe the feet in a snow-fed torrent will add to the day’s exhilaration.

Athletes, fishermen, skiers and such men as the letter carrier, whose usual round is twelve miles a day, are in a separate category. But not most Canadians. For them a fiveor six-mile crosscountry walk, much less a short mountain climb, is apt to be too sudden an exertion.

William Blake, the English poet, wrote:

Great things are done when men and

mountains meet;

This is not done by jostling in the


Canadians, with the tradition of wilderness travel behind them, and with the wilderness itself still at their doors, are fast becoming a nation of “street jostlers.” Once a year, for two weeks, they fare forth into the wilderness and see it from a car window, because they have forgotten how to walk. In England and other parts of Europe paths are made and hostels kept open for hikers. In Canada and the United States the hiker goes forth at his peril along the edge of the highway, enveloped in gasoline fumes, deafened by the roar of traffic.

Yet walking is a real factor in national as well as in individual health. A study of American youth—the results would apply equally to Canada where living conditions are comparable—by Dr. Hans Kraus, associate professor of medicine at New York University, and his assistant, Sonja Weber, was brought to the attention of President Eisenhower a little more than a year ago. The Kraus-Weber report disclosed that in six tests given to groups of European and American children for physical fitness, 57.9 percent of American children failed one or more as against only 8.7 percent of the Europeans. The investigators believed that the reason for the poor American showing was the push-button life in the United States. European children were more active. Instead of being taken to school by bus, they walked to school.

Medical authorities agree that walking is one of the most natural and healthful exercises. Distinct from running — the walker always has one foot on the ground —it is relaxing and easily regulated. A good walker points his toes straight forward, thus taking a longer stride. He sel-

dom develops a paunch’or the ills that go with it — varicose veins, shortness of breath and an overburdened heart.

A middle-aged man or woman, beginning the practice of a daily walk, should be content at first with a modest goal of two or three miles a day. If overweight, he ^pr she should have a checkup. Walking will not ordinarily reduce the weight of those over forty. For that, a controlled diet is indicated.

Most doctors say that walking exercises a sound heart beneficially. Work and exercise are good for a sound heart, though they might further injure a weak one. The tonic effect of walking is recognized in the “early ambulation” encouraged today after major abdominal surgery. With the patient out of bed a day or two after the operation the danger of blood clots is less and the wastage of muscle from inaction is avoided.

Walking is an exercise that can be followed into old age, depending upon the individual’s physical status. Witness the testimony of Donald B. Gillies, a mining consultant who lived in Cleveland. Gillies died last fall at 84. He was active in his profession until his death. He was my uncle. I wrote to ask him what he considered a good day’s walk. He replied: “At my age, a good day’s traveling over the usual trail country, with a repeat the next day, would be eighteen miles. If for one day only, twenty-two miles would not be too bad.” Donald Gillies had been a walker all his life and carried not a pound of spare flesh.

You can’t drive downtown

Ironically, the motorcar, which has done so much to take man off his feet, promises to be the means of putting him back on them. During the rush hours in the downtown sections of big cities, a man on foot will usually outpace cars and buses; congestion has reached such lengths that architects and city planners, among them the internationally known Victor Gruen of New York City, predict that radical measures will have to be taken against its principal cause, the motorcar. The city of the future, they say, will have in its centre parklike malls for shopping, theatregoing and café-sitting. From these, wheeled traffic will be banned and the only travel will be by walking.

This is a practice long ago adopted in some cities of South America. In Buenos Aires, for example, no cars are permitted on Calle Florida, its main shopping centre, between four and eight o'clock in the afternoon. It is then as though a truce had been declared in the daily strife, while crowds leave the sidewalks and mingle on the pavement, or stroll leisurely by shop windows and café doors. The hurly-burly of late afternoon in a North American city is shattering by contrast.

Whether they wish it or not, it seems that modern man and woman must come to terms with their feet again and put them back to the use for which they were intended. The experience should be at once refreshing and enlightening.

Walking offers physical well-being and its rhythm induces peace of mind. It increases the perceptions because the walker is close to the landscape which to the speeding motorist is only a blur. The walker is an aware man if only because he must watch where to set his foot and in a degree returns to his childhood, when every step was an adventure.

To walk alone is to assess one’s self. To walk with another is to get to know him. Life has no greater challenge for man than these two: to learn to walk alone and to be able to match his stride with that of his fellow,