Heinen: ‘I’m a Pedestrian, Nothing More’

Running is just — too much
Heinen: ‘I’m a Pedestrian, Nothing More’

And now, a few words in defense of a nice, long walk. Elsewhere in this magazine you will find plenty of journalistic energy expended on the rewards of running, a fine exercise for those who are into that sort of thing. I find being in a hurry to get anywhere less and less appealing these days, but I appreciate the enjoyment many get from getting from point A to point B by running.

The health benefits are not lost on me, of course. Well yes, I suppose they are. Running is just – too much. But a walk that’s leisurely, not slow necessarily (although it can be and sometimes should be), at a pace that allows for full awareness of one’s surroundings and inner mind at work – now that’s a beautiful thing. And, I would argue in a 21st century world, it is ever more useful in combating the noise, chaos, troubles, trials and tribulations of said world.

I walk because I have to. It’s what I do. It is admittedly convenient to include the dog on the majority of these walks, but it isn’t a requirement. It isn’t why I walk. I walk because I enjoy it and because it’s good for me in a whole lot of ways. I walk two miles every day, more than half that distance on a bike path near my home along a canal that carries stormwater runoff to a retention pond adjacent to a long-closed landfill. To me, it’s a lovely path along a stream that runs into a little lake surrounded by prairie. Not exactly Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, but close enough for me. Thoreau, of course, was a famous walker. So was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (“I never do anything but when walking, the countryside is my study”) and Arthur Rimbaud (“I’m a pedestrian, nothing more”). Perhaps the most passionate walker of all was Friedrich Nietzsche, who viewed walking as a necessity of life – literally, as in walk or die. “Sit as little as possible,” he wrote, “(D)o not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement.” Thanks to Frederic Gros for introducing me to these well-known walkers in his book “A Philosophy of Walking.”

My wife Nancy and I have walked many hundreds of miles in our life together. Most of the important decisions we’ve made have been made while walking. Sure, it’s always smart (and fun) to revisit those ideas later on the couch with a glass of wine, but decisions made on a walk seem like better decisions. So do discoveries.

Our decision-making walks go through and around the Arboretum, the Lakeshore Path from the Memorial Union to Picnic Point, around Lake Monona, and there-and-back variations along Madison and Dane County’s many wonderful trails and parks. We live in a great community for walking in all four seasons.

Discoveries come when traveling. Traveling and walking are synonymous for us. We get to a place, put our bags down, and we walk. And walk. And walk. We’ll walk six to 10 miles a day and we’ll get to know the place, the people, the pace of life, and we’ll find those treasures unremarked upon in the guide books.

But most important of all, walking is a necessary buffer against the seemingly relentless onslaught of incivility, technological preoccupation, raised voices, bad music and unhappy people that fill so many of our days. It’s time to breathe and be in the moment for a minute. In those moments, I think about a book I’m reading. I remember what I dreamt in the seconds before I woke up. I often write this column, although I usually forget what I wrote when I get to the office. Inevitably, I realize that a fair amount of stress and tension – against which I too often strain – is caused by my responses to things I can’t control, and over the next half mile or so I let them go. And I smile at the runners speeding past.

Side Notes

United Against Hate
I was so impressed with the students and teachers and administrators of Mount Horeb and McFarland high schools who have joined Masood Akhtar’s We Are Many United Against Hate peace and social justice campaign. Both schools and their communities have put time and energy into learning more about understanding each other better and the transition from fear and bias to acceptance and love. The students especially give me such hope.

A Greater Vision
The steering committee of A Greater Madison Vision is impressively diverse and inclusive. This committee is leading an effort to create a comprehensive and shared vision for growth in Dane County. In doing so, they hope 10,000 people – high school age or older who live, work or spend time in Dane County – fill out a 10-minute survey and explore and make choices to guide planning for the next 25 years. It’d be great to have more than 10,000 people from every population imaginable. The survey will be online from Sept. 12 to Nov. 12 at greatermadisonvision.com.