For 68 days I was without my bike. For three weeks of this, I was overseas but for the rest, I was in Edinburgh waiting for my bike to return from getting repainted as a lovely Christmas present.
At the same time, I had picked up a book at my parents called Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit about the history and reflections on walking. It’s a really beautiful read and was made even more beautiful as I was without my bike. For example – on speaking about a friend who just had her car stolen – Rebecca wrote –
There was a joy, she said, to finding that her body was adequate to get where she was going, and it was a gift to develop a more tangible, concrete relationship to her neighborhood and its residents….One lives in the whole world, rather than in interiors built up against it.
As I was exploring other modes of transport besides my bike, I was finding my feet. I was discovering the pace my own body could carry me. I didn’t need tools, my body was adequate enough. This seems like a basic thought, but it’s empowering nonetheless. Walking is very different from cycling – cycling is about speed, the wind in your hair, and conquering the hills. Walking is about each step – one by one.
I must take a moment to say that I’m grateful for public transportation in Edinburgh – even from Portobello, I can easily get into town by bus or train, check my bus’ status on an app, and even get wifi as I wait to reach my destination. As the weather was rough in January, I took the bus quite a lot. I got a lot of work done and on two occasions – I had some brilliant conversations with strangers. But often, I felt tired, out of energy, and sometimes even motion sick by the time I got where I needed to be. I found that I was also a bit defensive on the bus – kind of untrusting and isolated in my own experience. And I never had the right change!
There was something beautiful about the days when I took the time to walk in the morning. It takes a little bit over an hour and the views are extraordinary – mostly as I would walk around Arthur’s Seat. I would get my playlist ready, gather new podcasts, and get my walking shoes on ready for a refreshing adventure in. As I would step out of the house, it felt like I was embarking on some kind of adventure. I would sing when I walked and took more pictures.
I find it very hard to slow down. To relax, I often have to leave the city so I’m not feeling the pull of my to-do list. I’ve created this schedule for myself so it seems silly to find it hard to relax, but the more I thought about it – the more I realised how little I give back to myself. And I think there is some pressure to be busy nowadays – it’s like a badge of honour. If you answer ‘so busy!’ to a simple how are you? question – for some, it means you are doing good work. I definitely fall into the trap and I’d like to get out of it.
So what started out as independent mode of travel while my bike was in the shop actually became a gift. I often think about the spaces I try and give to others to do good things – but I rarely think about the space I give myself. If I would map out my day, I wasn’t doing anything for myself. Walking was this gift which I discovered by accident.
I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness. (Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit)
Walking gave me thoughtfulness back.
And you know….I’m happy to have my bike back. I really missed the way she feels on the open road and the confidence I feel when going through traffic. Nothing will change that – but I do look forward to making the time to walk in before work every now and then – I will not forget how valuable that time is for myself. And now, I want to walk more – I want to try a pilgrimage and the West Highland Way. I want to find other ways to connect with the terrain and the speed of my thought.
The random, the unscreened, allows you to find what you don’t know you are looking for, and you don’t know a place until it surprises you. When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back, the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories of associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities.Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains. (Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit)