Walking through my life. Walking has been a core theme for me since childhood. One of my favorite memories is a three mile hike I took with my dad when I was six. Swamp walking with my second grade buddy Joe is another. I started walking even more when we moved to Asheville. I joined the Boy Scouts there so I could go hiking and backpacking. My early love of walking culminated in a pilgrimage to Philmont Scout Ranch for an eleven day backpacking trip right before we moved to Kenya. While I was living in Kenya I lost touch with walking due to my blossoming drug use and interest in girls, plus the lack of mzungu-friendly hiking trails. I neglected walking all through high school, college and my first career in Tallahassee. It took a move to Boulder to get me started walking again. My years in Boulder were full of hiking, backpacking and trail running. When I arrived in Seattle in the summer of 1991 the first new friend I made was Jeff. In the summer of 1992 we went on a weeklong backpacking trip. That became an annual event and a cornerstone of my early years in Seattle. Later, when I was able to feel what a fruitful mistake it had been for me to get married, hiking and camping became my escape. Walking became a meditation that helped me develop the strength and resolve I needed to move out and start a new life. My new life was founded on dancing as much as I could, especially with Ruth, living very frugally in my cheap rented room, and drugs (booze then pot). Dancing was my new meditation; I left walking behind. As it became time to leave that new life and get serious about making progress with love, Leela saw to it that all those props got taken away. In the summer of 2020 I started seriously walking again, to get back in shape and escape the increasingly awful feeling of living in someone else's home where I was no longer welcome. When I became homeless I fought off hypothermia by getting out of my unheated car and walking fast in the rain at night.
Sacrifice. Walking is the quintessential human gait. Standing upright and walking was the physical manifestation of our ancestors' transformation from natural animal to human animal, aka Homo erectus. Walking on two legs made it possible for us to develop arms and hands, so core to what being human is. We had to sacrifice the ability to run well. Any natural animal that uses running runs far better than we do because running on two legs is awkward and weak. Our legs are not meant for running, they're for walking. Humans who develop a running habit are constantly fighting the injuries and distortions caused by running on two legs.
Hiking. I got into hiking when I lived in Asheville. The mountains have wonderful inviting trails. Florida wasn't like that at all. You'd run into a swamp whichever way you went. I walked in the woods in my neighborhood and went on hikes with my dad. Scouting ramped that up. I went on more hikes and did a little backpacking. Right before we moved to Kenya I went on the ultimate Scout backpacking trip: Philmont. My hiking and my spontaneous meditations went hand-in-hand: they both happened out in nature. It was early in the process, but I was on the road to self realization by way of walking and spontaneous meditation. This video was shot in Boulder, by the way. Not far from where I fell from grace.
Drugs. It all went up in smoke when we moved to Kenya. I lost all the magic I'd found before out communing with nature. Booze and pot shut down my spontaneous meditations for good. My new interest was drugs and booze. I was getting high for real now, or so I thought; I had it all backwards. I didn't go hiking at all in Kenya or in college or in Tallahassee. I forgot about spontaneous meditations. That's their great limitation: no conscious intentional effort is required, so progress is very slow indeed. And that's just right for a child.
Jamestown. Once I recovered from my fall, TH came up with a new plan for me, an early version of his get manly program for the Bejurin the wuss. I liked this plan and so did Leela. I was to live alone for a year in a mountain cabin near Boulder, a mountain hermit. I found an old miner's cabin for rent in Jamestown, a tiny hamlet northwest of Boulder: just the ticket.
It was a real log cabin with all the amenities: no insulation, drafty chinking, a tiny woodburning stove. An outhouse. No plumbing: I had to haul water in a bucket. Elevation a little over seven thousand feet; it got cold in the winter. I'd bank my little stove as best I could, but it only lasted half the night. In the morning my water bucket had an eighth inch of ice on top. Firewood I gleaned from the hillsides. Most of what I found was slash, so I really was a gleaner. I cut the slash up with a bow saw, my chain saw days yet to come. The cabin was on James Creek. An old mining road followed the creek into the national forest, eventually forking off from the creek to connect with a road leading to the Peak to Peak Highway just north of Ward. About eight miles with an easy slope, just two thousand feet elevation gain. I became intimately familiar with that trail and many others that forked off it. I truly loved living alone in Jamestown. But it was just an assignment from TH; I didn't catch on. It would be forty years before I chose to live alone.
Through hiking. While I was living in Jamestown I became fascinated by the idea of through hiking. My least favorite part of a backpacking trip was having to turn around and hike back out; it seemed anticlimactic, a letdown. Magic's all done; time to head back to the grind. How much sweeter it would be to just keep going deeper into the wilderness until I came out the other side. I'd done a couple of trips with a buddy where we took two cars and left one at each end, but that seemed oddly forced, and ended up being an awful lot of driving. Plus now I was on my own; spending most of my time alone was a key part of my rustic cabin regimen. I was allowed one visitor, every other weekend, women only. TH didn't just encourage promiscuity; he flat out told me to sleep around, and I was still something of a kid turned loose in a candy store, so I embraced it. When I had a guest we spent too much time snuggled up in a dark cabin with tiny windows to go backpacking.
Hitchhiking. I went on two solo through hikes by hitchhiking: one that summer and one that fall. The first was in the Front Range. I wanted to leave my car at the cabin, so I geared up for a week of backpacking and hitched up Overland Road, dirt back then, toward Peak to Peak Highway. There weren't many cars on that road, but the people who drove up it were fairly likely to pick up a guy with a big backpack. I looked legit in context. I made my way north along Peak to Peak and hiked a route south of Long's Peak that went over the divide into North Park; I came out at Grand Lake. Then I hitched back home via major highways. Lots of waiting with my thumb out on those roads; I looked like a dirty bum. Now I really had the bug, and I was very much enjoying a limited amount of hitchhiking. There was an indescribable feeling of freedom in just walking off the highway when it started getting dark and making my little camp a few yards into the woods. It felt glorious. But I was hitchhiking deep in the Rockies, with national forest land everywhere. I was able to carve myself a perfect delicate miniature version of life on the road for those few nights. I feel deeply grateful for that experience, now forty years later.
Grump. I adore fall in the high Rockies. It's brief. The aspen show is usually over by the end of September. But while it lasts, oh my heavenly days, to quote my mom. For my fall through hike I walked from Aspen to Crested Butte, and it was glorious. I got an early start and hitchhiked the scenic route: down Peak to Peak to Idaho Springs, I-70 to Copper Mountain, south on 91 through Leadville (Moly makes your tool hard!), then up over Independence Pass, the most spectacular drive I know of. I made camp in woods a few miles short of Aspen so I could sleep for free, then had an indulgent carbo loading breakfast in town before hitting the trail. It's a 38-mile hike, starting at eight thousand feet and going up to well over twelve. I started out in gorgeous mature aspen groves with views of the Maroon Bells off to my right. The weather was kind and I was a happy camper except for one long day of bitter cold and blowing snow going over Pearl Pass. I arrived in Crested Butte the day the Grump got burned. Old hippies in Crested Butte put on pagan festivities every fall culminating in the burning of the Grump; read all about it. It was charming, especially after my week of glorious solitude in the Rockies.
Big changes. In 2006 Leela spoke to me and I began the huge project of fixing my broken life by following her guidance. The first thing she had me do was lose fifty pounds slowly, over the course of a year, by changing my diet and walking, a lot. Walking became my meditation and my exercise all in one. I took long walks every day after work and longer ones on the weekend. I was in the middle of my decade at Windward and had already been exploring Queen Anne Hill on lunch breaks and before and after work. I soon added camping trips every other weekend, car camping at first. I bought a big dome tent, a Coleman 2-burner gas stove, and lots of other gear I would've scoffed at in my backpacking days. But I didn't want to go backpacking. I wanted to camp at a campsite I could drive to then spend my time enjoying nature, walking with just a daypack. Weekend camping and staying after work to walk on Queen Anne were both ways I could get away from the miserable situation at home. Our broken marriage was getting worse all the time. After a while I got tired of all the setup involved in car camping and bought a beat up 1971 VW camper van, mustard yellow. My midlife crisis sports car.
Camping in a van was a revelation. No more setting up a tent in the rain, fighting the elements. I could pull into a campsite, pop the top, and be home sweet home for the weekend. I did some relatively off-grid van camping, just pulling off the road at an informal site in a national forest, but having a john and clean water made van life much easier, so I started camping in developed campgrounds, mostly at state parks. The van also extended camping season into cold weather months, but for that I needed electricity so I could plug in my little oil-filled radiator. I also needed electricity so I could plug in my laptop and write. Once I had the sanity of a van I set to work on my first non-dance website, about the simple pleasure of being, the clue Leela gave me so long ago in Tallahassee. Now I was camping every other weekend year-round. In warmer months I sometimes arranged to meet Bryn at the campsite for company, love, and dancing in some cowboy dive in a nearby town.
The one person in the world. I loved that beatup old camper. It was my home away from home for more than a year. But it gradually became unreliable, harder and harder to start. One Sunday morning when it was time to head home at the end of a weekend trip it just wouldn't start. I spent several hours trying. It finally turned over and I was able to limp home at low speed. But to fix it would cost more than it was worth. So I considered new options. I needed something solidly reliable. I settled on a Eurovan I located online at a dealership in Ontario California. I flew down and bought it, then took a full week plus driving home, my big vacation that year. Along the way I stopped over with Anna for a few days. She had moved from Pacific Beach to Santa Rosa. We had a sweet reunion tinged with sadness. We'd never see each other again. I think we both knew it. When I started writing my first website about the spiritual quest I realized Anna was the one person in the world I could really talk to about it. Our parting before the Eurovan visit had been rough. It was on my way home to Seattle from New Mexico. I wanted to pick up where we'd left off and she was not interested. She thought I was falling into a miserable ease and she was right. Now I was back on the spiritual quest and she'd be an ally if I could reach her. I was camped at Fort Ebey State Park. I took my phone to the edge of the bluff for good reception. I dialed the number and there she was. The sound of her voice felt like home. She was the best ally. For years after that we corresponded and talked on the phone regularly. She read all my early websites and made archives of them. She was unfailingly supportive. Anna was a one woman support network for me for years. She was my lifeline.
Walking meditation. What became my walking meditation started out as part of the weight loss program Leela put me on as soon as she was able to guide me via muscle testing: low carbohydrates and LOTS of walking. The extended low impact exercise helped me get the weight off in a slow even process and keep it off. I started that program soon after Leela spoke to me in 2006 and continued it religiously until I moved out of my marriage in late October 2008. At that point I started relying on dancing for my exercise. That seemed fine at first but it turned out to be inadequate during my dark days in Crown Hill. It works fine once again; now I dance a lot more vigorously. My walking practice has remained the same since Leela first gave it to me. I start where I am. No driving somewhere else to start. I go out the front door and let Leela control everything: direction turn by turn, duration, pace, things to focus on, every detail is worked out via muscle testing. Some of my walks have been traditional strolls in parks and nice neighborhoods, but others have been gnarlier. Leela has had me walk for miles along the busiest streets, like Aurora Avenue North or North 145th Street or 15th Ave NW over the Ballard Bridge to Interbay with traffic roaring by inches away. I walked from Crown Hill to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, an 8.4 mile route, in blowing rain mixed with snow, my dance shoes in my backpack so I could dance to live music there. Twice. To be fair, the weather was nice the other time. And I didn't walk back either time; I was meeting Ruth to dance and got a lift home with her. I've taken thousands of walks since 2006, and any halfway decent walk was far better than even my very best formal meditation or any other practice, e.g. Kripalu or ashtanga yoga, chanting, kriya, seva, tai chi etc in all those previous years. My best walks are astronomically better when it come to making progress with love. But that's just me.
A favorite walk. In the early days of my weight loss program I walked in my north Seattle neighborhood and slowly branched out on longer walks as my stamina built. This route started near the Bikur Cholim Cemetery across the street from Evergreen Washelli. I would walk east from the cemetery and turn north into Northwest Hospital grounds, which since became UW Medical Ctr NW. I'd walk along the eastern edge of the hospital campus, coming out at the corner of N 120th and Ashworth (the pin in the map below; start point at the cemetery is just out of sight at the bottom).
I had to walk across the grass outside a physical therapy unit to make that connection. I alway kind of tiptoed, hoping no one would notice, and no one did. I'd then walk north on Ashworth all the way to 130th, using pedestrian cut-throughs that appear to be intact if you switch to satellite view. Left on 130th then another left, now heading south on Stone. Stone ends a little south of 125th but I kept going south into Halcyon Mobile Home Park, which I passed on the other side on my way north. If you zoom in there you can see it: a little pedestrian track that keeps going south in back of the driving range. I walked along that. It becomes Stone again in back of Home Depot. I'd come out onto 115th and go left to complete my loop at Bikur Cholim Cemetery. I loved that route because it felt like my little discovery in the city. I rarely passed anyone else on the cut-throughs, even on sunny weekend days when it felt like all of Seattle was out walking.
Soymilk. I walked from home; I didn't like driving to walk. I wanted to walk, not be cooped up in a car. Nature is everywhere and Seattle is lovely. I'd gotten good at muscle testing, so I turned the reins over to Leela and walked wherever she guided me to. On one of my weekend camping trips I had my Eurovan camper set up at Millersylvania State Park only to discover I'd forgot the soymilk, critical for my breakfast coffee. There was a country store a mile down the highway from the camp. I did not want to take down the pop top so I walked. There were no sidewalks so I walked on the edge of the road. Trucks came whizzing by, forcing me into the weeds. It wasn't dangerous but it was nerve wracking. They didn't have soymilk, duh, so I bought whole milk instead. I never went back to soymilk. Soymilk. What was I thinking? Real whole milk is a miracle food.