A year of walking

Yesterday, one of the writing prompts I gave my students was “create a timeline of no more than six moments from your life that tell a specific story; then do it again with different moments.” The idea behind the prompt is to recognize how selection and omission shapes the stories we tell. As I wrote alongside my students, I had a revelation: most of my stories aren’t shaped by specific moments. Instead, a lot of my stories are determined by a series of events or choices that someone – me, my parents, my sisters or friends – made over and over. The story isn’t one test, one class, one dinner, one disaster or one anything: instead, it’s all the swim practices that led to the swim meets that led to one race and then another; it’s the series of dates that led . It’s not one book; it’s all the books.

My timeline was a disaster – so obviously I shared it with my students. Though they nodded as I explained, I can’t guarantee that they really understood my scribbles. Most of them had managed to complete the assignment with some ease. No messy ongoing moments for them.

As of today I have officially walked at least 1.5 km for 365 days in a row. Once I decided to do this, I went about it wholeheartedly. I was so committed that when we foolishly went to a cottage during black fly season, I walked in the lake. I was so committed that I checked the weather and walked around rainstorms – and sometimes in them. I was so committed that I walked in ice and snow and even sleet (but only once), which I do NOT love. In fact, this is now the first year of my adult life (and possibly even my childhood) that I went outside every day in the winter. It’s the first year I went through multiple pairs of shoes. (I got fancy new ones for today.)

My fancy new shoes for my one-year anniversary.

And now, maybe because I’m deep into studying information with my students – how it is never neutral, how it is shaped & created – I feel like I should, you know, share some life lessons. After all, it’s been a year. Still, I’m not sure that I have any. In ways both literal and figurative, a year of walking is simply about putting one foot in front of another. And then doing it again. It turns out, there’s no earth-shattering moment when all is revealed. There’s just another morning, another day I put on my shoes, another day I head out the door.

And yet, I want to create meaning from this year of walking. I *want* to reflect. Two million-ish steps later, I must have learned something. It’s not a timeline, but…

  1. Have a buddy. (Hi Lisa!) I already knew that having a buddy makes things easier, but I didn’t know that even a virtual buddy would be a real motivator. In some ways virtual was better (story of this year, right?). I had no idea if Lisa had already walked on any given day, so I couldn’t let her down by skipping my own. On days when the weather here was better, I imagined her slogging through snow or muck. How could I not go out when she had faced that? On days when the weather here was worse, I imagined the glory of sharing that I did it anyway. Lesson learned: community counts.
  2. Bite-sized goals. Our original goal was to walk daily from Victoria Day (right before Memorial Day for you Americans out there) until Labour Day. Ambitious but do-able – I mean, walk through the summer? Easy peasy. Then we aimed for Halloween. No problem. I balked a little at the stretch until Christmas – I knew what the weather might do – but once that was done, the rest was a no-brainer. (It was as if I had forgotten February’s existence. It was cold.)
  3. Make it fun. I listen to podcasts, talk to my friends or my sisters, walk with friends, take pictures, find scenic routes. Taking pictures every day has allowed me to slow down & really look at things – no worries about cardio or times. Just walking. I love it. Now, I take pictures every day – and I’m getting better at that, too.
  4. Focus on the basic goal. I am NOT going to run a race – turns out I prefer streaks to competitions. I am not going to sell my pictures. I am not going to walk 30 km. All I’ve committed to is 1.5km each day. Everything else is extra. Extra is fine, but some days 1.5km (and a few snapshots) is enough.

I’m sure there’s more, but there always is. I’m proud of myself in that sort of vague way that comes with milestones I saw coming: I never feel older on the day of my birthday, I found my various graduation ceremonies mostly tedious & I think I was more tickled about finishing a year of walking a few weeks ago when I realized how close I was. A year probably won’t fit neatly onto a timeline for a writing prompt, but as it turns out, I’m not especially good at telling my story through just a few big moments.

Might as well put my shoes on and head out the door again tomorrow.

Getting better #SOL21 28/31

314 days ago, Lisa Corbett over at A Little of This, a Little of That started a walking challenge and invited me to join in. The goal was to walk every day from Victoria Day (May 18, the week before Labor Day in the US) to Canada Day (July 1) – at least, I think that was the initial goal. It seemed like a fun idea and something to do during those early days of the pandemic, so I joined in. Once we’d finished that, someone suggested extending the goal until the end of the summer, and then until Halloween, and here we are, 314 days later, still walking every day.

When we started, I set myself a minimum goal of 1.5 km (ok, secretly 1.6 because that is a mile and I am, still, American in so many ways and apparently because I also like rules) and I walked. Mostly I walked around my neighbourhood and the more I walked, the more I started to notice things. By May 24, I was taking pictures on my phone as I walked. By June 3 I started posting them because I thought they were pretty. Soon my walking challenge was a walking & photography challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this during March because, obviously, I’m doing another challenge. Given that I’m doing three challenges at once, and one of them is *entirely* self-imposed, apparently I am a challenge person. This is not something I knew about myself. I am not a race person: I’ve tried a few and mostly find myself on race day annoyed that my walk or run is so crowded and that everyone seems to think that a timer is a reasonable motivator. I’m a selective group-joiner, often preferring groups that allow me to attend or not attend based on my own needs. So, basically a selfish group member. Sigh. I *am* a perpetual class-taker, though I often end up frustrated in the middle and regularly swear never to take another – and then I sign up for another one the next summer.

Doing the Slice of Life Challenge got me started with regular writing four years ago, and every year March makes me dig deep to write through whatever comes at me. I have signed up for this challenge even when it made no logical sense and I have always written & commented every day for a month (and almost every Tuesday the rest of the year). As a result, I am a much more confident writer than I was four years ago. I am more comfortable writing in front of my students; I am more versatile (hey, I’ve written poems!), and I think I am more effective. I can’t say that the walking challenge has made me a better walker – what would a better walker be? – but I can say that it has gotten me out of the house every day this year, something that has *never* happened in my previous 13 winters in Ottawa.

I’m thinking about all of this today because today’s walk was in a cold gray rain. Days like today make me a) not want to walk and b) not want to take pictures. What sort of beauty can I find in late March muck in the middle of the city? After 314 days, you’d think I would know better, but I don’t. Even as I headed out the door, I had the same conversation with myself that I’ve had dozens of times this year, “There aren’t going to be any good pictures today, so you might as well capture what you can. You realize how often you think this? There’s always something. Sure, sure, but today… today’s going to be just like yesterday. Might as well just use something left over from yesterday’s batch…”

But there’s always something if I’m looking for it. Always. Today, I found myself fascinated with droplets, entranced by rain and the minutiae of the leaves pushing through the soil. Sure enough, I took pictures; when I got home and looked at them, I had a realization: I have gotten better at photography. This is improvement I can see. And you know what? I’m proud of my pictures and I’m really proud of my growth. That goes for all of these random challenges and maybe this is why I like a challenge – for me, the consistent practice that comes with a challenge helps me get better.

Here, enjoy a few of today’s pictures. Not bad, eh?

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org/ who host this challenge every year. Imagine what might happen if you joined!