The Power of Feet

If I’ve learned anything from hiking, it is the power of feet. Since I do not wear anything as restrictive as hiking boots on my hands, I have my opposable thumbs in front of me all day long. This allows me to be aware of the relationship between my tool manipulating hands, my neurological system, and the evolution of my species. My big ass Sasquatch feet (size 14 ½) suggest cryptozoological genetic origins, but maybe like you, I am just a human being that likes to take long walks in the woods. Maybe like you, I feel emotionally plugged in when I am enveloped by the trees, and from the worms and microbes under my boots to the buzzards in the trees, I can see the food chain and the balance of nature working. I can feel when my brain hums with serotonin that nature meant for me to travel on foot. When I see people stuck in traffic in front of my house each week day in metropolitan Atlanta, and I am able to walk a quarter mile to connect to public transportation faster than the cars move, I am reminded of the power of feet and their relationship to the balance of nature.

I began my 2011 hike to Maine at Amicalola Falls State Park. My pack weighed a hefty 38 pounds. I weighed 225 pounds. My pack lost some weight on the way to Katahdin, but I lost even more. I weighed 195 pounds when I returned home from Maine. I promised myself I would maintain my weight, that I would continue to walk many miles every day and not eat too much. At first, I walked to work, but one of the perks of my job was a free parking permit, so when the winter grew cold I started to drive. The automobile provides the convenience of speed only when there is no traffic, but there is always traffic when it’s time to go to work– unless you work third shift. Mostly, at least for me, the automobile provides the convenience of the drive-through lane. I weighed 217 pounds when I hit the Appalachian Trail for 500 miles in 2014. I returned home weighing 200 pounds. Less than two years later, I weigh 190 pounds now. The difference has been not driving.

In 2011 I met two former thru hikers on the trail. One had thru hiked in 1995 and had returned to hike off some extra weight– the man had grown obese. Hiking with him for part of a day, I noticed how he struggled to carry his own body. The worst of it was hearing him be negative about himself. He had been sedentary and well fed, and as we are too often taught in America, he interpreted this as some kind of personal moral problem rather than one of energy and metabolism. An ecologist, the man was otherwise a scientifically minded rationalist. He offered me encouragement (we met days into my hike in Georgia) and good advice for the trail. His struggle with his weight provided a cautionary tale about the problem of hiker hunger after the trail.

The other former thru hiker I met had thru hiked the AT seven or eight (I forget) times and was doing it again. A wiry man in his late fifties or early sixties, a retired fireman from New Hampshire, he offered gruff advise on thru hiking, but also, how he kept in shape when he wasn’t thru hiking. “I walk at least five miles a day. Every single day.” Finding myself somewhere between the continuum of the aforementioned thru hikers (a perennial thru hiker and a badly out of shape one) I endeavor to walk every day and try to make sensible food choices. My wife averages seven miles a day on fit bit, and I walk almost as much as her. In not owning a car, I have tried to use my legs and feet and a mostly decent MARTA system to navigate Atlanta, and as when I lived in Manhattan years ago, I am in good walking shape.

So the planet is sick and our bodies are sick. The planet is sick of hydrocarbon fuel and plastics, among other things, including overpopulation and Justin Bieber. Our bodies are sick for many reasons, but so many are connected to metabolism, which is how our bodies use energy. Inactivity makes our bodies sick. Our brains get dumber and sadder too. Walking is a great way to stay healthy, happy and sharp. If I am blessed to have two good legs and two good feet, I should most certainly use them. Walking more seems to be part of the solution to a lot of problems, personally and globally. As I hurry to finish this post by deadline, with politics so much in the public’s mind, may we all continue to vote with our feet.

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