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Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walks

Ridgeline Transmission 184


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For the first time in literally a month, I had a morning to myself and a day with nothing on the schedule — no movement, no interviews, no meetings, no calls, no to-dos. I spent it with the internet off, no phone nearby, reading. This is the way. If you’ve ever wondered what “richness” feels like — for me (and I suspect many others out there in the world), one valence of “rich” is being offline, away from the din of connectivity, the dopaminergic pull of the web and apps and social media, engaging directly with one or two well-considered things. (Another valence of “rich” is a day spent with two curious kids, a six-year-old and a nine-year-old, who love each other and can’t stop laughing.)

I’ve been trying to plan a big walk for May, and a bunch of life continues to get in the way. It’s still not planned, and that not planning is driving me a bit insane. What I’ve noticed is that folks often can’t conceive of why I want to do a big, continuous walk. Especially one I’ve “done before.” My intent is to walk the Tōkaidō again, in the opposite direction. As I’ve written over and over, the only real walk is a re-walk, and once or twice rewalking is most certainly not enough. I’ve walked some routes of the Kii Peninsula six to ten times. Finally, only now, am I starting to feel like my relationships with the people and landscape are making sense and feeling “real.”

But yes, a continuous uninterrupted walk is yet another valence of “rich.” The uninterrupted continuousness is critical. As soon as you get in a car or hop on a train, the strange spell of the walk is broken. The point of the continuous uninterrupted walk is to be ensorcelled by its strangeness, to fully inhabit the walk and engage with what the walk delivers, good and bad.

The last continuous walk I did was TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO³ of last November. But that was only a week. And before that, I walked Wainwright’s coast-to-coast, but that was with a friend. Ah, an amendment: Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk. This is critical. The soloness of it. Why? Because I find a Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk the easiest way to inhabit some form of self-conversation, or rather, there is a conversation the road wants to have with you, and you can only hear it when you’re alone.

This morning I was reading a Paris Review interview with Adam Phillips. I ended up highlighting so much of it. It’s a brilliant conversation. This passage in particular struck me, though (and inspired me to write this Ridgeline; it’s a bit long but stick with it):

As young children, we listen to adults talking before we understand what they’re saying. And that’s, after all, where we start — we start in a position of not getting it. It’s true of listening to music, too. The emotional impact of music is so incommensurate with what people can say about it, and that seems to be very illustrative of something fundamental — that very powerful emotional effects often can’t be articulated. You know something’s happened to you, but you don’t know what it is. You’ll find yourself going back to certain poems again and again. After all, they are only words on a page, but you go back because something that really matters to you is evoked in you by the words. And if somebody said to you, Well, what is it? or What do your favorite poems mean?, you may well be able to answer it, if you’ve been educated in a certain way, but I think you’ll feel the gap between what you are able to say and why you go on reading.

So much to love in this passage. Starting from a position of not knowing but engaging, without self-consciousness, as kids do with language (I’ve long since posited the reason adults have “trouble” learning languages has nothing to do with brain elasticity and everything to do with self-conscious embarrassment). Acknowledging that so much of what we love about art is impossible to articulate. And yet, there is that itch, that pull to find these moments within art and nature that move us, maybe even give purpose to the consciousness with which our meat-sacks are imbued.

For me, the above perfectly describes a Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk. You keep going back to the walk, though it is just a series of dumb steps. And yet — something meaningful is there, in those dumb steps. (“Meaningful” as encoded in our DNA, as selected for by evolution; I suspect the most successful of early humans were those filled with joy while walking.) And yes, if “you’ve been educated in a certain way,” you can maybe describe what those steps mean (I have not, by any stretch of the imagination, been educated in “that certain way,” though I’ve spilled many words in this newsletter trying to scratch at the surface of my walking), but even if you can’t, you are still changed by their meaning! You know something’s happened to you but you don’t know what it is.

Listening to, and engaging with that meaning, that change, is the thing that’s so difficult for folks to comprehend, especially folks who have never experienced such a thing. Who have never done a Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk. One over the course of weeks, if not months, where your body and mind are altered by the conversation you have with the road.

So I say, Hey, I’m planning on going on this walk. And folks say: Why? You did it already, didn’t you? And anyway, haven’t you done enough walks now? Do you need to do more?

But there is no “endgame” of the walking. The walking is conversation. Why would I want to stop having a conversation? Especially one I find so life-affirming, hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring, and exciting? A big, dumb, Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk? Yes, please. The grimoire of physical activities. A kind of solo performance art piece.

When I stated “seriously” walking (I’d put my first real Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk as the Nakasendō walk I did in 2019 (leading to Kissa by Kissa), inspired and propelled by SPECIAL PROJECTS members and memberships) I was attempting to listen to what a walk like that might have to say without any sense of understanding. Totally hapless, I was. (Especially in planning.) I had caught glimmers of conversation in other walks I had done, and that big Nakasendō trip was, if nothing, an act of total faith.

Even now, I feel the gap between what I want to say and why I go on walking. That doesn’t mean I ever want to stop. But the more success you have, the harder it becomes to shove such a thing — a Continuous Uninterrupted Solo Walk — into a schedule. A schedule where folks are hungry for your time, and they can’t possibly imagine the value or richness of walking from, say, Kyoto to Tokyo.

And, apropos of this moment (or any moment, really), is the recognition of — and gratitude for — the peace within which I find myself living, a peace that enables me to even consider such a thing. A walk like this. All the more reason to be doing it — as a kind of genuflection towards peace, and acknowledgment of the fragility of all the things past which the walk takes you.

I am supposed to be deep back in the Random House edition of TBOT right now, but, like I said at the top: First day in a month where I’m still, as in motionless. So I’m catching up on other things, like reading and knocking out this little newsletter. A new New York Times piece is coming out in the next 24 hours or so. So I’ll be promoting that as well. And I need to get a Roden out. And then then then — back in for some final historical notes and edits to be added to this new edition of TBOT.



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