“You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.”
~ Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Teach Your Children”
When Darcy Kitching emailed to suggest that we extend our walk on 19 November, she stretched the distance more than a wee bit beyond the original limit. The original hike led from Longmont to Niwot, with Ana Lucaci. “I’m free to go all the way to the Boulder Public Library if you’re up for it,” wrote Darcy. “Ana probably won’t go, but are you interested?” The library lies on the west side of Boulder, just about as far from Longmont as you can get and still be in Boulder.
There was no way I wasn’t going to do it. Not only had we been planning this route since August at a Walking Group Leader’s event, but I had been planning it in my head for far longer. The distance walk is a quest for inner peace as well as outer connection to one’s companions, the land, and the community. One disaster after another plagued me this past twelve months with family and personal medical problems, and an unexpected death. I wanted to walk into a new year, and these many steps would ladder into the beginning.
“I’m down,” I shot back. What time?”
At 9:30 am, the temperature hovered in the high thirties when Ana, Darcy, and I set off from Left Hand Creek Park. Bearing backpacks that could hold layers of discarded clothes as the temperature rose into the lower fifties during the day, only to be retrieved as the sun descended behind the Flatirons later on, we snagged the LoBo (Longmont-to-Boulder) trail that would take us to our first destination in Niwot. Snow had finally fallen two days before after a month of drought, so patches of frozen white sheeted the path. We talked about theater–Ana had a performance that night, as she participates regularly in community theater productions–and about our own lives, while Ana pointed out local landmarks. The three of us are at different points in life–Ana recently married and pursues a professional life in Denver, Darcy is raising a young child and spearheading the Boulder branch of Walk2Connect (Boulder Ramblers), and I have a varied career as a landscape architect, writer, and college instructor with two grown daughters, one about to get married. This kind of cross-life connection is one of many benefits of traveling at three miles per hour–the pace prompts a free flow of observation and communication only possible on foot.
Only an hour and a half later, we found ourselves in Niwot at The Garden Café. Sixty minutes elapsed. Time to move on–Ana to walk back to Niwot, and Darcy and I to muscle through the remaining twelve plus miles to Boulder. The route we originally laid out had us on roads, including the Diagonal Highway, far from desirable. Fortunately, Ana put us back on the LoBo Trail; then Darcy used Strava, a free mobile app that indicated where to find connecting trails to Boulder. The great thing about walking west is that it’s impossible to get lost–one just sets one’s face for the looming Flatirons.
Winding through open cornfields and pasture, Darcy and I connected even more deeply in conversation in our own goals and in a larger goal–one that transcends us, the local community, and extends to the national community. Only a week and a half before, the presidential election had taken a surprising and, for many people, a numbing turn with the election of Donald Trump. As our steps moved forward, we struggled to find a way to inch ourselves mentally and emotionally forward into a productive, rather than destructive, “now what?” mode. Now, more than at any other time, we must converse, we must listen, we must walk to connect, not just with people “like us,” but with community. Scholars of pilgrimages note that walking is for doing good, a by-product of inner peace and outer connection. Doing good promotes community building.
If anything, the election gave voice to people who had felt unheard and unheeded. Regardless of what we think of the message, we must walk and talk with each other into the future.
Meanwhile, the path had subsided, and we tramped on concrete into Gunbarrel, stumbling into Snarf’s Sandwich Shop for a pit stop and clothing layer adjustment, as the sun and temperatures summited, and then circling around Celestial Seasonings and the Boulder Massage School. A large group of people headed our way.
“Massage students?” I mused.
“No, they’re carrying Celestial Seasonings bags,” Darcy observed.
Celestial Seasonings and Snarf’s could offer potential meet-up spots if we started separate groups from Boulder, Louisville, and Niwot, another ramble on the horizon.
Exasperated by concrete, Darcy picked up a path past the tea enterprise (and what smelled strongly like a marijuana grow nearby), and we inched our way toward east Boulder.
Then, at mile thirteen, we hit a wall.
“Maybe John [Darcy’s husband] could pick us up in East Boulder,” she offered.
“As long as it’s east Boulder,” I insisted.
Distance walking resembles making one’s way through life, consisting of physical, mental, and emotional challenges. We had made two errors–eating a large brunch, instead of snacking en route, and walking without rest. We are both Type A walkers, rigorously maintaining a three-mile-per-hour pace, and the reality is that the body needs a rest every now and then. We sprawled in the shade for ten minutes. And suddenly, moving forward came easily.
We snaked down the bicycle path next to the Diagonal Highway, and there loomed the promise of success–a trail sign announcing the Foothills Parkway Path – Boulder.
The walk flowed, charged with the adrenaline of knowing we would finish. We wound through Boulder Junction, and strode up Pearl Street, only to be narrowly missed by a car as we crossed a street.
“Lesson learned,” said Darcy. “Toward sunset at the end of a hike, drivers can’t see as well, and hikers are tired and less cautious.”
Safely back on Pearl, we flew through the pedestrian Pearl Street Mall packed with shoppers, then turned south to the library. Exhilarated and exhausted, we had made it–a distance of 16.8 miles in six hours and forty-seven minutes.
In a New York Times article, Kate Murphy writes, “Anthropologists have long argued that pilgrims occupy a so-called liminal realm outside of, yet proxemic to society.” How true–the distance walk provides a mental freeing allowing a perspective of society. With the return comes peace, and a course for action forward. Onward.
Walking Movement Leader with Walk2Connect and Boulder Ramblers
As a daily walker, a writer, and a landscape architect, Sarah Massey-Warren has explored diverse environments for decades. Her explorations have allowed her to push boundaries in places as diverse as the California High Sierras, the Maine beaches, Michigan lake country, New England and Colorado mountains, Texas plains, Omaha bluffs, and urban areas in the United States, Canada, France, and the Czech Republic.