“Nah, not a chance,” says the taxi driver.
My travel companions, hidden under a mound of luggage, peer out anxiously. Six people plus the luggage to sustain them for one month will clearly not fit into one Edinburgh taxi. It doesn’t add up, but it has to, because the train leaves from Edinburgh Waverley in less than an hour. We have to get there. How will we fit in without leaving anything important behind? How?
“It’s fine! I’ll walk. It’s just up the road. Meet you there in 15 minutes?”
A friend clambers out and joins me – and in the eyes of the four people remaining in the taxi, we’ve picked the short straw, making a sacrifice for the greater good – while the exact opposite runs through my mind.
It’s socially awkward to admit it. It sounds antisocial, masochistic, eccentric. Why walk when you can ride? Why drag heavy luggage through cold city streets when you don’t have to?
But I want to say to them, “I’d rather walk. Seriously. I know it’s weird, but I want to be a sweaty mess. Taxis feel like planes: if you have the time, why would you willingly choose to seal yourself away in a machine for [x] minutes, when you can enjoy the outdoors for twice the time? Why ride when you can walk?”
I find it tiring to not walk. A counter-intuitive truth about exercise: if you’re feeling drained, it’s sometimes because you haven’t exerted yourself enough. Any exercise expands your capacity for energy, even while it drains your reserves of it – and walking is the great gateway drug of fitness, possible to do even when you’re bottomed out. It’s never hard to go for a stroll at your own pace, and the health benefits are not in dispute.
This year, I’m walking at least a mile a day (usually much further), and writing about it five days a week in this blog – but I’m not doing it to get fit. That’s a nice side-effect – and a welcome one, since my knees aren’t what they used to be since I became a writer for a living…
But that’s not why.
This is the London Walking Tube Map. It shows you how long it’d take to walk between stations (maybe dragging your luggage, in a bit of a sweaty mess).
It’s not always practical – and the Underground is there for a good reason – but for me, if I was unladen and had the time to walk, it’s irresistibly attractive. I know so little of London, maybe because it’s so well-served by public transportation that it’s easy to know very little about it – including if you’re A. A. Gill, one of its most celebrated travel writers:
Trying to be a tourist at home is tricky. It’s a good discipline, and rather disappointing. I know as little as you do about being a visitor in this town where I have lived since I was a year old, having been born in Edinburgh. We all look at the crowds of tourists on the Mall and think: What is it you see? What do you get out of this? Like every Londoner I know, I’ve never seen the changing of the guard. It’s an inconvenient traffic snarl-up every weekday morning.
Everywhere is like this, and more so every year. Modern life seems prejudiced against life-affirming outdoorsy experiences, like the awareness-spiking thrill of getting lost, or what map-reading can do for your brain. Our gadgets seem to be hijacking our ability to break the ice with strangers. Our vehicles protect us from the elements, but at great cost to our mental wellbeing. We don’t listen to what the natural world is telling us anymore (which makes this guy’s work so refreshing). We’re just not seeing stuff like we used to.
Down with technology! Everyone take a digital detox! Elon Musk is a witch – burn him!
All this apparent bias is nonsense, of course. It’s not tech’s fault. It’s ours, through the choices we make – so maybe we can make different choices, here and there, to see what happens.
Me? I’m tired of being taken. I’d just like to go.
My first walking-miles of 2017 are used to haul luggage, from an apartment in Edinburgh to the train station, up the carriages in search of somewhere to jam suitcases, and finally, hours later, through London St Pancras International and out the front doors towards a nearby Travelodge.
There will be more entertaining and enlightening walks – but it’s a good start. I’m moving.