I was lucky enough as a kid to have a father who owned a business in New York City and when I was a boy of fourteen, while other boys my age could not get working papers, because of a unusual exception in the law I was allowed to start working in our family owned business. So, for the summer of 1975, for 85 cents an hour, I became a messenger in New York City, running envelopes and packages between my father’s office and various clients within a 10 block radius.
We lived in New Jersey, and, like millions of others who worked in New York but lived elsewhere, I became a New York commuter taking the bus from near my home to the Port Authority Building in New York on Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street. This is not the venue to describe the education I received at 14 years old from walking by 42nd street and 8th Avenue in the 1970s, but suffice it to say it was eye opening. Every moring my father and I had a six block walk across town to his office opposite the Chrysler building on Lexington Avenue and every evening we walked back. One of the things I remember most about these walks was not the prostitutes or the XXX theaters on 42nd street, nor was it the drug dealers in Bryant Park behind the New York City Library, but it was the pace at which my father walked. For every two steps my father took, I had to take three, and I never could keep up with him as he dashed across the city.
Sometime later I had the occasion to walk somewhere with my Grandfather, a curmudgeon of a man who was terrible with children but had a heart as big as the island of Manhattan, and found that he too had the quick pace of my father, but where my father was silent, my grandfather was not, and he said multiple times, “keep up”, and “walk with a purpose”. It was here that I first heard that phrase and we talked about it later. Purposeful walking had never occurred to me. Wasn’t all walking purposeful, after all? The answer of course is both yes and no. Sometimes, the purpose of a walk is just to get out and stretch one’s legs, or to breath in fresh air, other times it is to meander through gardens and examine the flowers or inhale their fragrance, but in the instance of my cross town walks with my father to and from the office, or the walk uptown with my Grandfather from that same office, the purpose was to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time comfortably (meaning anything short of running) possible.
People often ask me how I am able to hike long distances in relatively short periods of time and I think, in all cases, the answer comes back to purposeful walking. There are times one can, and needs to if they are on a long hike, move at very quick speeds across relatively flat or low grade terrain. Many hikers climb a rise and when it starts to level off they slow down to catch their breath from the climb. Your body will rest regardless of the pace you set when you have reached the top of a climb because you are no longer climbing, but now is not the time to slow down and catch your breath, instead, now is the time to pour on the gas and pick up the pace while your body naturally recovers from the climb.
There are times when you want to stroll leisurely and take in all that is around you, and I would never diminish the value of doing such. We travel to these special places to experience this solidarity with nature, to capture the energy of the wilderness and let it rekindle things inside of each of us that are almost primal in their nature. But when it comes to long hikes, we should all be aware that most of us can, if we put our minds to it, hike at about three miles per hour on low incline trails. One might be amazed at how far three miles will take you in the mountains. Take advantage of the flats so that you can take your time when you get to the climbs and the places where you want to slow down and soak it all in. I promise, you will like the results if you walk with a purpose and find you have more time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.