The following essay was written in 2006 for an essay contest by Tom Kapostasy, past president of the IHC.
For physical or mental fitness, for happiness or wholeness, walking is a natural activity. Age 2 or 92. Early morning or mid-afternoon. Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine. Walking offers a natural opportunity to improve your fitness.
Walking is a simple and effective hobby. Participants need only socks, shoes, shorts and shirts. Anyone can start with a slow 20 minute walk and gradually increase their pace and distance as desired. Most walkers find their rhythm within 5 minutes and enjoy the walk itself. Walking benefits the heart, lungs, bones, joints and muscles, while burning calories. Walkers look and feel healthier. Walkers become more aware of their bodies and look forward to their next hike.
Walking builds strong minds. Sights, sounds and physical sensations are processed. New and diverse experiences are encountered on a human scale. Walking relieves stress, clears the mind and provides time for thinking, dreaming and creating. Memories are created of trips, experiences and snapshots that can be recalled years later. Adventurous walkers plan and lead city and country hikes that tap visual, spatial and map skills. Walks offer time to explore. Walkers build self-confidence by overcoming obstacles and completing journeys. A walker's choices affirm the individual will and provide options to take the "road less traveled".
Walking is indeed pleasure. Some walkers experience "the zone" where travel is effortless, the surroundings recede and time stands still. On longer walks, the joy of rounding another corner and spying the finish is unique. Exploration propels many pedestrians. A new subdivision, a cemetery, a state park, a vacation side trip, a farm road, a train track, a foot bridge or a restaurant back entrance await foot travelers. While many walking benefits can be enjoyed alone, they can be multiplied by the company of family, friends and neighbors.
Walking connects human and natural history. The history of a place is shared by its fields, parks, roads, sidewalks, structures and trees. Mills, factories, farms, fences, wells and street names speak. The personal experience of the full moon, sunrise and sunset, the seasons and weather reaches untold depths of the human soul. Walkers become familiar with hills and streams, paths and woods, rocks and sky. The common sight of cardinals and squirrels is complemented by the startle of a wild turkey, the shadow of a heron overhead or the majesty of a distant eagle. Walking provides the experiences of a lifetime.