Three years ago, Mark and I walked across England. For 17 days we walked, about 200 miles total(not counting wrong paths and hunts for dinner places), and was one of the coolest things we have ever done. To prepare for the walk, we decided to walk 12 to 14 mile loops from our front door, throughout town and into the hills. Because it was springtime, we could not head for the mountains; the trails there are still covered in snow. So, every Saturday, I used google maps to lay out the walk, and then we hit the sidewalk on Sunday mornings, rain or shine.
The first one was easy; we followed the route of the Corvallis Half Marathon which took us through neighborhoods we rarely visit. 13.5 miles. We discovered a new park and play structure, some nice bike trails through the suburbs, and came home through Ranchland. The next was also easy—we walked the ridgeline north of town through the McDonald forest, which helped me understand the relationship between the hills, saddles, and valley floor. 11 miles. Now, when I am driving the countryside, I can line myself up with the hills and know where I am. For the third walk, we rounded the university, visited the urban horticulture center with its beehive museum, walked through Avery Park and the old community garden, then strode along the Willamette river to the south edge of town. We came home through downtown and stopped for iced tea. 14 miles. I traced routes through town for two months; on our final walk, we headed to Dimple Hill from our house, fourteen miles with considerable elevation change. We came home triumphant.
The hikes prepped us for our long walk, but they had a more profound impact as well. They shrank and expanded our understanding of our town and local geography. Corvallis was smaller because we had walked all through it, and how big can a place be when you can reach all of its corners on foot? We never hesitated to bike anywhere within city limits, but walking felt more difficult. Now it does not. Walks that felt distant now feel close. We can do that—no problem. Our town is compact (thank you, Tom McCall and land use planning laws!) and we know it’s dimensions. We can be walking up a forested hill in less than an hour, admiring the view from the top in an hour and a half.
Corvallis also grew when we began to walk disances. We noticed small details, changing house designs, interesting landscapes, bee museums….everything that you can see while walking that you miss on a bike or in a car. We talked with people as we passed. We’ve found benches and views, hidden staircases and paths, and old developments where the houses were all built with the same pattern, but have all been altered with time to reflect their owners. We learned where the rolling ridges and valleys of the old landscape are. We have studied the sidewalk markers. We know our neighborhoods. Kids started commenting “I saw you…” on Monday morning—usually far from my home.
We love these long walks now. There is something about knowing that you can step out your own front door and head off down the street, wend your way through the neighborhoods, find soft paths in the woods, and come home, sore-footed and ready for dinner, without ever stepping into a car. Shrinking Corvallis, one step at a time.