#50: Continuous Walks

#50: Continuous Walks

Towpath by Paul Walsh // Walking Distance by Lizzy Stewart // Google Maps Fantasyland // The future of the oldest trees in the world

Time: I was having a conversation with a fellow walker the other day about through-hikes, and confessed that I’d never made one yet. I’ve walked long distances for multiple days while on vacation but those always ended back where I started: at a hotel.

In my city walking, I’ve had streaks where I’ve walked 8-12 miles for a few days in a row, and a few back to back 15+ mile days. But those always ended back where I started: at my apartment.

These long walks are the most enriching and the effects can last days, especially if they involve nature. So I’ve always wondered what the experience of a through-hike would feel like both physically and psychologically, especially on my perception of time.

In my reading and conversations I’ve heard how the days bleed together and it feels like a single continuous hike. The singular focus on getting from one point to another over a long period of time feels like something fundamental that we should all experience in our lives. It takes us all the way back to the first migrations.

There will be no through hikes on my agenda this year. For now, I’ll have to be content with daily walks. This past month, I’ve stretched the distance of the walks as the weather has warmed up, and evidence mounts that there’s a low risk of catching the virus outdoors if you keep your distance.

I’ve carved out a routine where I walk in the morning, and then work in the afternoon and evening which feels like a natural rhythm. At some point, I want to write more about chronotypes, walking and productivity. For now, I would recommend you learn more about your chronotype if you are not already aware, which I’m sure you are to some degree! Hello Morning Larks!

For the last 8 months I’ve been keeping a field journal and tracking the walks with Strava. My streak the last month has been consistent which has contributed to the sense that these walks are connected and continuous.

The limiting factor is geography since I have yet to leave New York City, mostly sticking to my known routes in Queens. Physically I’m walking in circles, but creatively I feel as if I’m marching into new territory with fresh ideas. This idea of a continuous walk is something I want to explore more, but it’s a tad boring if it’s just my perspective. So, I had an idea for Instagram Stories.

Towpath by Paul Walsh

Photography: I recently connected on Instagram with photographer Paul Walsh whose a member of the Map6 Collective. His projects focus on the “physical, psychological and historical experience of walking.” I particularly enjoyed Townpath because I think walks along waterways are going to be increasingly relevant as we battle climate change and potentially experience issues around water scarcity.

Towpath follows my walk along England’s longest and most significant canal The Grand Union. The walk began at the River Thames in London where I followed the Regent’s Canal west, before heading north on the Grand Union via Slough, Wendover and Aylesbury to Birmingham. As the waterway meandered through oily Industrial landscapes, passed behind abandoned factories and underneath motorways, I found that the water inhabited a strange borderland between city and countryside. The photographs I captured along the way are a portrait of a post industrial landscape in the process of redefining itself, and a meditation on the transient nature of all things.

Walking Distance by Lizzy Stewart

Books: In her new newsletter, Notes on Freelancing, photographer Ameena Rojeelinked to this essay about women walking by Lizzy Stewart which is an excerpt from her book Walking Distance, which is going to be next on my reading list. It sounds and looks very interesting.

Walking Distance is Lizzy Stewart's poignant and contemporary illustrated essay on the experience of being a woman out walking. Merging the personal and the political, observation and contemplation, Lizzy examines what her life is and wonders what it should be; what is expected of a thirty year old woman by society, by family and friends and by herself.

A meditation on gender politics, social commentary and eighties movies, interlaced with shards of autobiography and illustrated with a beautiful series of sequential and non-sequential watercolour images.

Google Maps Fantasyland

Maps: I’ve been mapping locations in Google Maps for several months now. It started out for one project last summer but has expanded over the year. Now I plot points for various reasons (tree stumps!) and the deeper I get into, the more revealing it becomes. Some aspects give me pause (what do these patterns say about me?) but overall I feel mapping has made me more alert to my surroundings on the walks.

This article in Wired about how a 12-year-old boy has used Google Maps to create a fantasyland around minor league baseball parks resonated with me deeply. Baseball was my life as a kid, and I would literally created a fictional baseball universe through the Nintendo game Baseball Stars which allowed you to run your own franchise. It was pretty cool. These days, I suppose I’m creating another fantasy world through Google Maps, but I’m not sure where this one leads just yet.

Then there are the cartographers who didn’t have much wanderlust but were instead drawn to maps as tools to transform how they think about their everyday surroundings. The origin tales they tell tend to involve formative encounters with maps that focus on process, like the ones that illustrate how single city blocks have evolved over decades, or how water gets transported from mountain streams to suburban faucets. “My whole life, I’ve lived within 75 miles of Lake Michigan, and I’m happy to be here, to be home,” says Daniel Huffman, a cartographer who teaches at the University of Wisconsin and who recently published a handmade atlas of Great Lakes islands. “What I’m interested in is expanding my understanding of the Midwest. Like, I may know about what’s going on outside my front door, but what about a few doors down? How can maps help me get to know this place more deeply?”

Round Up

  • An important read from Alissa Walker in Curbed about privilege and fantasies for an urban utopia post-pandemic: “If the coronavirus has made anything clear, it’s that cities cannot be fixed if we do not insist on dismantling the racial, economic, and environmental inequities that have made the pandemic deadlier for low-income and nonwhite residents.”
  • Fascinating read on the world’s oldest trees, the Bristlecone pines in California: “My own bristlecone obsession is probably rooted in a fixation on extremely old people and things. Some of my favorite music was written centuries ago. When I was a teen-ager, I spent a summer wandering the Highlands and islands of Scotland, looking at Neolithic ruins as old as Methuselah. Meeting people with long memories gives me an elemental thrill.”
  • Would you join the tree army?: "We’ve amassed a staggering backlog of restoration needs for our nation’s lands and waters, and face escalating vulnerabilities to fires, floods, hurricanes and droughts."

I’m a photographer, writer and creative collaborator working in New York City. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter

Way of the Walk is my weekly newsletter on walking, photography and creativity. Each week I share updates on my current walking projects as well as interesting creative projects and artists incorporating walking into their process. The podcast is just getting started, tune in!