It’s been years since I last ran. Injuries, a fluttery heart, and sore feet conspire against me. These days, I am content to walk. During those years when I was a runner, I never figured out what I was running from or chasing. Mostly, I think, I just wanted to be alone.
I’ll admit to moments of compulsive running behavior. Anxiety about maintaining a high level of fitness prompted me to race. I participated in many, many 10ks and collected a rainbow of colorful t-shirts. I also ran a few of the wackier competitions: The Cascade Runoff, The Hood to Coast Relay, and The Civil War Run.
My favorite runs, though, were the long lonely training runs close to home. These routes meandered through relatively vacant territory on the periphery of the Mt. Hood National Forest. The repetitive motion of heel and toe, the swinging arms, and rhythmic breathing quieted my mind. Walter Mitty like fantasies appear and vanish, the distractions of traffic and my surroundings occur but then disappear behind me and are forgotten.
Now, as a walker, my distances and heart rates are modest. Recently, I started walking Hood River’s waterfront with my sister-in-law. She has since departed for a temporary work assignment overseas but, thanks to her, I am now attached to this peaceful stroll. The full route, if you park at the Hood River Inn on the east side and head west to where it ends at The Hook, covers 3.5 miles round trip. It follows a paved path, for the most part, that is adjacent to the Columbia River.
Walking, like running, is also a peaceful exercise. The mind wanders in and out of the inner critic’s judgments about petty crimes, suspect choices, and the otherwise confused trajectory of a life. Eventually, if you are lucky, you let go of all that and realize that uncertainty is one thing we all share. We understand each other more completely when we accept that everyone deserves forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion. I haven’t come to this way of thinking just because I have cancer. But the impartiality of illness does create equality not found in all of life’s other happenstances.
These thoughts tumble in my mind as I amble along. Following Labor Day weekend, the waterfront is virtually a ghost town. Businesses dependent upon the tourist traffic devoted to water sports on the Columbia rely on locals to survive the “off season.” This weekend’s Harvest Fest will boost revenues for a pub, brewery, and a unique coffee shop called simply, Stoked.
Just as when I was a runner, my walks are opportunities for solitude. I watch dog owners play fetch with their pets, and enjoy the simple wonders of each moment in the natural setting of the Columbia River Gorge.