My approach to walking can probably be summed up by my boots and how inappropriate they are.
My first long walk was in August/September last year. I’d done some epic day walks, but nothing longer. I’d been meaning to walk the South Downs Way for a long time – probably twenty years or more. Finally, I picked a date and committed to it.
I walked the route in my DMs. By the end of the fourth day, standing in bare feet was agony. I hobbled and limped my way through the last two days, aching but undefeated. And a lot of people asked me what I thought I was doing by walking in DMs. I figured it was better to walk in the wrong footwear than not at all.
The thing is, if I’d had to get the right boots, I wouldn’t have gone. Organising the walk, packing, and so on was enough trouble. If I’d had to invest in a expensive footwear, with all the doubt and uncertainty over that… the walk would not have happened. So I set out and dealt with the consequences. It wasn’t a great decision, but it was the right one. And, actually, a lot of people make hiking sound far too difficult.
Many years ago, the punk fanzine Sideburns printed a famous picture (later reprinted in Sniffin’ Glue). It showed three guitar chords and declared: “here’s one chord, here’s another, and another: now form a band”. The great thing about punk was that it made it seem easy to form a band and play music. And while punk spawned hundreds of terrible single-gig bands, it also produced raw and exciting bands that would never have existed otherwise. That punk spirit is an amazing thing.
And that’s the approach I have to hiking. It’s supposed to be simple, something anyone can do. You can make it as difficult as you like, or straightforward. You don’t even need to get to a trail: like Will Self, you can set out from your own door, and walk as far as you can. It doesn’t require exotic expeditions: Alastair Humphreys has written a lot about microadventures. You don’t even need to go anywhere new – the situationists came up with strategies for defamiliarising well-known neighbourhoods.
And I’m not the only person to have taken a slipshod approach to footwear. Even proper walkers like Tristan Gooley get this wrong. In the introduction to his Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, Gooley describes a walk made in his twenties, from Scotland to London. Three weeks in, crossing the peak district, Gooley encountered some proper walkers, with all the right gear. They warned that he probably didn’t want to continue in his “£19 trainers”, then asked where he came from. Gooley took pride in shocking the walkers by saying he had come from Scotland.
I’ve got the boots now, but I still take pride in looking nothing like a proper walker. In my heart, I’m not walking because I’m boring or middle-aged. In my heart, walking is subversive and thrilling. I’m not a walker. I’m…