On the Myers-Briggs personality assessment scale, I am an INTJ – introverted and analytical, a planner. I’ve always had an imagination and an inner dialogue, and I love to immerse myself in a good book.
Those traits go back to my earliest memories of childhood play – I loved to explore while making up a story for myself. I was the frontier explorer, the daring soldier, the lifesaving paramedic, as I ran about the neighbourhood and made blanket forts in the basement.
Part of that too came out in walking to explore. When I was about 9 we moved to a new home and neighbourhood, on the edge of the small town in south-west Ontario where I was born. Surrounding our little sub-division were fields, orchards, gravel pits, and small forests and I could literally run wild. I would roam for hours on my own, imagining that I was lost in the woods or was blazing a trail to a new land. In that environment, walking was exploration every day.
As I grew older, and later moved to Toronto to attend university, that need to walk about and explore my surroundings found new expressions. I attended Glendon College, a small campus of York University set in the Don Valley. Behind my dorm was a trail down into the valley to the Don River, and along the river there were other trails. I have always been a night owl, and would usually write essays and assignments into the small hours of the morning. By 5 or 6 a.m. I would be ready to take a break, and would go for walks along these trails. I’d be the only person about and the city would be quiet, and I could go back to those childhood days when I was alone in the woods and exploring.
Later after I graduated, one of my early jobs was working for a software vendor in a role that saw me travel to customer sites around North America. Whenever I would arrive somewhere new, I would be itching to go for a walk and learn about that city. I explored Montreal, Chicago, Boston, and Denver (loved them), and Des Moines, Newark, and Poughkeepsie (not so much). We also travelled for pleasure, and were able to explore cities and landscapes in Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. In all of these places, I would wander about, exploring markets and shops, bars and restaurants, people watching and absorbing the pulse of the place.
I still remember the first time I went to London. I was there working on a project out in the suburbs near Croydon, and couldn’t wait for the first weekend to myself. I took an early train to Blackfriars, and spent the day walking from the Tower through the City to the Inns of Court and onwards along the Embankment, then to Trafalgar, along the Mall to Buckingham Palace and through St. James Park into Kensington and to Harrods. And then of course I did it all in reverse back to the train. I must have covered at least 15 km that day and loved every moment.
Walking as exploration has been my favourite activity since I was a child and it’s still the primary reason I walk. Whether it’s exploring my local neighbourhood in Toronto, ranging out through Toronto parks and trails, or wandering while on holidays – all walks are journeys into the feel and history and spirit of a place. When I talk about walking as immersion, I’m submerged in the stream of consciousness of the walk. But when I am walking as exploration, I’m immersed and yet wakeful, absorbing my surroundings – the sounds, smells, people, cars, dogs, buildings, birds, trees, and the whole shebang of that place and then I’m that little kid again exploring the woods and fields behind the house.
That’s why I walk.