Can walking be a hobby? If it is, then you are probably picturing someone from the 60-plus-year-old population, someone who carries around those ski-pole looking sticks and travels in packs. I’m here to add my 20-year-old, ski-pole-less, solo self to the ranks of those who consider walking a passion. Over my time at university, walking has been the single best way of clearing my head and has been vastly beneficial for my mental health. While it is well known that exercise is good for your state of mind, walking is often overlooked in the face of more organized or intense activities. Doing a HIIT session or lifting weights at the gym can seem intimidating, especially if you are already anxious or depressed. Being active can be much simpler than that – whether for 10 minutes or an hour, get outside, go on a walk, and you will quickly be much better off.
Over facemasks or rom-com nights, walking is my favourite form of self-care. When you are walking, you get to disconnect from every stressor in your life. I have tried meditation on those free apps like Headspace, but walking is much more effective for me. Walking gives you the space to think, to step back, and put everything into perspective. You get to be anonymous, with no responsibilities except for where your feet are taking you next. You get to see other people living their own lives and realize that life goes on, this too shall pass, etcetera. While I am walking, those glimpses of others are my favourite, whether it’s a kid learning to ride a bike or two middle-aged friends exclaiming over how lush everything is. There is so much to see on a walk if you try to be observant, and such sights always make me instantly happy.
During my first year of university, my sister called me and said that we would have to put our dog down. I was already out of my element and away from home, making this even harder to accept. Walking kept me sane when I was feeling particularly upset about losing my dog. I remember taking a Kingston bus to a Rideau Trail access point that I had sleuthed out on Google Maps. Heading for the entrance, which was tucked away next to a golf club, I went on a long walk down the trail and through Ontario Park. After only seeing my campus bubble for weeks, it reminded me how beautiful Kingston can be. After that, I made it a point to go along the waterfront trail whenever I felt upset or stressed, no destination in mind, and stay out for as long as I needed to. Sitting on the rocks during a cool night and watching all the red lights blinking across from me on Wolfe Island never failed to calm me down.
While walking with no direction is fun, I think everyone has a spot or path that is particularly dear to them. Mine is High Park in Toronto, which I grew up a couple of blocks away from and which was my go-to during the months of quarantine. There is always a new part of the park to explore, and it’s one of the most beautiful spots in Toronto. You can easily spend an hour wandering around the park, listening to a podcast, or putting on your favourite playlist. There’s wildlife galore, from pet dogs to swans and even the occasional coyote. If you walk down to the water, you’re sure to see groups of friends sprawled out over the grass on picnic blankets, old men with fishing rods standing sentinel at the shoreline, and kids excitedly pointing out the ducks to their parents. I love High Park, and I will always feel connected to it no matter where I end up.
Places are made special by the people that form connections to them. I decided to ask my friends what their favourite places to walk are in order to explore some of this magic. When I asked my two housemates (and close friends), they immediately told me about the places they loved. My friend Amanda cited Burns Bog, a nature reserve in B.C. that’s practically in her backyard. She used to walk there when she was younger, progressing to bike rides on the many trails. She stopped going as often when she got older but reconnected with it this summer. On the day before she was supposed to write her MCAT, filled with stress, she visited again with her dad and sister. She points out the irony of its name as the bog is often on fire, kept burning by the peat beneath the soil.
My other housemate Rachel talked about B.C.’s Morrell Sanctuary. She has been going there her whole life. It was her stress relief, especially during high school when she was in the intense IB program. Often going with her mom, she says it was an opportunity to talk and get closer to her. Morrell Sanctuary is filled with numerous trails, and as she got older, Rachel said she moved on to the more advanced ones. To this day, it’s her go-to place when she’s feeling stressed.
Maybe there isn’t a national park or huge forest near you right now, but I think beauty can be found in the most mundane places. Learning to appreciate your neighbourhood or discover a new area is part of the magic of walking to me. So, get up right now and go for a walk. I don’t care if you are currently buried under homework, or if it’s pouring rain outside, just put on some shoes and go. Trust me; it will all be ok as soon as you take those steps.
NOTE: IN-TEXT PHOTOS ARE COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR AND HER FRIENDS.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Olle Engstrom