One minute you are an international man of mystery, “You off again Mike?”, “Lucky man bro”, “Are you ever home?” and my favourite, “Are you a spy? Then suddenly the whole world changes. As Leo Tolstoy once said, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur”, or as Albert Camus once muttered, “all great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.
My own Tolstoy/Camus moment was early Covid, marooned at my home office desk when I realised that I had to get out of the house or go completely mad. I love my kids and my wife (not too much the cat) but enough was enough and if lockdown allowed anything positive it was my ability to leap from my bed, run to the door, (not into an Uber to take me to the airport), but to don my shoes and shorts and walk the bay. My new adventure was to walk the bay — Canada Bay, NSW to be precise and walk I did, with a single mission — keep walking for as long as my legs could carry me.
And so, with one step in front of another an idea was born. Could walking be the answer?
Now, I have to lay the groundwork that lead to not one, but a series of revelations, so I asked myself the following three questions: -
- Do you like the gym? the answer was an emphatic “no!”.
- Do you do any regular sports? the answer was a heartfelt, “sadly no”.
- How did I intend to keep fit if my life was now not going to be that of an international man of mystery — the answer — “walk Mike, walk”?
This was back in March. It was then that it dawned on us all that we were in for the long haul with this one. As a 52-year-old I have seen my fair share of crashes in the health of a nation, both here in Australia and in the UK. From the miners’ strike of 84 to mad cow disease in 96, I thought I had seen it all but this time it felt different. Real and tangible fear has gripped the world, in particular the Western world and this fear has affected the norms of what we do between get-up and go-to-bed. The rush out of the door to catch a plane, the half-hearted run around a park in a foreign city with the sun rising across a pepper pot building landscape has all but gone. I used to kid myself that travelling was my keeping fit, and whilst there is some truth in this statement, it was a nervous, jet lagged sleep deprived need to move that created the illusion of fitness.
So, with a combination of sandals and trainers I started to walk. The Bay Walk was my course of choice. As described on the Canada Bay Council Walks and Guides page - “This scenic 7km walk along the entire natural course of Iron Cove is one of Sydney’s most popular harbourside walks. Route includes Iron Cove Bridge, Drummoyne, Rodd Point, Rodd Island, Leichhardt Park and Rozelle Hospital”. I can tell you this walk does not disappoint!
Walking has been the poor cousin of jogging and I advise you not bring up this debate around the BBQ, pitching walking as a substitute for running is Kryptonite to the runner, so not unless you want to court ridicule by men with ever so large Adams-apples — you have been warned. But please, do not let this walkist bigotry set you back — walk tall and walk proud and if questioned, look Adam's-apple in the eyes and say, “running is for those who want to drown out their soul, whilst walking is fuel for the soul; it is your daily conversation with your inner self; not your knees!
My own memory of walking was with my step-grandfather Frank Spedding, an avid walker in the beautiful Lake District nestled in the county of Cumbria, that last stronghold of England on the English/Scottish border. It was with him that I learned the serenity of walking as well as the sheer joy of ‘the wander’. What is in my DNA comes galloping back when I walk the Bay Walk. I see all the little details, the fauna and the flora of course, but also the comings and goings of a city-suburb coming to life. It is down millionaires’ row as my son has aptly called it that we try and guess who owns such a mansion. Ronaldo, the footballer is our pick for the “big white house”, I am sure we caught him eating his Weetabix on the balcony!
With August upon us, spring around the corner and 60 walks done, the Bay Walk is now a firm fixture of my week. Like the runner who needs the dopamine hit with vigorous exercise, it is my sanity as well as my legs that get their daily workout and as I close the door with a book in hand, I set off on my trusted trail. I dream of the most extraordinary things when I walk, I solve world problems, come up with who to reward if I win the lottery (this does get nasty) and summon up awfully big inventions. I relive past loves lost, forks in roads never taken and sometimes in the early morning light, or in the quiet of a red-dusk evening, I can shed a melancholic tear about the losses I have to suffer in the future. Covid, like no other world problem, leaves those far away from home adrift in the possibility that one’s parents and siblings, aunts and uncles will have to walk the final furlong without their eldest son and or nephew to hold their hand. Flying, such a wonderful invention of human ingenuity, once taken for granted is now, for the time being at least, a ping pong game played out by government and hedge fund managers and in so being my parental love is reduced to that of a convict and lawyer, but instead of hand palms on glass, it’s quiz night on Sunday.
When we finished up what I think will be our last overseas holiday for some time in Bangkok, little did I know what was to follow. It’s difficult, especially with the job I do, being an international man of mystery, not only do I have to reinvent what I do, but more seriously, when you remove the international component a ‘mystery man’ sounds a little creepy. But I can solve problems and in talking up and refining my walking routine I am both physically and mentally fitter. I will go as far as to say, work has gotten harder, but living seems to have gotten easier. I am as mentally and as physically fit as I have ever been, so Covid, you have lengthened my debt, cleared out my bank account, but for some perverse reason, you have filled my soul with a newfound joy.
This blog, aptly named for those who wander is, I hope, the beginning of a dialogue between me and the road. A tour de force of the dreams you can have when you step forth and zone out. Over the coming months, hopefully years I intend to challenge the most interesting of walks, through towns and villages around this great nation of Australia. I will stop at coffee shops, ponder in book shops and shake hands (if we can) with posties and garbo's as I join them in their wanderings. My aim is to find kindred spirits, moms and dads like me, carers, grandparents and dreamers alike that said stuff-it, I’m off for a walk!
Tell me about your walk — where do you wander before the sunrises or as the sun goes down. What do you see, who do you see and who breaks your heart and who fills your soul in the rewind? Walking for me is more than just a walk, it is a freeing of all that is holding me back and all that held me back. I not only crave it, I need it more than any other vice, other than maybe coffee, but that is for another time…
Until the next instalment, may I invite you to ask yourself the following question. If I had the perfect shoe for walking, what would it feel like? You have an answer? Keep that thought as I might have a solution…
See you around the bay...