Connie McDougall got hard-wired for walking during a stint on Spain's Camino de Santiago. She set out to find inspiration from an urban walk around the complete outer rim of the Alki Point peninsula.
In Spain last year, as I walked part of an ancient pilgrimage route called the Camino de Santiago, an older gentleman in a black beret waved me over to where he stood behind a stone fence. He extended his hand and I took it. Then he gave me a little yank, leaning in for a kiss, but I snapped back so fast he landed only the barest brush on my cheek.
Surprised, not scared — he could be easily outrun — I stumbled back to the trail wondering, what the… ? He wished me a buen camino, roughly “have a good pilgrimage,” a traditional greeting along the path.
Turns out I had encountered El Besador, the kisser, infamous for attempting to kiss girl pilgrims — even extremely grown-up girls like me.
You just never know, do you, what adventures await when you go for a walk, including those 150 miles across the top of Spain.
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When I got back to Seattle, I wanted to keep walking and do it locally, not drive to trailheads every weekend, so I consulted experts for advice.
In his book “Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life,” Whidbey Island author Kurt Hoelting tells the story of giving up his car for a year to explore home territory by foot, bike and kayak. He encourages all of us to investigate our own backyard.
“We discard the places that are close at hand,” he told me, “in favor of places far away.”
I also talked to Portland-based Tyler Burgess, who’s written guidebooks about walks in Oregon and Seattle neighborhoods. About walking, she said: “Some people look at their feet the whole way, but I suggest looking up — at a window, garden sculptures, architecture. See the details.”
From her book “Seattle Townscape Walks,” I picked a jaunt that began downtown with the West Seattle Water Taxi, crossed Elliott Bay to Seacrest Park in Alki, then followed the peninsula to Lincoln Park, maybe six or seven miles on foot.
Weather doesn’t daunt
Saturday dawned drizzly and cool, but part of this whole walking thing is you go with what you’ve got, so I waited for the boat in the chill with my friend, Sandra Driscoll. Also huddled there were two hardy tourists from Atlanta, Alan and Rebecca Brubaker. They left 96 degrees to spend two days in Seattle.
“We’ve been talking about coming here for a long time,” Rebecca said, “and my impressions are how clean the city is, how walkable and how livable.”
As the water taxi churned through the mist for West Seattle, they were good sports about the weather. “When you come to Seattle, you have to experience rain,” Alan laughed.
We got off at Seacrest Park, heading west along a broad flat path that hugs the shore.
For the first couple of miles, the view on the right took in Puget Sound and beach life — volleyball games, stand-up paddleboards gliding by, the city across the bay blinking in and out of clouds. To the left was a corridor of condos and apartment buildings — but also the occasional cottage holding out against development.
“They seem to get away with nautical kitsch here,” my friend observed, noting wooden seagulls perched on mailboxes, shell décor and marine-rope fencing.
Rounding a bend, we came to a small commercial strip of restaurants and coffee shops, and popped into one — the Beachside Café — to warm up with lattes before setting out again.
Lighthouse, fried fish
Lucky for us, the Alki Point Lighthouse was open for tours. Climbing spiral stairs to the top, we squeezed into tight quarters for bird’s-eye views of distant islands. (Free tours 1-4 p.m. weekends through Aug. 28; see www.uscga-seattle.com/alki-tours.htm.)
The Brubakers stopped for fish and chips at the popular Sunfish restaurant on Alki. “One of the great things was the homemade vinegars infused with garlic and peppers,” Rebecca said. “Pay with cash, because they don’t take credit cards.”
Sandra and I pushed on to Lincoln Park, walking through a residential neighborhood, looking for those details, like a yard adorned with cobalt-blue bottles dangling from poles.
Between homes, we caught glimpses of the water and were finally rewarded with tiny Andover Place, a sliver of land that gives public access to the beach. Through boulders and garden art, a slender sandy path leads to beach logs, a good place to sit, snack and watch the waves.
The sidewalk turned narrow and the landscape forested. With discretion, we peeked through fences to see how the other half lives. Very well it seems — mansions overlooking beaches sat under towering cedars.
Near Loman Beach Park, a wacky surprise: Costumed yellow rubber ducks, big and small, covered a cottage garden. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds. Called Duckies Rule, it’s part business, part philosophy of a local psychiatrist, so says his website (www.duckiesrule.com). And darn cute.
From there, it was an easy stroll to the north end of Lincoln Park. We didn’t continue but you could, wandering through deep woods.
So, writer Hoelting got it right when he advised me to walk locally and attentively. “In my experience,” he said, “moving at three miles an hour you see life coming out of every crack. And in the city, in the nooks and crannies, you can find the semi-wild.”
Connie McDougall is a Seattle-based freelance writer who walked the Camino de Santiago last September to celebrate her 60th birthday.