Many grand adventures start with a grand plan. Seattleite Peter Aberg, 70, just needed a pandemic hobby.
He’d taught ski lessons on weekends for 12 years, then March 2020 happened. To stay active — Aberg says regular exercise helps keep him happy — he took up walking.
It took him a while to gain momentum, but once up to speed, Aberg never stopped. Over the course of two years and 2,500 miles, he walked every block of Seattle city streets.
Aberg started with his own neighborhood in Northeast Seattle. But after several treks it got boring. “I got to know every house in the neighborhood,” he said.
He expanded to the neighborhood he grew up in, near Blue Ridge north of Ballard. He thought he’d stick with North Seattle, but was having such a good time smiling and saying hello to strangers that an idea struck: What if he walked all 93 of Seattle’s neighborhoods?
The number comes from a Wikipedia page listing Seattle’s neighborhoods, after subtracting out districts (like North Seattle) and regions. Aberg printed out the page’s maps and worked through them in alphabetical order: Adams, Bitter Lake, Crown Hill and so on.
“This was kind of my trip to Europe,” he said. “I think I’ve seen every building in Seattle.”
Aberg made his own rules: walk the length of every designated neighborhood and its major streets, though short dead-ends and cul de sacs could be skipped. Over 2,500 miles (his own estimate), Aberg ran through three pairs of sneakers.
For each neighborhood, Aberg highlighted his intended route on a map, planning to walk about 5 miles nearly every day. Around 11 a.m. on walking days, he’d drive to his intended neighborhood and mark an X for where he started — “there were times that I forgot where I parked my car and I was starting to panic,” he said — and then set off.
Weather couldn’t be avoided, of course.
“Snow, ice, no matter what. And it didn’t really bother me,” Aberg said. “I had pretty good equipment. And I’ve got Norwegian blood so I feel like I can handle any kind of weather.”
Hills were just part of the experience. “Sometimes it felt like I was going straight up!”
Once finished walking, Aberg made notes to himself about how long the route was and anything he might want to return to later, like houses he liked the colors of — his house was due for a paint job, he realized — or loops he thought would be especially scenic. He didn’t see much wildlife of note, though he did spot a pileated woodpecker with a vibrant red head, a falcon near its nest, and a few hawks.
Some of his favorite neighborhoods were Mount Baker, which “has some of the most amazing houses of any neighborhood I’ve ever seen,” plus beautiful walking trails around nearby Colman Park. He likes how close these neighborhoods are to Lake Washington. “If I were to relocate to another neighborhood and price wasn’t a problem, that would be one of the neighborhoods I’d want to live in,” he said.
Queen Anne was another favorite, for similar reasons, but also because the neighborhood offers great views of downtown, the Space Needle, Elliott Bay and more. And he was surprised how scenic Fauntleroy felt, almost like one of the San Juan Islands plopped in Southwest Seattle.
But why spend all this time walking the city he’s lived in his whole life? “I’ve always had kind of physical goals,” Aberg said. Plus, he didn’t feel like he really appreciated the city. “Even though I’ve been involved in neighborhood politics, school politics … I didn’t really know [the city that well] on the ground.”
Aberg’s wife, Georgia Lindquist, could tell how much Aberg was enjoying the project.
“He just was out there for hours and hours and miles and miles and coming home with his ‘aha!’s each night,” Lindquist said. He’d show her pictures and tell her about the surprising parts of his journey — a farm in the middle of the city (Beacon Food Forest) or the stunning Kubota Garden or the tree-filled həʔapus Village Park and Shoreline Habitat alongside the Duwamish River. And she was glad he was getting so much exercise. “He’s in fantastic shape,” Lindquist said.
While overall Aberg says the project went “swimmingly,” there were a few bangs and bruises along the way. On two separate walks, Aberg tripped on uneven sidewalk when he wasn’t looking and ended up scratched. Near Pioneer Square, he sprained his ankle so badly that he had to suspend the project for a couple of weeks while he healed.
Toward the end of his journey, daily walks increased to 8 miles or more to achieve a self-imposed deadline of March 7. Most of the project he’d walked alone, but Aberg saved the Alki Beach area as his finish line. His wife and four friends joined for the last stretch. “Everybody was very supportive throughout,” Aberg said. “It was just a great feeling of accomplishment, of having traversed the entire city.”
If he has a tip for locals who might want to follow in his footsteps, it’s to make sure you pee before you go. “There aren’t a lot of places to relieve yourself,” he said with a laugh.
That, and remember to break adventures down into bite-size pieces.
“I didn’t decide to do the entire city. I was just going to do a neighborhood at a time,” he said. “But then the more you do, the more you realize, hey, I’m most of the way there. I might as well keep going.”
In fact, there’s a Spanish phrase he remembers from junior high school that reminds him of the journey, he says. Poco a poco, se va lejos. Little by little, you go far.
“I think that’s kind of a lesson in life, actually,” he said. “Don’t you think?”