20.3 miles goes by pretty quickly, especially with good company, relaxing stretches and a lunch break halfway.
A 20-MILE WALK sounded long. I’ve hiked up to 14 miles before, but 20 miles, even on flat ground, felt intimidating. I’m not usually interested in endurance events, but here I was, committed.
The idea came from Katy Bowman, a biomechanist in Sequim. She leads long walks during movement retreats, training other teachers, and also for herself. She is an advocate for the lost art of the long walk, something people do in countries around the world, and Americans once did as well.
I met Bowman at the 7 Cedars Casino on the Olympic Peninsula. She had mapped out a pathway with a midpoint stop at her house, finishing at a movie theater in Port Angeles.
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Bowman estimated it would take us eight hours, with a break.
I wondered whether I should have trained. Bowman told me the only way to prepare for a long walk is to do one. Your body uses different muscles at 20 miles than it does at five or 10. As muscles tire, your body adapts by recruiting different parts. If your feet or ankles are stiff (true for most people), your body has a hard time recruiting other muscles, so you might feel challenged there, or in your knees or hips, she said. Stretching your feet or ankles beforehand helps.
I quickly learned it’s more fun to walk with a group. Michael Kaffel, a teacher with Bowman and a veteran of many walks, and his friend Owl Chrysalis Medicine (and his dog Ki) walked with us. Bowman’s husband, Michael Curran, joined us the last 10 miles.
I wondered whether we would run out of topics to talk about — I even had a list of questions stockpiled since I interviewed Bowman last year. This was unnecessary.
For the first few miles, clouds spat light rain as we walked a paved trail close to Highway 101. We chatted about work, life histories, books. Soon, we were five miles in.
Around eight miles, Bowman moved her pack to the front of her body. Your body gets tired holding a backpack, she said, so change position to use new muscles and rest others. I slung my backpack to one side, and noticed the other side relaxed.
To rest our feet, we moved off the pavement to the grass. Flat ground is easier for fitness, but more complex terrain is easier on your musculoskeletal system, she said. Don’t do the walk in new shoes — you might find you need to toughen up skin.
We had occasional stops to look at a ravine or taste the cucumber-flavored Indian plum leaf, but our pace was fast, and in just over three hours, we were at Bowman’s house.
Bowman made crepes, and we stretched our legs, squatted and twisted. Get close to the ground during breaks, Bowman advised.
My body felt good after the hourlong break. Soon we were off to the Olympic Discovery Trail, now with Curran. We talked about Ayurvedic nutrition, acupuncture, books, writing books, business. We paused when Medicine pointed out swarming termites, red ants or the shape of a vine on a tree. We looked at books in free libraries. We stocked up on eggs sold by the trail. Bowman took pictures and posted movement tips to Instagram.
At mile 16.5, we stopped to stretch. I asked whether long walks always feel this fast. Kaffel, who has done longer ones, smiled and said, “When it’s only 20 miles.”
Around mile 19.5, my right hip spoke up. It’s often tight from an old injury. But we were almost there.
We finished in eight hours. I thought the walk might feel hard. It didn’t. It helped that someone else planned the way.
It also was so simple: Keep walking.