In Defense of Footsteps
Begin your walk in the late afternoon, post-zenith, avoiding the worst heat. Start at your hostel or a landmark in the heart of downtown and take a jagged route toward the violence of tangled arteries leading to onramps and truck stops, hitchhikers and last ditch greasy spoon diners. Let the ride pass you by. Find a frontage road by sunset and make your way through blazing colors and long shadows. Evaporate into the dovetail smudge where city fades to country. 

These between places speak both languages and wear both hats. Here occasional second-hand neon hangs off rusting fences and threads through the slats of piebald gates before running back to a generator on 20amp extension cords. The smell of motor oil and wet grass, still water and scattered cow shit, sliced fruit and leftover meat smoking on the ember's last gasp. For some reason there’s always something sugary, too, like a gasp of cotton candy already fading away in the cool breeze. Solo petrol pumps and wayward markets closed long before sunset.  

Gradually farmland broadens and fences lean or go invisible. Follow a road reclaimed by weeds, where a stream flows past some long forgotten shrine or the lofted path of telephone wire. Somewhere along the way a new city begins.

I walked two hours into town from the Dublin airport, arriving at my host’s door exhausted and perfectly singed from a heartbreaking sunrise.

In Rome I took a bus from the city center to the outskirts and hoofed back home along the Appian Way until the streets became too narrow to safely maneuver in the dawning darkness and fresh hatch of headlights.

On my way to Guilin I accidentally got on a train to the farthest station from my apartment. I turned down the cab and opted for the long, slow transition from rural China to its urban counterpart.

In each case I happened to cross the sacred, fleeting boundary of night and day. And there I found a carnivalesque world in the space between source and destination.

Planes are a necessary evil. Greyhound, the stuff of nightmares. Trains are a romantic bubble. There's thrill and recklessness in driving. The hypnotic drone of the passenger seat. Boats adrift. The meditation of camels.

Vehicles offer their own flavor of charm and expedite your journey, but they expurgate it as well. Spark’s notes, the elevator pitch, a made for TV version. When you walk you are part of the story.

Footsteps are unmediated. They connect the earth and the body. Each meter is earned. A syncopation of touch and release, a buoyancy harmonious to the breath and the heartbeat.  

Patented Footstep Formula:

If (fresh air + exercise + perspective/time to think/small surprises - bad weather) > (time saved + convenience - hassle - crowds - ticket cost) then maybe go for it?

There’s not always time and it’s not always convenient, but even with lousy weather I’ve never regretted making the walk.

You don’t have to wait for vacation. There’s no need to go far. Have you ever been to the edge of your own city? Taken the steps from one town or neighborhood to another? This is magic you can access on a Saturday afternoon, and be back home in time for dinner.

Go with sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and plenty of water. A light jacket. I don’t wear headphones, but to each their own.

Tojinbo, on the coast of Japan near Kanazawa, is a formation of compressed basalt groping out toward the sunset like giant fingers in the sea. A train will get you most of the way. From there it’s taxi, bus, or footsteps. The two hour walk transforms a point of interest into a place of rest and reward. But on this path I found an added bonus. At the halfway point, the rice fields and highways gave way to the decaying remains of a failed theme park falling prey to a revolution of dust.

Living here, a broken carousel, paint bleached and flaking. Dragons and mushrooms on a useless swerve of tracks. Old broken signs, a melting dummy face down on the floor. Nearby, cars speed past in both directions. There’s no official reason to stop here. The real world is a matrix of illuminated dots on a sea of wasted space. How can you trust the value between the lines, where no one is selling anything?

Betting on footsteps reveals the hidden interconnectedness of places. Every destination is supported by unglamorous, functioning hybrid worlds where concrete crumbles to expose sediment like stripped wire or an autopsy. Buffer zones mediating between so-called civilization and ungoverned nature. Places so easy to fly over or meander around or speed past. Where there’s always some parked tractor halfway through putting in a new bridge or digging up fresh earth. Where you can't tell for sure if it's a fruit stand, a garden, or wild berry bushes. Sometimes camps and shanties crowd these outlying spaces. In Istanbul there are homeless living in the ancient city walls and someone grows vegetables in small plots at the base. Walk this way. The tickets are free.

Footsteps will lead you not merely from A to B, but through an amorphous conduit running between boundless farmland smearing out to wilderness and the knit grids of merging lanes and blueprint-bound sky towers. Follow the spokes by which the slow gyre of commodity cranks up the buzzing metropolitan center’s flickering marquee. Where billboards flash virtual versions of those bluegreen horizons and a great hum hovers on the edge of perception, arising from the sound of so many teeth grinding for the chance to get away from it all. 


(hi, Josh Wagner travels and writes, and sometimes writes about travel. This is his Patreon page. If you want, you can support the artist or follow his public posts for free.)