“We reach the same end by different means,” Montaigne wrote of humanity, and the same could be said about walking. Much like our appreciation of a fine piece of art or music, no two people will experience it the same way.
Some walk toward, some walk away; for some, there will be one walk — their life’s journey — while others will have many paths but never walk the same one twice. Some will walk mostly together, some mostly alone. There’s more to it than you thought, right?
For Erling Kagge, the noted Norwegian author of the recent bestseller “Silence: In the Age of Noise” and other books about exploration, walking gets us from Point A to Point B, yes, but because we are seekers at heart, walking is really about thinking. That is, “I walk, therefore I am.”
If ever there were an expert on the topic, behold, here he is. Kagge holds the distinction of being the first to walk alone to the South Pole, as well as to the North Pole, and if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also summitted Mount Everest. That’s a whole lot of thinking.
Walking is one of the most fundamental things we do (it preceded fire and even language), he writes in “Walking: One Step at a Time” (translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook). And also, as Kagge emphasizes, quoting Heidegger, it’s “the most radical.”
While being an outward activity, it quite often also involves an internal journey of self-discovery, which is why it feels so good, so transformational, as if it were just what we needed to clear our mind or get to the heart of a nagging problem. “It is solved by walking,” he quotes Greek philosopher Diogenes.
Across town or across the country, a journey on foot yields other benefits: the peace of silence; the expansion of time, memory, awareness and imagination; a relationship with nature; a healthy reintroduction of the body to the mind; and the chance to meet yourself again at the center of your life.
Kagge is only the latest in a long lineage of history’s famous lovers of the walk, and he names some as a sort of heritage: Thoreau (“Walking”), James Joyce (“Ulysses”), Robert Walser (“The Walk”) and, more recently, Rebecca Solnit (“Wanderlust”).
As he did in the beautiful and meditative “Silence,” Kagge speaks in “Walking” with a casual but powerful authority and the sincere intentions of a good friend who wants to share what he knows for sure: Walking will set you free. He’s also never shy about his humanity — when there were troubles at home, he went walking. And his feet carried him literally to the ends of the Earth and to the top of the world.
In these anxious times, Kagge’s wisdom offers salve and salvation. How to save ourselves? By knowing ourselves. How to know ourselves? For one, by embracing the simple act of going out there and putting one foot in front of the other.
Michiela Thuman is an editor and designer at the Star Tribune.
Walking: One Step at a Time
By: Erling Kagge, translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook.
Publisher: Pantheon, 177 pages, $19.95.