A couple of years ago, I made it my business to take a long walk every September or October. Annual rituals are the rewards you give yourself for paying enough attention to the passage of time that it eventually accumulates some sort of meaning, even if it's only for you and you alone. These solo walks have become a reliable marker of the end of summer and beginning of fall. By "long" I mean "30 miles or so," which at least one of you will read as an impossible task, and at least one of you supermarathoners will scoff at as the dabblings of an amateur. You're both right. These walks are both challenging and vaguely amateurish.
To that end, I think of them as pilgrimages, in the sense that they're meant for a regular layperson (that is, me). They don't serve any great spiritual purpose, though, other than to give me a long stretch of meandering down time to think for a long stretch of unmediated time, at the rhythm of my footfalls. I pick the destination arbitrarily, somewhere with a place to stay about 20 miles through.
Fall is the best time for a long walk for a number of reasons, not all of which are related to weather. If the Star Tribune published a full-body photograph of me instead of just my floating Zardoz headshot, you would see from my midsection that I am not the epitome of fitness achievement. By the fall, however, I've been biking and walking solidly for a few months, and I'm in as good a shape as I'll be all year. A rigorous bit of exercise like this is a last hurrah for the sweaty physicality of summer before I run back inside to sit under wool blankets for six months.
The other reasons fall is such a great time are directly because of the weather. There's still about 12 hours of daylight, enough for eight hours of focused walking plus a few hours of dawdling. The air is cool, and the worst of the summer heat is over. I can wear a jacket, and I even have one for this specific occasion — a big navy blue barn jacket I bought at the old East Lake Street Savers years ago that looks like it once belonged to an old guy who likely weathered many comparisons to actor Sam Elliott. I love walking long distances in street clothes, without spandex or moisture-wicking super fabrics. The only concessions I make to activity-appropriate attire are wrapping up my feet in chamois so they don't blister, and wearing a special pair of Patagonia wool socks that supposedly have superior arch support. I also have a yellow safety jacket for the early evening, of course. Walking through the exurbs during civil twilight along stretches of shoulder-hugging sidewalk not built with pedestrians in mind is somewhat of a risk to life and limb.
To that end, fall is a great time for death, and a long walk and the slow, inexorable march to the grave are pretty closely linked in mind. I'm sort of kidding, but not entirely. The trees around me, from the center of Minneapolis to the outlying suburbs to the countryside are, in fact, slowly dying. The crops in the fields once you pass the suburbs about 20 miles out are mostly harvested and browning. The leaves crunch underfoot. Trace a 30-mile path in any direction, and you are bound to pass at least two cemeteries containing the mortal remains of some of your fellow Minnesotans, increasingly hemmed in by townhomes and parking lots. The careful crosswalk trips I make across 60-mile-per-hour county roads remind me sudden death isn't an abstract concept.
Mostly, though, the transition from city to suburb to countryside is as gradual and rich in texture as the transition from summer to winter is. I amble along the sidewalk into the darkness as the temperature drops, as a way to honor that coming transition. I think about getting ready for the winter, and I think about life and death. But I also think about how much I'm looking forward to eventually coming up on a place I can sit down, take off the Sam Elliott jacket, eat a cheeseburger, and text my wife and tell her what I saw on my walk.
Andy Sturdevant is a Minneapolis writer and artist.