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August 19, 2012
VANCOUVER, BC, Aug 19, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Simple pleasures are the best. One of the simplest and best pleasures that I enjoy is walking to work. When I think back over my walking career, I realize that it really began in pre-school, or Mrs. Johnson’s kindergarten in the St. Philip’s Anglican Church basement program that I attended.
It speaks volumes for Vancouver in 1955 that my parents often let me walk to and from my kindergarten, some three long blocks and two major road crossings from our house on Camosun Street.
I can still remember the smell of fall maple leaves scattered about the yards, and the fun I had splashing through puddles in my new gumboots on my trips up the 27th Avenue hill to the church.
Later on I was able to walk to grade one, two and three until my parents moved us to a larger house in a more distant suburb. My school stayed the same, but my walks ended. Suddenly my walking start to the day became a car commute. I usually went with Dad on his way to work, and can remember that we often talked en route. My memory of the unique smells, seasonal changes and physical experiences of those car trips is now non- existent. Starting in grade 4, the house-car-school-car-house daily commute became my routine until I completed grade 12.
Luckily, I was able to walk to work again in university. Our once distant family home was in the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands, so I could walk to my undergraduate classes. Better still, my extracurricular activities in student government, and going to the Pit afterwards to meet girls, were all on campus. It was impossible for me to drink and drive; I only drank and walked. I have never been as fit as those campus years, and I owe proximity to class, to the library, to my Spanish Banks run route, but arguably not the pub, for my sleek physique.
After UBC, I went to Oxford, and lived in Helen’s Court, within the high walls of University (Univ.) College. My two rooms were basically a medieval condo: one for study; one for sleep. I shared a bathroom with my room-mate across the hall – Wendell Willkie III. I walked to hall to eat, to the library to study, to my weekly tutorials to read my essays to my tutor, to the other colleges to party, to the river to row in the Univ. 8s boat, and to the Oxford train station to go to London.
In retrospect, this era was the high water mark of my walking career. Walking about Oxford cleared my mind, was how everyone else commuted, and was a daily, and usually hourly, feast for the senses. I still go back to Univ. for short vacations with my family, and we all know the Isis tow-path, the Trout, the Port Meadow, and even Blenheim Palace because of walking.
After Oxford, there dawned a 30-year period of car commuting to various works. This era was passed in Calgary, the most sprawled city in North America, the one with the largest ecological footprint. We first gamely tried a diesel VW Golf. Family expansion meant a Volvo 240 Wagon. Later life required a Jimmy SUV. We finally graduated down to a Mini Cooper. Our cars are how I remember Calgary; how we place events in time-context. As in, ‘Oh yeah, that was when we had the Volvo.’ It was impossible to walk 14 kilometers to work. We tiredly commuted. We fattened. We prospered. And we learned to cram exercise into before and after work slots. Looking back, it was exhausting.
And then we moved home to Vancouver. Five days of the week I walk to work, eight kilometers round- trip, rain (mostly rain!) or shine, from a False Creek condo. The walk is now my primary exercise, although I supplement it with two gym visits per week. It is way more fun than driving, and in a funny way my mind goes back to Oxford and UBC mode when I stride along the sea wall or down Dunsmuir Street to my office on Hornby. I feel younger than when I car commuted, and I dress for the weather, not for success. If Steve Jobs could, so can I.
As I write this piece in running shoes, jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, it is the hottest day of the year. I know because the sun was already hot at 8 a.m. when I left the condo. I sweated as I climbed the 82 concrete stairs at Rogers Place, and I smelt roasting coffee, laneway urine, fresh croissants and diesel exhaust as I wound my way to work. One thing is now for sure: I shall never again waste time commuting by car, because walking to work is a gift to body, brain and soul.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO.
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