“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John Muir
My mom was always a big walker, five to ten miles per day, even in the sweltering heat of Dubai or the bone chilling cold of North Dakota, two of the wild places she lived and worked. It was at the start of the Camino de Santiago, the five hundred mile walking pilgrimage across northern Spain that she learned of her cancer. All throughout, she continued walking each and every day, through my neighborhood at first, and later, laps around my house where she spent her last year with us.
I’ve always been a walker myself. When she transitioned though, I took up the practice in earnest. It was a great way of connecting with her, and I was able to do my best thinking while on the move. It was on an evening walk that I got the idea to do a full day of walking, 24 hours without a single break. It was my kind of challenge and the idea of that much time moving, thinking, and being in nature was appealing.
The simplicity of it was also appealing. One of the tenants at Ned that has served us well is to “keep things simple and natural.” What could be more simple and natural than a long walk? Maybe it wasn’t so simple though? Or perhaps the simplicity would cause complicated tangles to unwind? I sensed this was going to be the case, and I was eager to find out!
The next weekend, it was on! Responsibilities cropped up, as they do, and the 24 hour walk was whittled down to a 12 hour walk. “Still plenty of walking,” I figured as I set out, “especially if I don’t take any breaks.”
It was 8 am on a glorious Saturday in May when I started from my house in the foothills of Boulder, CO. I carried some water and food in a pack and had my phone on airplane mode. No headphones or anything to distract me. I wanted to lean into the solitude and silence and really be present for whatever was to come. My destination was farm country to the east. I’ve always liked country roads and knew I’d like them a lot more today for their relative flatness and easy-going vibe.
That day, I walked for thirteen hours and covered over thirty miles. I was on my feet the entire time. I noticed many things along the walk, both about the world around me and about myself. The way magpies will heckle a fox. The way farmers trust and rely on one another. The way excuses infiltrate my mind and gather steam. The way my heart sings in anticipation of a great sunset. It was all there on display, distraction-free and unfiltered.
I learned a lot that day and enjoyed every mile. I loved the simplicity and return on investment. It cost nothing but time and yet I gained so much. I was able to work through more than I could have in multiple therapy sessions. I came away from the walk with far greater focus, creativity, and happiness, all of which lasted for weeks. The challenge added to my confidence and character. I felt refreshed, reinvigorated, and more like myself than I had in a long time.
I spent the next month or so telling everyone who would listen what a great thing it was and how they ought to get out there and try it for themselves. I shared a bit of the experience on Instagram and received a ton of feedback and interest. It appealed to a lot of people, mostly, I imagine, for its simplicity and elemental nature. I expect they too sensed there was something about the simplicity that would work wonders on the complexity in our minds.
A lot of people wanted to know “how to do it,” something that confounded me a bit at first. “Well,” I’d say, “you set aside the time, pack a few things in a backpack, disconnect from everything but the walk, and just go.” Later I realized there actually is more to it getting out there.
Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I was contemplating this, a book on this very topic was being printed and readied to hit bookstores everywhere. It would be titled, “The 12 Hour Walk.” Imagine that! Even wilder is that I met the author a few years ago…on a long walk. Colin O’Brady is a “ten-time world record-breaking explorer, New York Times bestselling author, speaker, entrepreneur, and expert on mindset.” He’s also a friend of a friend and from what I can tell, a really good guy.
Colin’s book, “The 12 Hour Walk,” walks (sorry, had to do it) the reader through the benefits of investing one day in oneself to “conquer our minds and become our best selves.” According to the book’s jacket, it’s a “compelling blend of riveting adventure stories and hard-won wisdom that teaches us how to overcome our limiting beliefs and embark on a transformative one-day journey that will unlock our best selves.”
Clearly Colin had a lot more to say about “how to do it” than I did. I’m about halfway through his book and definitely recommend it. That said, I still love the simplicity of a 12 hour walk and encourage anyone interested in doing one not to overthink getting started. The thinking will come while you’re walking.
On my walk, I thought a lot about my mom and how inspirational she was and continues to be for Ned. I thought about how proud she would be to see what we’re doing and excited for where we’re going. She would have loved the 12 hour walk! She would have loved the 24 hour walk even more, one of the reasons why I’m still called to do it. All I need to do is set aside the time, pack a bag, put my phone on airplane mode, and go.
Ret is the co-founder of Ned. He’s all about helping people find a deeper connection to the natural world. Give him a shout if you’d like any help or inspiration here. He’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.