Don’t kid yourself: Walking is work—certainly when we’re talking not so much a morning constitutional around the neighborhood but, as spring swelters into summer, a journey from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra Nevada. Calibrate the distance in miles and it’s more than 200 clicks on the odometer. Measure the distance in feet—which you do when you’re walking, foot by foot, west to east—and you have to think more in terms of a million. You don’t have to tell that to your paws; they know and show all too well that it’s a long climb from feeling the sand and the cold saltwater between your toes to taking into your lungs the oxygen exhaled by giant sequoias, to hearing and feeling your footfalls on glacially polished granite.
But if you’re going to walk across California, there are many ways other than incremental units to assess the distance, to imagine the journey: between selves and communities, in terms of the food that sustains us and the water that slakes our thirst, whether we live in Oakland’s flats or on the Tuolumne Miwok reservation, whether we make our home in historic and charming Copperopolis—where Black Bart earned some infamy back in the day—or we work the fields around street-tough Stockton.
Survey the journey in time: the weeks it takes to get from San Francisco to Mt. Diablo to Hodgdon Meadow. Appraise how far you’re traveling in years: the geologic tale unfolding beneath you as you traverse city and dale, river and road. Count the birds and the butterflies and the cars. Gauge the human stories that are given to you, freely, because you are walking and because you are listening and because you are here to learn, in a bigger sense than perhaps ever before, what is this magnificent and complex and troubled place we inhabit? California! How far we’ve come! you say. How far we have to go!
Metaphoric and evolutionary, startling and revolutionary: This is your walk. The iambic pentameter in your stride tells you, as do your aching calves and hips, that it’s not the destination but the journey. Yes, though there’s this: There comes a day when you arrive and you are done walking, at least this leg of the caravan. What goods have you brought with you, what have you given and let go, what have you acquired in exchange? Your feet will get dusty along the way. They’ll want washing. That’s okay. As a wise and kind woman named Rachel liked to say, “Fortunately, we’re all washable.”
Keep the faith,
Steven Boyd Saum