Friday, January 20, 2017
The Last Great Walk book review
The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis is about Edward Payne Weston's walk from New York to San Francisco in 1909. He began this excursion on his 70th birthday, averaged walking 38 miles per day and proposed to finish his walk in 100 days. The book covers the few roads of his day, troubles with his support team and tells of him walking along railroad tracks for a lot of the way through the west. The rest of the book details traffic, its incredible growth, designs of roads and how communities and people changed because of the car.
The book also goes into great detail about walking, covering cadence and how many steps we walk today, the rise of La-Z-Boy reclining chairs, how man initially became a walker, navigation and knowing where we are at the time, the type of lands we favor, what happened to the "verges" (that social space between sidewalks and streets where cars now park), and this detail is where I re-read most of the book.
The Lost Geography of Walking, chapter 6, details Marchetti's Constant that proposes humans are willing to spend about an hour each day out and about, traveling and un-sheltered or "commuting". The time our ancestors spent away from their shelters has always been part of an elaborate calculation. We innately desire larger territory and the rewards that come with it, but there is a price to pay: it requires physical exertion, and means being in the open, a threat from our enemies and predators. A human's territory is about how far we can travel on foot in an hour, or about a mile and a half.
Weston finished his 1909 walk in 105 days, battling bad weather, a poor choice of routes and the issues with his support team. There were people in most every town he walked through who wished him well, many who crowded the streets (getting in his way) and some who were very supportive, providing aid just when it was needed.
Though sad because he didn't make his goal, he resumed the same walk the following year, finishing in 78 days. This time he walked from the west to the east with the wind at his back, averaged 45.5 miles per day, had a sponsor for the entire trip, a better route and improved trip support. He was now 71 years old.
Yes, I like this book and recommend it to other walkers, hikers and backpackers, plus anyone who understands human-powered travel like bicycling. Even studious drivers will like the traffic history. The amount of background information is well worth the time and will support your understanding of walking to a high degree. I still find my self going back to re-read certain chapters, mostly details about actual walking. If you like to walk, this book is a great reference manual.
Weston continued a few long walks afterwards, but after being hit by a car, he died in Manhattan, 2 weeks after his 90th birthday. By one account, he had walked ninety thousand miles in his lifetime.
While I may never reach Weston's 40+ mile per day stamina, I still hope to continue putting one foot in front of the other, getting outside to see new things, and walking for as long as life allows me to.
The book The Last Great Walk was purchased by me at a used bookstore, and this review is my own.