I hope the year is off to a good start. Here in the Big Apple it’s finally starting to feel like winter. Better late than never I suppose. Last Monday, a marathon nor’easter fell over the city, dropping 17 inches of snow. In fact, it wasn’t just any snowstorm, but the 17th largest since city officials began measuring at Central Park in 1869.
Here in the city, snow usually disappears before anyone can really enjoy it. When it does manage to stick around, it evolves into a ubiquitous grey sludge that attracts all the dirt, oil, grime, and whatever else lingers in the streets. I won't be going anywhere, anytime soon as my phone predicts more snow later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll spend my days inside my apartment reflecting on a time when you could comfortably walk outside.
My last “big” walk concluded a couple of weeks ago at the Verrazzano Bridge in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Before walking to the foundation, I stood on Shore Road, which gave a panoramic view of the water below. I heard the steady buzz of traffic on the Belt Parkway as the sun set over Staten Island. The trees, bare from the cold, framed the Verrazzano in the distance, where it triumphantly stretched across the entirety of the Narrows. The wind was blowing in my face and my fingers were starting to go numb, but it didn’t matter. At that moment, I needed to take a photo.
I have taken a million photos of the sunset and this one was no different, but it felt special after nearly two hours of walking. I took my camera out of the bag as a few runners gathered beside to take a photo (it turns out we all had the same idea. I mean, show me someone who doesn’t like a beautiful sunset). The horizon, filled with an orange glow, quietly dwindled like the embers of a flame. For a moment, we stood in silence before going our separate ways.
On the train home, I had the luxury of stretching my legs across the entire aisle (the trains are still pretty empty thanks to COVID). I relaxed while listening to the soothing rumble of the train moving from station to station. When it finally reached Carroll Street, I realized I’d forgotten something. I didn’t check how many miles I walked!
Going over the miles at the end of a journey has become somewhat of a ritual. I use Strava to record the data and track my route on the map. Over time, it’s unintentionally become an archive of these really long walks. It’s marketed towards athletes, but very similar to any other social media app. When you stop recording your activity, it's shared on a feed and seen by followers who show support by giving “kudos”.
I excitedly took out my phone and immediately sensed something was wrong – nothing was there! I looked once again, obsessively refreshing as if the miles would magically appear on my screen. I had no luck…and that’s when it hit me.
I. Forgot. To. Press. Record!
I was so disappointed nobody would get to see this walk in their feed, nor would I have anything to show for it in my archive. In my crazed state of mind that basically meant the walk didn’t even happen. I closed my eyes and put my phone back in my bag. I was getting hungry and it was a few stops before I was back home. I tried to focus on a good meal waiting for me. That’s usually a great way to forget about these kind of things.
Back in the warmth of my apartment, I took a moment to to reflect as I ate. Any disappointment was quickly replaced by a full stomach. I was a little dehydrated earlier, (and perhaps a bit hangry), which created the perfect storm for heightened emotions. I joked to myself when revisiting the Strava incident: if the walk wasn’t documented, well, did it even happen?
Of course it did, however, it’s always worth examining one’s aspirations when social media elicits such strong feelings. It often robs us of our attention and muddles our intentions, making us feel like we are always performing for some invisible audience instead of enjoying a moment for ourselves. It’s worth asking from time to time: are you doing it for the walk or to tell people about the walk?
It’s very important to make that distinction. Walking is the tool I’ve chosen to generate a creative practice. It’s how I interact and make sense of the world. The documentation, even as trivial as Strava, expresses those experiences. The walk is a record, or better yet, a gift for others to receive. Sharing our experiences online is not what makes them count. No amount of likes or kudos will ever be enough and our pursuit for more just adds unnecessary pressure to the things we like to do.
For a moment, try and imagine a practice where everything documented is never shared. This might not be realistic for some of us, but try it once over the course of the month. Leave your phone and camera at home. Take no pictures, record no audio, write no newsletters, and delete Strava. In this practice, the walk is fully experienced because that’s all there is.
When you return home, the only document to share is the memory that lives inside your mind. As time passes, these memories might get hazy or even disappear, much like the melting snow here in New York City, but that's the beauty of it. Without worrying about having something to show for our experiences, we can focus more on what we like doing and enjoy ourselves in the moment.
See you next time,
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Pedestrian tells stories about the people, routines, and connections we make as a result of moving throughout one’s everyday surroundings. It began as a quarterly magazine in 2018 by Alex T. Wolfe and is occasionally released as a podcast.