Monday, August 10, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Walk or Bike the Same Route Daily

In a way, this is the complementary HarvilleQuarter to Idea #12, "Walk or bike every block in your town." For this HarvilleQuarter, you will design a route that you find particularly interesting and follow it daily for a whole quarter. It's an opportunity to become fully aware of everything that's on the route, observe the daily life, see it in more than one season and several weather conditions, and even get to know some of the folks who populate the route.

Although I offered biking as an option in the title, I'd go with walking if I were you. The goal is not to cover as much ground as possible, but to take it at a leisurely pace where nothing escapes your notice. You should have time to stop for coffee at a neighborhood cafe or coffee shop, browse the store windows, notice any wildlife that happens to be out and about, and give a pat to the dog whose owner always seems to be walking him as you're strolling down their street. If it's an afternoon or evening stroll, a cold brew in the neighborhood pub or an ice cream treat from the dairy store can be a welcome pause on your journey.

During the quarter, you'll hone your observational powers. Carry a camera or sketchbook or even a videocamera or pocket tape recorder for quickly noting sights and insights you want to write down later at home. Pick up small, interesting found objects or save a menu from that neighborhood pub or cafe. All of these will become input into your quarterly diary, which I envision as a coffee table book filled with photographs, sketches, written observations and mementos from your walks.

How long will your route be? That, of course, is up to you, although if we take the rule of thumb that a typical HarvilleQuarter involves four hours a day, I'd suggest six to eight miles. That should be slow enough to allow stops for coffee, beer or a snack, photos, sketches, conversations and window-shopping, not to mention rest and restroom breaks.

How to choose your route? If you've already done HarvilleQuarter #12, you've seen every block in your town, so you'll have some good ideas. I'd choose a route with lots of variety- a few diverse residential areas, a park, a traditional retail area, a path along a lake or stream, a wooded lane, a college campus. I understand that this mix may be hard to find in some towns, but I know I could easily find such a route in my hometown, throwing in a small zoo and art museum or gallery to boot. You may be surprised at the variety you'll find on your route when you really look around.

Be sure the route is pedestrian- or bike-friendly and you're not sprinting across eight lanes of traffic halfway through. And, needless to say, be sure it's safe. Although it may be tempting to make the route circular, consider laying it out so you can take public transportation at the end to get back to your starting point.

Depending on your health and stamina, you may need to work up to a four- to six-mile walk. Start slowly, wear really good walking shoes, take frequent breaks, and make sure you are well fed and watered. Know where the available restrooms are. Carry a cellphone (but don't use it to carry on conversations as you stroll - it's for emergencies). Find a friend to walk at least part of it with you. Dress in layers. Carry an umbrella or rain poncho. Wear sunscreen - or insect repellant, or both - and a hat.

And never, never spend your four hours plugged into your iPod. You want to be fully aware of everything around you.

The block in the photograph is Knickerbocker Place in the Monroe-Dudgeon neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin. This photograph was reproduced from

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