Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.
– Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian
Ideally, walking is a state in which the mind, the body and the world are aligned, as “three notes suddenly making a chord,” writer Rebecca Solnit posited in Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin Books, 2001).
Walking, she wrote, “allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Montreal walkers of all ages are taking to urban sidewalks and residential neighbourhoods, to the Lachine Canal and to Mount Royal, to downtown and to the suburbs in walking clubs and groups. They are walking for the exercise and to challenge themselves, and also for the camaraderie: you don’t stay strangers for long when you’re walking in a group.
“It’s walking together; it’s friendship; it’s education; it’s endurance,” said Olga Horge, who has known fellow Montreal Urban Hikers co-founder Eleanor Hynes for nearly 20 years. The walks they organize are generally 6 to 8 kilometres long; about half are guided walks — like the one Hynes led this month past several downtown hospitals, including some that are closed. She talked about their origins, their histories and their specialties.
“An urban hiker is someone who looks at what they’re walking past,” Hynes said. “You make a note of where you are in the city. I have walked most of Montreal that way, and it’s great.”
Some clubs organize more demanding walks. The City Slickers, for instance, walk the circumference of Montreal in six weekly walks of 25 km each, with much of the group keeping to an average pace of 6 km an hour.
The members of the Ramblers Association do shorter walks, mainly through suburban neighbourhoods. Paul Michetti, who is in charge of membership for the group, has led a guided walk for the Ramblers in Pointe-Claire South highlighting the area’s parks, and another through streets of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and Baie-d’Urfé; in September he will lead a walk in the Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park. “All the walks are between 8 and 10 km and are designed so that people can get home early and still have the rest of the day to do other things,” he said.
Henry David Thoreau, the American essayist, poet and philosopher, observed: “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
Walking in a group encourages people, said Valerie Cook, a veteran walker and hiker who organizes the City Slickers walks. Most of its walkers also hike with a group called Randonnée Aventure, and so the Saturday walks are scheduled for weekends when there are no hikes.
“It’s amazing to see people who start out thinking, ‘Why on earth do you want to walk 25 km?’ — and then it becomes like an addiction,” she said. “People who are not serious walkers don’t get it; I get a great sense of personal satisfaction from doing the walks, and it inspires me to see how many people are progressing and doing their personal bests.”
Montreal historian and author Colleen Gray did her first City Slickers walk at the end of July — a 25-km walk that began on Ste-Anne St. in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, went through Senneville and ended in Pierrefonds. Although “I’m a pretty good city walker, I was challenged,” she said. “I felt good about the level of fitness I was at, and it was fun to be outside and walking.
“You get rid of a lot of stress in a walk like that. At the end of it, I felt exhausted and wondered, ‘Why have I done this?’ But two days following that day, I felt an extensive clarity and much more peaceful. You have to rest — and then you feel everything is just fine.”
Michetti, who walks with the City Slickers as well as the Ramblers and also with a small, word-of-mouth-only offshoot of the Slickers dubbed the City Slackers, calls himself a serious walker, although not an obsessive one. “I just enjoy walking whenever I can — and it doesn’t have to be long distances, either,” he said. “On most days I walk about 6 to 8 km, which keeps me in shape for longer walks.”
Comedian Steven Wright observed: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”
The Slackers, all members or past members of Randonnée Aventure, “welcome friends to join us but, while we usually don’t walk 25 km like the City Slickers do, we do walk anywhere from 15 to 20 km on an outing,” Michetti said.
Cook of the City Slickers said she encourages new walkers to start out with a walk of 10 to 12 km their first time with the group and to go at “their comfortable pace.” She encourages walkers to be accompanied by someone who goes at a similar pace. Some walkers with the City Slickers are in their 30s and 40s, a lot are in their 50s and 60s, “and we have a couple of people well into their 80s who walk at a fair pace,” she said.
“It’s going at a certain pace that is the fitness part of the walk,” Cook said. “A regular walker would have no problem.” Although “it’s not a terribly fast pace, someone who is not really a walker would not be able to do it.”
The walks are intended as endurance training walks. “It is distance walking. It is repetitive, as far as pounding of the feet: It is good for keeping healthy.”
People must be fit to participate in Ramblers Association activities, said founder Terry Browitt, “but not super fit. We discourage people who don’t do anything, but you don’t have to be able to sprint 100 yards to keep up with us.
“We are older: when I formed the club 10 years ago, I realized that there are lots of clubs out there that cater to elite athletes. I am 75; one woman in the group who keeps ahead of me is 77.”
The therapeutic properties of moving around on our feet are myriad — and backed by more and more data, writer Dan Rubinstein observed in The Walking Cure, a powerful 2013 story in the Walrus magazine.
“Walking protects you from obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. It lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol, and builds bone mass,” he wrote. “Walking improves your balance, preventing falls. It strengthens the muscles in your arms and legs, and gives your joints better range of motion. It eases back pain, and reduces the risk of glaucoma.”
Among other benefits of walking Rubinstein cited: it eases anger and confusion. Limits depression and anxiety. Leads to better sleep. In short: walking helps keep us healthy. As the British historian and academic G.M. Trevelyan put it: “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.”
Following are details of a few Montreal walking clubs or groups:
The City Slickers circumnavigate Montreal on foot in a series of six 25-km walks, done on consecutive Saturdays at an average pace of 6 km/hour: their own Tour de l’Île. This autumn’s walks start Oct. 29. Veteran walker and hiker Valerie Cook runs the show as a volunteer, organizing the walks and routes, making sure everyone is signed in, keeping track of walkers’ mileage and preparing certificates for those who reach distance milestones starting at 500 km. There is no charge for the walks and no advance reservations, but walkers must turn up no later than 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
Route 1 is from Old Montreal to Dorval, along the Lachine Canal; Route 2 is Dorval to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue; Route 3 is Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue to Pierrefonds; Route 4 is Pierrefonds to Montreal North, via l’Île de la Visitation; Route 5 is Montreal North to Pointe-aux-Trembles; Route 6 is Pointe-aux-Trembles to Atwater Market. Cook notes that because walks don’t end at the starting point, it can be simpler to use public transit. Bring an Opus card and a bit of money for lunch and a snack, she advises.
On Aug. 27, the City Slickers will walk Route 2; departure is promptly at 9 a.m. from the Tim Hortons at 475 Dumont Ave., corner Fenelon St., in Dorval. Walkers who wish to have breakfast before setting out are welcome from 8 a.m. onward. There will be a 40-minute lunch stop at the Homestyle Bakery & Café, 445 Beaconsfield Blvd. in Beaconsfield, and the walk is scheduled to end at about 1:50 p.m. in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, where the 10th annual garlic festival at the Ste-Anne farmers’ market will still be going on. To get to Dorval from Montreal, take the métro to Lionel-Groulx, then the 211 bus. Stay on the bus beyond the Dorval Shopping Centre and get off at Fenelon and Dumont.
The City Slickers will do three consecutive walks on the Labour Day long weekend and again during the Thanksgiving long weekend in October. Email email@example.com for details.
The Montreal Urban Hikers, founded by Olga Horge and Eleanor Hynes, have been walking together for 19 years now and have grown to a membership of more than 90. About half their events are guided walks, such as one held Aug. 20 from Lafontaine Park to St. Louis Square and led by Montreal historian and freelance writer Robert N. Wilkins. There is a core of regulars, but always one or two new people on each walk, Hynes said.
Although the walks are generally 6 to 8 km, in early August Hynes led an 11.4-km walk past several downtown hospitals and former hospitals, including the Shriners, Royal Victoria, Montreal Neurological Institute, Hôtel Dieu, Notre Dame and Saint-Luc. She spoke about their beginnings, their histories and what they’re best known for. When the walk was over, some group members repaired to a Chinatown restaurant for lunch.
Club membership, which runs from one September to the next, is $10, and people pay $3 apiece for every walk. There are walks each month except March and November. Most begin at 9:30 a.m., but there are a few evening walks. On Sept. 10, the group will meet at the Burgundy Lion on Notre-Dame St. W. for dinner and a walk to Old Montreal and back, led by Paul Polidoro; on Dec. 16, there will be a Christmas Lights walk in LaSalle. Go to montrealurbanhikers.ca for the complete schedule. For details, call 514-366-9108 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ramblers Association (les Randonneurs Associés) is a volunteer organization with year-round outdoor activities offering “physical exercise, fresh air and camaraderie.” It does a variety of nature and suburban walks and hikes in the Hudson-St-Lazare area and the West Island every second Sunday year-round. The walks and hikes cover between 8 and 10 km and are classified as easy or moderately difficult. Groups have about 20 people on average; every hike has a leader and someone bringing up the rear. Annual membership fee is $25. Schedule of events is available at lesrara.ca/cms. Contact email@example.com for more information.
Rando plein-air is a not-for-profit organization that offers among its activities a series of urban walks led by guides in Montreal neighbourhoods including Griffintown, Outremont, Westmount, Old Montreal and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Cost is $6 per walk; the walks cover about 6 km and last about two hours. Commentary by guides is in French. The fall schedule is posted — or will be soon — at randopleinair.com, with meeting points listed as well. There are no advance reservations for the walks, which generally draw about 50 people. Walkers are asked to turn up 15 minutes before the posted start time to register.
Rando plein-air also does Sunday morning walks on Mount Royal, starting at 9:30. Walkers are asked to arrive 15 minutes in advance to register; they meet at the Tim Hortons at 15 Mont-Royal Ave. W., at St-Laurent Blvd. Cost is $3.50 per walk. One guide leads the walk at a pace of 6 km per hour, and a second brings up the rear at the rhythm of the slowest walker. A light snack is offered at the lookout. The walk is 10 to 12 km long, with an option for faster walkers to do an extra 2 km at the top, around the cross. The walk ends between 11:45 a.m. and noon. Walkers should bring a bottle of water and wear sports shoes. Learn more at randopleinair.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 514-252-3330.
Source: Montreal Gazette
August 27, 2016
By Susan Schwartz
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