It occurred to me this morning that I have written a lot about the places I’ve walked, but little about walking itself.
This thought occurred while I was walking on the railroad tracks below Sellwood Park. It’s a private railway line that runs between Oaks Bottom Nature Preserve and the Willamette River. Around Christmastime, a cute little steam train runs up and down, carrying mostly children and their adult companions. The train makes a wonderful nostalgic tooting sound we can hear from our neighborhood, which is situated on a plateau above Oaks Bottom Nature Preserve and the railway line.
I started walking the railway tracks last winter. I would get up and balance on one rail, and then, when I inevitably fell, I’d move to the other rail and walk that until I fell again. Then I’d switch back.Read more: Walking the rails
When I started out, it was pretty difficult. Even then I realized that for some reason, when I walk on the left-side track, it’s a lot easier for me to cover distance without falling. So these days, I try to walk the right-side track more of the time. , and more persistently. When I get tired of falling, I go back to the left-side rail for some relief. I’m sure it will improve over time.
Of course, each rail has a slight camber, tilting down towards the inside of the rail. I’m sure the camber isn’t perfectly regular or even equal on both sides. I’m also sure that the difference between walking one side and the other has something to do with my body’s natural asymmetries.
When I get the flow and can walk for a while without falling, it feels wonderful; a kind of soaring elation rises up inside me. Filled with joy and confidence, I try a different challenge: Instead of looking at the rail about six feet ahead of me, I train my eyes further up the rail, perhaps 15 feet ahead. Then when that’s working well, I take my eyes off the rail entirely and look at the scene ahead of me, changing as I walk forward.
Walking the rails is good for proprioception and improving balance, and it’s good for my brain in other ways too. Research has shown 1 that working on balance can improve both memory and spatial cognition. Now that I’m in my 67th year, balance, memory and other cognitive skills are important to me – I want to enjoy a long and healthy life. But honestly, the real reason I continue walking the rails is that it’s just plain fun.
Rogge, AK., Röder, B., Zech, A. et al. Balance training improves memory and spatial cognition in healthy adults. Sci Rep 7, 5661 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-06071-9