If you’re just joining this story, check out Part One, in which I explain why on earth the six of us woke up at four thirty in the morning to walk the circumference of the city in the first place, and what all happened in the first 20k…
…At twenty kilometres, Shannon, who had planned on making it only 5k, finally called a cab. I was sad to see her go. In an indisputably athletic company, Shannon was the one shaped like me. She was the only other one who felt the blood rush to her face with each ascent, and who met my eyes to laugh when Mike said “try to step on the mud really lightly, so you won’t fall through”. We were bonded in the sisterhood of people-who-have-slightly-heavier-packs-to-carry.
After Shannon left, we picked up the pace, and I really began to feel my muscles straining to meet the vision my mind had cast. But meet it, they did. And it slowly began to dawn on me that yes, I weigh a hundred and ninety pounds... but I have weighed that my whole life. And now, my body has the kind of strength that you can only get from carrying a hundred and ninety pounds for two and a half decades.
This is the first of several metaphors I walked my way into understanding.
I tend to think of myself first in terms of the baggage that I carry. I rattle those things off so easily that they are almost a reflex. I forget-things-I-have-highs-and-lows-I-am-bad-with-money-I-am-messy-I-have-trouble-saying-no... I forget that I am also made up of the strength that comes with carrying those things. Living alongside those qualities, and coping with them for a whole life time. Flaws… Baggage… And strength.
At about this point in the walk, we were passing Diefenbaker park. Right by the path where, a couple of weeks before, Anthony and David and Bri and I had walked home from Canada Day together. It was that night that Anthony had first confided in us that he wanted to walk city walk. He said this really tentatively, like he couldn’t believe his audaciousness. He wouldn't finish city walk, of course, he said. Just maybe 10k. Or 20k, if it went really well.
That night, David told this really inspiring story about this magician who did a whole show kinda based on faith healing, and then told his audience about how it happens. According to the magician, some of faith healing is about endorphins, some of it is about hype, and some of it is about the story. There is something incredibly powerful about the story you tell yourself, David’s magician had said. David went on to talk about how he’d been experimenting with the stories he’d always told himself about who he was and what he could do, and Anthony and I both lit up.
“That’s what we’ve been doing this year, as a family,” Anthony told me soon after that, on one of our practice walks. “We’ve been making new stories about who we might be and trying them out to see if they work. Like, I might be a person who can walk in city walk, even though I’m not athletic.”
At around the 30k mark, the “not athletic” thing wasn’t holding weight. For Anthony, or for me.
We were walking ourselves into a new story.
I have been doing this for months.
I have been walking on from what I had known to be my life story in my very bones—challenging childhood, married at twenty to a great match, overcame some hard parenting situations, and came of age in this lifelong relationship which was the foundation for my life…. That whole thing came apart at once. Not just the marriage, but the story I’d told myself about it. And, because it had been so tightly woven into my identity for all of my adult life, I had to sort through everything. Picking each piece of myself up, bit by bit, and trying to figure out what was real. Like you sort through all the stuff. Which stories were mine, which were his? Which were stories we had made together? You have to open it up like all the dusty boxes in the basement, and checking to see what all you want to keep on owning, and what you might leave behind.
Right after Diefenbaker park came the south bank of the river... we passed by the concrete bridge where Gary and I had stood, nearly two decades earlier, arms wrapped around each other, with the words "will you marry me?" written above us in sidewalk chalk.
What do I do with this story, now?
I'm a writer. Stories are the lines I draw on the map, to know where I am. To know who I am. If I don't know what the stories are, I don't know how to keep walking.
Except it's the other way around.
You can't understand the stories until start walking again. They don't sort like piles of stuff do. It has to be an experiment. Like you can't figure out if you could be an athlete while thinking about it on the couch.
Over the last few months, we have all been doing this. Anthony has discovered he's a distance walker and Eric has jumped into the dream of being a lifeguard. I have been exploring who else I might be, too. I've found out that I'm brilliant with budgets. That I don't actually need to be on Ritalin. That I love to garden, and renovate things.
And hike. It turns out I am a hiker.
So I hiked. In training, and on city walk, where hiked until every step seemed to blur into itself. We hiked until the plodding of our steps carved new things in me, like droplets carve new paths in water. We walked until the ground felt like an extension of our feet, and I did not walk through breathtaking fields of flowers as much as I bloomed alongside those fields. We hiked until I realized that this city that I have lived in all my life and thought I knew every inch of was overflowing with places I'd never been. (Like the me that I've lived in all my life, turns out, is also filled with all sorts of uncharted places).
Or, places that feel different, when revisited after a long time.
At around the 30k mark, we rounded the southwest corner of the city, circling the neighbourhood I grew up in. I remember how huge it felt, when I was a kid. How I couldn't imagine walking from one side of it to the other... how when I learned to bike, it became slightly smaller. How when I boarded the school bus, it opened a tiny portal to a new world. How, every few years, it has become slightly less huge.
We walked the perimeter of my childhood neighbourhood so quickly that it almost felt effortless. I felt like one of the many deer we ran across, standing chest deep in fields of wildflowers yet able to magically streak away in smooth arcs like a dolphin racing a ship.
I felt weightless, even though I weighed more than anyone there, including David, who is six foot three.
Okay, I didn't feel weightless, exactly. More like... more like I'd learned that the weight didn't mean what I thought it meant.
You don't know what your baggage means until you carry it a while. Over new territory. Or, over territory-made-new.
When you walk, you discover that your baggage isn't weight-that-means-you-can't-be-strong-enough.
You learn that your baggage is actually weight-that-has-made-you-strong-enough.
Continued here, in City Walk--the first finale..