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In 1909, Edward Payson Weston walked from New York to San Francisco, covering around 40 miles a day and greeted by wildly cheering audiences in every city. The New York Times called it the "first bona-fide walk . . . across the American continent," and eagerly chronicled a journey in which Weston was beset by fatigue, mosquitos, vicious headwinds, and brutal heat. He was 70 years old.
In The Last Great Walk, journalist Wayne Curtis uses the framework of Weston's fascinating and surprising story, and investigates exactly what we lost when we turned away from foot travel, and what we could potentially regain with America's new embrace of pedestrianism. From how our brains and legs evolved to accommodate our ancient traveling needs to the way that American cities have been designed to cater to cars and discourage pedestrians, Curtis guides readers through an engaging, intelligent exploration of how something as simple as the way we get from one place to another continues to shape our health, our environment, and even our national identity.
Not walking, he argues, may be one of the most radical things humans have ever done.
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor at The Atlantic magazine. He's also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, and This American Life. The author of And a Bottle of Rum, Curtis was named Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year in 2002. He lives in New Orleans.
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Excerpted from "The Last Great Walk"
Copyright © 2014 Wayne Curtis.
Excerpted by permission of Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After perusing a friends’ response to his reading of this book, I ordered it. There was something intriguing about the idea of a Seventy-year-old man walking from NYC to San Francisco, then to learn that this stroll occurred in 1909, that caused the intrigue I felt to bloom into a thirst to learn the “why it mattered today.” I was not disappointed in the story of Edward Payson Weston or of the author’s building of his case as to why an event that occurred over a century ago had any bearing on life in the fast-paced computer age. Mr. Weston began long walks (hundreds of miles) in the 1860’s, at time when “pedestrianism” events were drawing huge crowds of spectators to witness the completion of such sojourns. According to the author’s description, he was the Lebron James of the “Pedestrian” world during his day. The fanfare around such practices was in its decline when he announced that he would walk from New York City to San Francisco in one-hundred days and the journey would begin on his Seventieth Birthday. The stamina he had to undertake such a journey would require he walk an average of 47.29 miles daily (3925 miles/83 days, as he rested on Sundays). He would be supported along the way, by turn, from: hired assistants, the kindness of strangers, various railroad companies and often large crowds who would join him for sections when he was near their towns – but he was as singular in his quest as he was alone in completing it. Within nine months of his completing this walk, he walked from San Francisco back to NYC! The story of this walk is the basis upon which the author explores the history of walking, particularly in America. In so doing, the reader is given an overall engaging (there are occasions when Mr. Curtis puts too much of himself in the otherwise well-researched material) history of roads, the psychological effects of walking and the sociological implications of pedestrianism, all of which were viewed in comparison to riding in a machine. When Mr. Weston left New York City, roads were still “multiuse” thoroughfares – walkers, horses, carriages and automobiles all shared the same space and worked out how each would use what space when as all were going in, literally, every direction. Within twenty years of this Great Walk, roads were the domain of automobiles only and the other modes of transport once common, specifically walking, began their decline into uselessness, at least in practice. Psychologically, according to Mr. Curtis, walking is better for us on every count – physically we are created to walk and have done so for 4.5 million years, our minds “slow down” when we walk and our brains are simulated by what we see as they are empowered by the increased oxygen exercise brings to the body. In a machine, we are removed from our surroundings and feel detached from the land and each other, becoming isolated in our own “reality.” When we walk, we engage our surroundings, others and nature in such a way that reality becomes more of an experiential moment than merely one that is observed. The author holds out hope that the domain of the automobile is now where walking was in 1909 – on its way to becoming an option rather than the expectation of transportation. He cites the cit
A Short Fine Book About a Very Long Walk By Bill Marsano. Late in the afternoon of March 15, 1909, a man named Edward Payson Weston left the main post office in Manhattan and headed for San Fran-cisco. On foot. He was not America’s first transcontinental walker; indeed, a mother-daughter team had hoofed it from Spokane to New York City between May 5 and December 24 in 1896, packing compass, pepper spray, revolver and curling iron. But Weston was different: his idiosyncratic route ran some 4000 miles, he pledged to arrive within a specific time—100 days!—and he was 70 years old. Moreover, he was already internationally famous as walker. What?! Yes, he was a famous walker because for much of the last half of the 19th Cen-tury plain old walking much like the kind that you and I are capable of was a professional sport. Spectators in their hundreds and thousands cheered walkers indoors and out, and surely it goes without saying that vast sums were wagered. At this distance in time we need author Wayne Curtis to provide perspective. He reminds us that in 1909 cars had just begun to make an impact, horses were used principally to haul wagons and streetcars, and plow fields, so walking was the principal mode of daily human transportation [Walt Whitman said, remem-ber, ‘we must march, my darlings’]. Baseball and football were infants, informal and barely organized, and walking, moreover, required almost no equipment that you hadn’t been born with. Still, the 1909 the Pedestrian Era was coming to a close, and there was a tinge of nostalgia to Weston and his walk. Curtis wisely does not dog Weston’s heels every step of the 8.2-million step way. Instead he gives us highlights and lowlights, and alternates chapters on how and when Man learned to walk, on walking’s contribution to bodily and mental health, on how most Americans allowed themselves to be enthralled and then more or less enslaved by the automobile. If these chapters are sometimes anchored to too many studies, be it said also that Curtis is a brisk and graceful writer, and sub-tly witty. He is cautiously optimistic about something of a ‘comeback’ for walk-ing, and, too bad, he pays scant attention to the pure pleasure and great litera-ture of walking. But he, like Weston, has something of a deadline here: this packed and potent book gets its job done in fewer than 240 pages, and that in-cludes the notes and index.—Bill Marsano who has walked and written about walking in the U.S., Canada, Cornwall and Tuscany, says ‘If you want the worlkd at your feet, USE THEM.’