Many years ago I was fascinated by the Walking Man and the Running Girl. I had watched them, each isolated in a lonely world of traveling up and down Lamar Blvd and the Shoal Creek Trail, waste away with every mile. Just a few months ago I saw the Walking Man after many, many years of having forgotten him. His feet were wrapped in bulky cloth and splayed out at an awkward angle. He trudged along only with the aid of a walker.
Somehow he has made it much longer than the Running Girl whom I have not seen in years. She was rail thin, a skeleton really, always dressed in a pink jogging outfit. I suspected a dire case of anorexia. Had she eventually wasted away completely, or had her family finally made the decision to hospitalize her.
Now there is a new Running Man. A young African American in his early to mid-twenties. He runs shirtless with long braided hair and a sleek muscularly sculpted body. He is always carrying what seems to be a heavy backpack on one hand.
It has occurred to me that he may just be training for something. But always as I pass by, he catches my eye with a vacant look that is somehow at the same time defiant.
I am drawn to these three because I think I find that tendency in myself—the possibly romanticized desire to just walk until I can walk no more, like Peace Pilgrim, but without the mission of faith. Mine would be a mission of escape from everything in this world that is profane. The traffic and the materialism, the grave destruction of the whole natural world for own social gain. I would carve a holy path of harmlessness.
Carl Pope said of John Muir that it was his radical act of just walking that brought him to the Sierra Nevadas and made him into the man he was.
As we hiked into the Hoh Rain Forest the words of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness lingered in my mind:
“We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign—and no memories.”
There were times on the trail when I truly felt that we were in the night of first ages, exposed to the elements, yet taking some comfort in the knowledge that there were others on the trail with us, less alone I imagine miles away from a car or a building or cell phone service than the Walking Man or the Running Girl and the Running Man—whose radical act of defiance created a singular space in the midst of the bustling city.