Apparently, the six kilometre circuit walk of Lake Dove in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is THE most popular walk in the entire park. I don't think this is because it is the most interesting, rewarding, or scenic walk. Rather, it is the walk that confronts the tourist the moment they step off the shuttle bus, there is a nice view of Cradle Mountain, Weindorfers Tower and The Horn from the shore line, and, it is well graded and almost completely flat (there may be a total elevation gain of 70 metres over the course of the entire six kilometre walk).
Doug and I were striding along the west side of the track on our way to climb Cradle Mountain and, in our usual, alpine mode, were walking along at brisk pace. Years of alpine climbing seem to mean that we do just about everything at a brisk pace with few stops - kayaking, walking, climbing, even grocery shopping - it doesn't really seem to matter. We get up early, go out, get it done and come back.
A couple of tourist types were grunting up a short (20 metres of elevation gain?) section of well built wooden stairs while I politely waited at the top for them to pass by. "How long have you been walking?" the woman in the lead gasped. For a moment, I was somewhat gob-smacked and stood there gawping like the proverbial village idiot. In rapid succession a series of thoughts flashed through my mind: how long ago had we started walking, I can't remember, WTF difference does it make, I walk five times faster than you so, if I say 30 minutes ago, and you aren't back at the start of the walk in 30 minutes you'll either (a) collapse in a puddle of helplessness, or (b) trigger your EPIRB for a rescue all the while raining curses on me, my childrens' children (of which there are none) and all or my relations (of which there are many). Finally, gathering all my hard-learned Canadian politeness I replied "I don't rightly know, Ma'am, and, I think I walk a little (I emphasised little but thought lot) faster than you so it likely is not relevant." Finally, hauling themselves to the top, with their last breath - or so it seemed - they gasped out "it's a terribly hard climb" and staggered on their way.
Looking out over Cradle Mountain
By now Doug was way ahead, so I jogged along the track to catch him up, but, the whole exchange got me thinking about walking, about how we judge how others walk by how we ourselves do, and how so many of us (the communal human species) have all but lost the ability to do something that is absolutely intrinsic to being human.
A few weeks ago, when Doug and I walked into Frenchmans Cap, we met a couple of very friendly women on their way out. We were crossing the suspension bridge over the Loddon River on our way into Lake Vera and the two women were on their way out from Lake Vera. They also wanted to know how long we had been walking. This time we knew, just a wee bit shy (perhaps 10 minutes ) of two hours, so we said "two hours." "You'll want to know how long we've been going," one said quite confidently. I didn't really. As condemnatory as it sounds, I could tell by looking at the two women that I walked faster than them. And, in any case, I was going to walk until I got to Lake Vera so really what difference did their walking time make to me. But, again, Canadian politeness rescued me and I replied "Of course."
"Three and a half hours," one said, "but, we've been going down-hill, you'll be going uphill so it will take you longer, at least four hours." Good grief I thought. Four more hours to walk six kilometres, I certainly hope not. In the end, it took us again, a bit shy of two hours, to walk the rest of the way into Lake Vera. I've often wondered how those women felt when two hours came and went and they were no where near the end of their days walk. Were they too raining curses upon us?
And, now my final story in this long preamble which will take us back to Cradle Mountain. Soon enough, Doug and I were on the final track to the top of Cradle Mountain which climbs 300 metres in about a kilometre. I've already written about how Doug was having a low gravity day and flew up this final section in 40 minutes with me chasing behind (600 metres an hour is a pretty standard rate of ascent in mountaineering terms on simple terrain such as this). As we went up, passing various folk along the way, one young lad came jogging down the track. One of the women climbing up the track stood aside for him (and me) to pass, each going our respective directions (me up, him down). The woman exclaimed over what a hurry the young man was in. She judged him by her standards, while I judged him by mine. To her, he was in a ridiculous hurry while I knew that he was running because he felt strong and fit, and running just felt natural.
I'd like to say we all feel like that some times (hopefully most times). But, the truth is, most people, even the young, seem to have forgotten how to walk, which strikes me as both ludicrous and sad. Walking is one of the first activities we learn to do as children and it should be something we continue to do through out our lives. Walking is perhaps the most natural state for humans. We evolved walking. Walking to gather food, walking to trade with neighbouring tribes, walking for social gatherings, walking to meet a mate. Walking has given us, from our very first teetering steps as a toddler, the freedom to explore our environment, the ability to go somewhere different and see something new. Walking defines us.
The more I travel, however, the more I see how people have forgotten how to walk. People drive ridiculously short distances - I mean, 100 metres to the toilet or the water tank, ridiculous. And, it's not just the older folks who drive instead of walk. The younger crowd too drives when they can walk or, more likely, sits hunched over a keyboard in a virtual world. This is no way to live. We must start to walk again. Slowly and perhaps not far at first, but steadily walking further and faster. At some point, if only a person would keep walking they would reach that nirvana like state where instead of simply walking one runs, bounding down the trail for sheer joy of being alive.