“THE LAST GREAT WALK” is the tale of two adventures. One turned out just fine, the other, well… nobody is sure yet.
The first tale is about an actual walk by an actual man named Edward Payson Weston. He left New York City on foot in March 1909, with a plan to walk to San Francisco in one hundred days — on what the New York Times called the “first bona-fide walk… across the American continent.” Of note: he turned seventy years old the day he started out. Also of note: he averaged about forty miles a day.
The second tale is about what’s happened to the rest of us since Weston’s walk. Because 1909 was the year America stopped walking. It was the year — more or less — that we switched our allegiance from our feet to getting around in upholstered boxes harnessed to a series of small explosions. After five million years of walking upright, we decided to get around by other means.
It’s been just over a century since — a nanosecond in evolutionary time — but some of the consequences of that decision are becoming apparent, and the news isn’t encouraging. Bodies designed to walk many miles a day are now doing a fraction of that, and experts are seeing an increase in various diseases, most notably obesity.
And it’s not just that our bodies are responding poorly to not-walking; our minds aren’t getting the movement and stimulus for which we were evolved, and that’s led to changes in how we view the world around us. And there’s the landscape — we’ve engineered walking out of our new neighborhoods and towns, leading to a downward spiral of walking less.
The good news? More and more Americans are rediscovering their feet. Communities that encourage walking — especially older downtowns designed around an earlier template — are resurgent, and the number of miles America walks each day is on the rise. After a century of less moving and more sitting, we’ve started to listen to the message of Edward Payson Weston and his message about the importance of walking.
"Mr. Curtis deftly reconstructs the journey from the voluminous newspaper coverage it inspired... At its best, Mr. Curtis's prose can remind the reader of John McPhee in his prime." — Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal.
"Curtis brings the seemingly ageless dandy to sprightly life as he withstands all that the elements, poor roads, overzealous crowds and inept support teams can hurl at him." — Andrew McCarthy, New York Times Book Review