I grew up in the Midwest, and my family was typical: we drove everywhere. I accepted that as just the way things were until I went to college. I walked a lot as an undergraduate student, and felt the lifestyle change deeply when I returned home upon graduation. It was freeing to return to walking as a graduate student, and I chose an apartment with an easy bike commute (two miles) for my first real job.
When I moved to upstate New York for a new job a year ago, my apartment search revolved around a few primary factors: price, dog-friendliness, and proximity to my new job. I found the perfect place — only a mile and a half away — and we made the move. I drove to work for the first few days, to figure out local traffic patterns and routes, and then started walking. And honestly, my morning and evening commute has become one of the best parts of my work day.
During the crazy early months of a new job, my walk gave me time to decompress and think over the day. It also gave me some personal, quiet time before returning home to my job-searching husband. Now, months later, I recognize that my walk has become a moving meditation. I have watched the seasons pass, and notice new things every day: changes in the river I cross, animal prints in the snow, the levels and angles of sunlight over the seasons, the smell of the trees, and which families decorate their homes for seasonal holidays.
I’ve also discovered a cozy sense of familiarity. Part of my commute runs along a mixed-use path, and I enjoy greeting familiar faces, and meeting dogs and their people. I actually experience the seasons, the warmth of summer and bitter cold of winter, rather than avoiding them. And, as a historian, I feel like I am using the late nineteenth-century city I live in as it was designed — for pedestrians and slower traffic.
On a more practical level, I hate paying for gyms and it is so easy to make excuses to not exercise. By making it practically essential, I know I’ll almost always get three miles of walking in every workday. And, of course, I don’t mind saving a little money on gas.
For the first few months, coworkers drove alongside me as I walked to offer me rides. They’ve expressed concern that I don’t own a car (I do). Now that cold weather has come, they seem shocked that I would consider being out in the snow any longer than necessary. I’ve always politely declined their offers and explained that I loved my choice; now, they just shake their heads.
My husband and I have designed our lives around avoiding a “traditional” commute (he passes me by bike in the morning), and we couldn’t imagine living any other way.