OhOne sweltering evening in 2020, during the first lockdown, while sitting drinking wine in the shed at the bottom of the garden, my husband and I made the surprise decision to end our 17-year relationship. “It’s the end of the line, isn’t it?” I ventured out. “I know,” he replied, looking down at his glass. “Every day I think about it.” The unsaid had finally been said.
I took a breath. Unexpectedly, a wave of relief came as recent frustrations dissipated. We toasted our newfound honesty and talked into the early hours, celebrating how civilized we were. But the next morning, reality hit us: it was strange to be sipping a takeaway coffee together on a sunny bench, but not going back on what had been agreed. Certainly, I was also grieving, after the recent death of my father, and then our beloved Jack Russell, in quick succession. Did I do the right thing? Was it too much to start again in your mid-40s? And all this against the backdrop of Covid. The airless heat didn’t help.
The only way to make sense of it all, I supposed, was to get out and walk. The idea of taking 15,000 steps each day came quickly, a relatively achievable goal that I hoped would provide consistency and comfort, a ritual to help me frame the next stage of my life. As a travel writer, I’ve written about casual walking, whether it’s walking the 78 miles of the Capital Ring in a week or hiking the Kent coast over a weekend . But a daily quota was different. “Everything is solved by walking” was my father’s slogan.
The hot weather quickly fell. In the incessant rain that followed, I found peace during my two-hour hikes; Fortunately, I am surrounded in London by the towering trees and winding paths of Epping Forest; the rivers, canals and wetlands of the Olympic Park; and semi-wild marshes near Hackney and Walthamstow. I would find my rhythm and I would feel like I could go on and on, the drum of anxieties calming down. With deeper breaths, the mind settles: with journaling, it has become my therapy. And, pragmatically, the Pacer app helped – this goal, I realized, was proving addictive.
As winter approached, so did the swampy trails, sparse woods, and weak afternoon sun. My ex and I, now separated, met from time to time to continue our discussions, but our ideas were firmly established. Meanwhile, I sought routes off the beaten path, with self-imposed rules: Podcasts or music were only allowed during “boring moments,” those repeated stretches of sidewalk on congested roads. It was more restorative to be mindful, whether by practicing gentle meditation exercises or simply meditating on the half-finished novel I was struggling with.
When satisfying feelings of hunger inevitably arose, accompanied by the anticipation of lying down, the feeling persisted that the time had been spent productively. My sleep has also improved.
Many people tell me, somewhat haughtily, that they are “far too busy” to walk 15,000 steps a day – but, as a freelancer, it still provides a framework for my working week that is easy to fit in into my routine, whether it’s a walk to and from my workspace or to another neighborhood for a night out. Seasonal variations also take over: heatwaves mean early morning walks, while in winter I wait for the day to warm up. I even checked off a few thousand in the apartment when I wasn’t feeling well (luckily for my neighbors, I’m on the ground floor).
Once I was ready to download dating apps — for the first time ever — walking, along with some workouts, became increasingly important for feeling attractive and building my confidence.
Three years later, post-divorce, my ex and I are now great friends – and both happy in new relationships. My boyfriend is amused, if not entirely convinced, by my daily step count, although these days I’m not so religious about it: some days the total is lower, sometimes more, but the monthly average nevertheless remains quietly consistent with the objective. Most importantly, this practice is, for me, a reminder of the transience of life, of how we are always evolving – and of that moment in my garden shed that opened a new chapter.