Coming back home after my visit to NYC (and sharing the agony of my uber-walked legs with my husband, which incidentally evoked no sympathy), got me thinking about the perception of walking and the concept of distance and time.
I must have walked miles each day, I have no idea how many but if I looked at a street map I could probably plot my course most days (perhaps not the days I got lost but that was an adventure in itself). But in terms of distance, do I know how much? To be honest, I have no real perception of a mile aside from a correlation with a 10 minute mile run is ok for training but slow if you’re going to race.
Indeed running features in all my understanding linked to distance. I’m old school, I work in miles and my understanding of kilometres is restricted to the length of a 10k running race (6 miles) and the 100k speed limit signs I saw when I drove in Australia. My understanding of miles is based upon the three miles route I used to run from my parents house as a child, and the thirteen miles of the half marathon race I’ve tackled twice and of course the eight miles between my home and the train station (not a ‘run’ as such but inexplicably linked to the amount of time this takes and what the latest time I can leave my house in order to catch the train which means I’m usually ‘running’ for the train!).
Not a wealth of experience yet we experience miles every day, they are linked to everything we do but distance features (in my world) predominantly as numbers with hazy interpretation of meaning. How important then is distance? When I think of distance, I’m drawn to journey. The journey of life, of education, of career, of love, of family. Distance as a barrier, a hindrance and distance as an enabler, as a mechanism of reflecting.
But in New York, distance became something more that the journey from A to B. Distance became the permission to explore, to navigate through unfamiliar territories without limit. It became something that I alone was responsible for and facilitated. I was led by curiosity rather than dictated by distance. This did result in crossed paths, circular routes, renegotiating turns and doubling back but also created opportunities for no-dead ends, for ad-hoc decision making and for wandering. Wandering. Such a lovely word. My legs wandered, my eyes wandered and my mind wandered.
And I was surprised to see the frequency of subway stops as I meandered the streets and avenues. My perception of distance was influenced by the graphic subway stops, marking each station as a distinct destination and placing it on an opposing axis to its neighbour. I initially adopted this visualisation of distance above ground and soon realised that the interpretation of distance were in these instances, two distinct contexts. Choosing to ignore the visual perception of distance on the subway maps and instead be open to my own experiential perception above ground was a revelation.
I do wonder whether my response to distance in NYC is related to motherhood and the influence distance has on this, the consideration of journey length, of how far a five year old can walk. And to a degree ‘time’ too, how long do we have between meals or before bedtime (although I have to be honest and say I’ve never been a routine-following mum. As babies my kids fed on demand, slept when they were tired and I’m not adverse to breaking the bedtime rules still).
So, the answer to the concept of distance and time? Well, another research question or two added to my to-do list and a jawbone UP3 added to my Santa list. At least the latter will immediately start to make distance and time more tangible for me.