What It’s Like to Walk the Same Block 100 Times, and For a Lot of People to Know About It

Last Monday I had the interesting experience of doing an informal performance walking around a single city block 100 times (about 20 miles), and of it becoming more publicly visible than I anticipated. It was supposed to be a personal, ephemeral thing where I could immerse myself in something repetitive and reflect on it after, and maybe find out what it was like to interact with strangers in this vulnerable context.

Instead, it turned out that so many people who didn’t see it in person were affected by it.  I received messages from urban planners on Facebook about the importance of walking, and I was recognized by strangers days after the event.  This wasn’t what I intended, and I could have handled my interviews better, but I do love that this act was almost totally shaped by chance and other people’s actions/interpretations.  It was a fun way for me to think about at what point I am making art, how intentional I should be or should not be about it, and how actually nice people in Seattle are on the internet.  I decided to just publish my thoughts while it was happening, since my experience is probably the most interesting result of this experiment.

Lap 1:  It’s a nice day.  There are layers of stickers on everything, so I feel like it’s going to be a challenge to focus on something other than the stickers, street art, and posters.  There are a lot of typically Seattle things to notice here: a glass fish, an Elvis statue, some drunk people.  I should try to actually talk to some people today, I doubt anyone is actually going to go out of their way to talk to me.  Maybe I’ll ask this lady to take a picture of her dog.

Lap 5:  I finally get the courage to take a picture of someone’s dog.  I see some carpet cleaners (or something like that) getting their supplies out of their van, joking around.  They seem cheery for a Monday morning.

Lap 18:  I really have to pee, so I stop in the bar to use the bathroom.  At this point Wade is with me still, and I can hear him talking to the bartender.  “What is she doing?”  “She’s walking around the block 100 times.  I’m just hanging out until my job interview.”  “…Okay.”

Lap 22:  There are some people spray painting… something… by a trash can.  A couple guys coming and going and joking around.  I can’t tell what they are doing but don’t want to stare.

Lap 23:  One of the something-painters looks up, gestures to the other.  “Is that her?”  “Yeah.  It’s gotta be.”  I confirm that I am the girl with the posters and take their picture.  They are maybe painting some audio equipment?

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Lap 27: Stopping at Lost Lake for a bunch of potatoes.

Lap 28:  I notice some daffodils by the Rancho Bravo.  Also that their planters still have stickers with instructions on them.  Some new abandoned boots have materialized on the sidewalk across the street.  Hairstylists out for probably their second smoke break obviously notice I’ve passed multiple times, don’t confront me though.  This makes me feel super weird and vulnerable.

Lap 31:  Someone stood the abandoned boots up neatly on the corner.  A girl is carrying daffodils.

Lap 32:  One of my posters has been moved by someone putting up a ton of concert posters where it was.  I thank him for moving it instead of taking it down.  He smiles and looks confused.

Lap 33:  I see a parking enforcement person giving the carpet cleaners a parking ticket.  The daffodils by Rancho Bravo are gone.

Lap 36:  The painting guys have some baseball cards now.  I really don’t understand what’s going on.  They smile at me.  I stop in the same bar bathroom.  My bladder is so small… I’m glad the bartender is nice.

Lap 41:  A guy walks up to me and asks if I’m the girl with the posters.  He asks if he can interview me, and I agree but don’t understand why.  He explains who he is, and I’m halfway through a video about what I am doing before I realize I’ve totally heard of Dan Savage before.  I feel embarrassed for not acting appropriately impressed, also have no idea what to say in a video.  Is this random act even meant to be public in this way?  I thought I would have some awkward conversations with people who frequent this block; should I have expected this to happen?  I also look like shit because it’s raining.  Whoever Mr. Savage is with wants to know what kind of shoes I’m wearing.  They don’t make them anymore.  They disappear into an unmarked door.

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Lap 42:  I feel compelled to text people I know about what happened.  This is legitimately distracting, and I wonder if he will post something that will make people harass me in the street.  I am trying to focus on looking at the block again.

Lap 48:  One of the trees has a label saying what kind of tree it is.

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Lap 50:  I see the carpet cleaners back at their van on a break; they are laughing about the parking ticket.

Lap 62:  I feel like I should talk to the hairdressers, who are on another smoke break.  I could maybe take their picture.  I can’t do it because they just look so hip and annoyed with me.

Lap 64:  I get some messages with a link to the article with me in it, and I take a break at the coffee shop to watch the video.  I don’t really want to get sucked into reading internet comments, but I do, and I respond to some of them.  Someone finds me on messenger to tell me they want to walk with me, but they can’t because they live across the country.  A very overly excited guy sees my poster and tells me he just love loves what I am doing.  He hasn’t seen the video though.

Lap 68:  I get some high-fives from random commuters on their way home.  A couple in all Patagonia stuff tries to have a philosophical discussion with me.  The carpet cleaners have caught on and ask me what lap I am on.

Lap 70:  A guy who looks like he might be into The Grateful Dead asks if this is “some kind of neo-Fluxus thing.”  I tell him maybe.  It was mostly just a way to spend my day off.  I think he’s disappointed because he thinks I don’t know what he’s talking about.  Dan Savage comes back and asks me to answer questions by email later.

Lap 76:  Wade comes back and brings Paul.  They help me find new things to photograph, like an awful suit and an umbrella hanging from a power line.

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Lap 80:  Some people getting off a bus who I also saw in the morning ask me why I am doing this.  I get a beer.  I am a little overwhelmed by the dozens of people I have had to explain myself to.

Lap 82:  I haven’t eaten much, so I kind of really feel my beer.  Some people come and find me after seeing the article and walk a couple of blocks with me while waiting for dinner with a friend.  I try to make sense while talking to them.

Lap 90:  More high fives.  It starts to rain.

Lap 97:  I get ice cream at Molly Moon’s.

Lap 100:  I see some stores closing.  No one is talking to me anymore.  I go home.

Walking Around Puget Sound: Part 4

This is the last part of a series that starts here.
Also, since I am still so new at this, please comment anything you like/dislike about this series and anything else!  🙂

This is the day where I learned a lot about the difficulties of this kind of trip.

It started off promising, with a walk from Tacoma to Steilacoom, where I saw the mental institution featured in the book I was reading (which takes place in the 1800s, it’s really still there!) and another nice view of the sound, where I stopped and watched trains and boats go by. As I walked away from the water, I saw a woman come out of her restaurant and feed some seagulls.

Then, I began what I thought would be the worst part of my walk, passing miles of military property on either side. But in reality, it was just a beautiful, secluded forest road with plenty of shoulder and a lot of signs about unexploded ordnance. This part of the day was very very long, and it started raining a decent amount, so I was very happy when I got to town and could stop in a Starbucks to warm up.

Then things went a little south. As soon as I left the Starbucks, Google maps had me entering DoD territory, which was obviously impossible. I tried about 3 different routes before, frustrated, I stopped a cyclist to ask if he knew a way around it. He was very friendly but hard of hearing, so we were yelling street names by the road. He told me he didn’t know of a way for bikes, but that he thought the private roads of the golf course were maybe accessible on foot. I thanked him and headed in that direction, down a convoluted set of residential streets.

I saw a bunch of people putting up Christmas lights with Christmas music booming from their garages. Some kids asked their dad what I was doing. Eventually, I found the tight space by a fence that allowed foot traffic only, and was back on a wooded country road toward the Nisqually preserve.

The shoulder on this road, however, gradually got narrower, and the traffic got heavier. As I approached my pickup point, a bar that would allow a visit to the nature preserve while I waited for Rachel, I was running up a brambly hill to avoid cars that came around the corner. Someone honked. “What do you want me to do?” I wanted to ask. “Google maps sent me here!” But really I should have looked at street view more thoroughly. I tried to find another route, even tried to detour through a Christmas tree farm, but there were fences everywhere I went. Eventually, soaked and a little scared, I saw the bar. I went in a grabbed a table and asked if I could wait for a few hours. The girl said, in a faintly country accent that was unfamiliar to me, “sure honey, but the night girls are a little cattier than me.” I ate my mozzarella sticks very slowly, read, and waited for Rachel. I wasn’t going to see any wildlife in this heavy rain anyway.

The most important part, of course, is that I got to go to my favorite sandwich shop at the end with Rachel. On the last day I learned a lot about route planning, safety, and the absence of the alleged cattiness of night waitresses. Sometimes whole regions are just not walkable and you just have to go around them. I think in my case, I would have needed another day for a prettier, more circuitous route to Olympia. I ended the day with the lessons in mind and with excitement about other explorations of the many islands and peninsulas in the Sound. I bet the walk to Canada is pretty interesting!

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Walking Around Puget Sound: Part 3

This is part 3 of this little adventure story.  Part 1 is here.

The next day, I woke up after a necessary and refreshing 10 hours of sleep. I never set an alarm because I could really only walk around 15 miles today given the available places to stay. I ate an entire bag of lime flavored crackers and the rest of the cheese I had brought and got ready to go.
I couldn’t find my host as I was leaving, but I texted her thank you and said goodbye to her chickens. I walked back to the main ‘highway’ and the couple of miles through remote forested areas to the southern coast of the island. The ferry dock came out of nowhere. The sun was just coming up, the seagulls were seemingly fighting about something, and there was no one there. I could see the ferry arriving at the other side, so I sat in the tiny bus shelter to wait. It was raining lightly.

While I was waiting, somone pushed a man in a wheelchair into the shelter with me. When the ferry employee told us to get on, I was paralyzed with indecision. Especially after I realized the man couldn’t really hear me, I didn’t know if I was supposed to help him get on the boat or where his friend had gone. Eventually he slowly looked up at me and said ‘you first,’ with a big smile so I went to my seat.

The crossing into Tacoma was very short, and I was let off in a little park. I walked along the coast in the park, but then I was hungry and coffee-headachey so I found a cafe. I ordered a giant cookie and coffee, as well as some sort of breakfast enchilada to go. The way the enchilada was packaged made it really hard to get into my dry bag. Struggling with this in a crowded cafe made me grateful for my previous hiking experiences for making me insensitive to this kind of embarrassment.

Some of my walk into Tacoma took me through adorable neighborhoods, and I saw some more interesting roadside art. A man called from across the street, “getting in your walk today? Gotta get in that daily walk! I love it!” I don’t know why he thought I was carrying a backpack.

I saw the infamous Tacoma Narrows (the one used to teach engineers about how resonant frequencies can lead to disaster) bridge and then came upon a trail as I approached the city. I didn’t have too much farther to go so I decided to see if I could walk along the shoreline for a while. I followed some teenagers into the park until they all became fascinated by a fuzzy caterpillar, then I followed one kid with a hammer to the beach. At first I thought maybe he worked in the park because of the hammer, but he just kept walking down the shore, balancing on logs, as I sat down to eat my lunch of breakfast enchilada and carrots on a log.

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After I walked as far as I could on the beach, my boring walk through Tacoma to my Airbnb began. I bought a couple of Snickers bars because I was running out of food and called my parents for entertainment while I navigated the busy street. When I got to the house, the host talked to me for a bit about hosting international students and started to get ready to go somewhere. I took a shower because it had been raining all day.
The only place she could recommend for me to eat was a mile away, but I had nothing else to eat so I headed out after resting for a while. It turned out to be super worth it. It felt a bit sad walking through neighborhoods by myself in the dark, but I had the fluffiest omelette ever at a diner with tons of Christmas decorations and a very friendly waitress. Still no one asked what I was doing. After setting up a time and place for my friend Rachel to pick me up the next day, I went back to my room and went to sleep.

Walking Around Puget Sound: Part 2

This is part 2 of this little story.  For part 1, click here.

img_20161125_090824The first day, google maps estimated I would walk 25 miles to get to my first Airbnb host.  I was still thinking in hiking terms, so I started at 6AM thinking there was no way I’d finish before dark.  It was strange walking around with a backpack in the dark.  I couldn’t tell if people in Seattle thought I was homeless or just walking very far home from a bus.  Eventually, though, I started to see people putting out signs for their coffeeshops or walking their dogs.  As I got closer to the water, I saw people with rollerboard suitcases obviously just off a boat of some kind and fishermen drinking hot chocolate under a shelter.  Getting out of the city center was a little strange, but eventually I found a bike path into West Seattle and got to the ferry dock.

I chose to take a route down Vashon Island because it looked closer to the coast, which usually means more scenic… right?  The ferry to Vashon was leaving in 20 minutes when I got there.  I walked past a bunch of cars and waited in a room with one high school age girl to board the ferry on foot.  I went out on deck to look at the water.  Amazingly for Seattle this time of year, the sun was out and the water was sparkling.  Seagulls were everywhere.  I stood in the wind for a while and then went inside to read my accidentally relevant book, Sarah Canary, which takes place, largely on foot, around Puget Sound.

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When I got to Vashon Island, a man who had been standing next to me on the ferry dock offered me a ride into “town” (which obviously would have defeated the purpose of this trip).  My Airbnb host was texting me offering potential routes.  So far, everyone was being much nicer than expected.  I decided to walk along the coast as long as possible before rejoining the main highway.  I walked along some beautiful beaches and some vineyards which were closed for the season.  I soon saw what everyone meant by “town.”  It was a small, beachy town center with endearing public art and lots of boutiques.  I stopped at a cafe, where I got a hard cider and charged my phone.  My host offered a route hiking through the forest on the island to her house, but I decided to stick with the highway route because I didn’t want to leave the coast yet.

Whatever the other route was like, the small highway did not disappoint.  I had been walking on sidewalks or bike paths up to this point, but now I was on a broad shoulder of a country road.  It was a beautiful combination of beach-town and rural, with VW vans with crazy paint jobs, run-down shacks on beaches, and countless farmstands. I saw this awesome statue of Cool Gary, who is apparently a local legend.

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By the end of the day, I was getting a little tired and leaning against a yacht club fence to take a break.  Still, I hiked my 25 miles before 3PM and arrived at my host’s house.  My hosts were an older couple who provided some welcome conversation and friendliness and their secluded rural home.  They even treated me to dinner because I had no other real means of getting hot food.  I fell asleep at 9:00 and slept for 10 hours, happy to be in a bed after a hard day.

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Walking Around Puget Sound: Part 1

I love walking.  I think it is the most underrated form of transportation.  Of course I love hiking, but it doesn’t have to be a predetermined trail or instagram-worthy trip to merit a walk.  Whenever possible, I walk to where I am going, even if it involves carrying groceries two miles or walking 3 hours to a concert venue.  My whole life, I have been asked incredulously, “You walked here?”  This last summer, I hiked the 2189 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and it was one of the happiest times of my life, because being perpetually on foot changes the way you see the world, and the way it sees you.

As a thru hiker (a word for someone who hikes a long trail all in one go), you become familiar with the concept of “trail magic,” where strangers help you out for no reason other than that you are on a journey.  You get tons of free food, free beer, a free shower or stay in someone’s house.  Strangers want to help you, because by walking you make yourself vulnerable.  You work so much for every meal and place to sleep, and give up a lot of freedom.

At the same time, you become more aware and grateful.  You notice small sights you would never see even on a bike.  You become incredibly affected by circumstances, whether they be weather or a stranger’s kindness, and learn to appreciate them more.  What does a free ride mean when you could call an Uber?  What does the sun mean when you can go indoors at any time?  By putting yourself at the mercy of outside forces and surrendering some kinds of freedom, you become humble and at the same time incredibly free.

And so, as a recovering thru-hiker, I thought I would do a little.  I told my coworkers and friends, “maybe I’ll walk to Olympia this holiday weekend.” (A one hour drive from where I live in Seattle.) They all responded in some way like: “Can you really do that?” “By yourself?  Aren’t you worried about getting murdered?” “Where will you stay?” and eventually some version of “No one really does that, but I guess I don’t see why you can’t….”

So the day before, I found some somewhat arbitrary Airbnb stops for around $50 each, basically did no other planning, and packed my AT backpack with a bunch of impractical things like extra sweaters, a hardcover book, a pound of blackberries, and a stuffed pink otter.  Then in the morning, I walked out my door and followed google maps toward Olympia.

You can read part 2 of this series here!