Walking and Brain Surgery

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I have known Wayne Curtis for 35 years and long ago worked side by side with him for two years as a camp counselor. We canoed many rivers and hiked many mountains. I had the pleasure of seeing his literary career blossom. I recently finished his newest book, The Last Great Walk, about Edward Payson Weston. He was a famous (in his time) long-distance and endurance walker who in 1909, at age 70, walked from New York to San Francisco in 105 days. He thought the auto was making people lazy and was an advocate of a healthy, active lifestyle.

First, a warning: this was not a quick read, at least not for me. The book is loaded with interesting information and as a physician who also considers himself a pedestrian and a hiker, I felt compelled to commit many of the facts to memory. It is simply impossible to assimilate all of this rich history. So, as a public service to readers interested in the topic, I have summarized the top ten most interesting, enlightening and entertaining tidbits I found in The Last Great Walk.

  • Edward Payson Weston was a stud! He was an unbelievable specimen of human fitness. It is hard to imagine a human being can walk as fast as he did throughout his entire life. Here are two examples: Philadelphia to New York in less than 24 hours; 550 miles in less than 142 hours. Knowing what it takes to walk on a treadmill at four miles per hour for an hour in my own gym, I cannot believe he could keep up the pace for six, eight and twelve hours at a time. It is truly remarkable. Many years ago, I joined a friend in New Mexico who was walking across the country. iAt the time I was fairly fit, but not in walking shape. The first day, I covered 24 miles; the second day, 12 miles; and on the third day, just four miles. My feet were never the same after that walk. It is truly impressive that a person at the age of seventy could walk across the country in a little more than three months.

Compare this achievement to a museum that honors the La-Z-Boy chair’s history, in Monroe, Michigan — just another fascinating nugget.

  • I discovered that the human gait pattern is as unique as a fingerprint and that gait patterns may be used in future security analysis for anti-terrorism techniques.
  • The history of the crosswalk at city corners and its development through the years also was illuminating.
  • I learned that pedestrian unfriendly cities are actually obesogenic (environments that promote excessive weight gain.)
  • I particularly enjoyed the digression regarding the American public’s participation in contests in the early 1900s. The author describes walking, lifting and actual head-butting contests. It seems to me if there had been a video camera present in those days, the footage would be perfect for the show Ridiculousness.
  • I learned that Jaywalking was not a term used because pedestrians walked across the street in the shape of a ‘’ Rather, it refers to clueless country bumpkins.

My father’s favorite part of the book was the description of a trip down Market Street in San Francisco in 1906, pre-cable car and the infamous earthquake. It is a colorful reminder of the changes that occurred when cars stole the road from pedestrians.

  • And here’s an enlightening statement from Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our building shape us. So it is with our cities and towns.” Judging by American physique, as my friend Mr. Curtis states, “That shape results in the shape of a pear.”
  • Do you know what Flâneur means? I learned of the art of Flanerie and the gastronomy of the eye. My favorite passage of the book follows, “Walking by oneself throughout a city brings solitude more than isolation; you are alone, but with others. You are engaged in a bubble that’s carried with you. That’s the essence of Flâneur; being a part of life while apart.”

So, these are just a few of the many things I learned from The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis. What does this have to do with brain surgery? Nothing. But I thought it was a great read!

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Warm Regards
Mark