To Fully Observe, We Need to Walk

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Back in 2013, I was on a trip in Idaho with two of our then-future Strong Towns board members, Andrew Burleson and John Reuter. After giving a talk in Driggs, we crossed over into Wyoming and stayed in Jackson. My plan was to rouse my colleagues early and take them on the 20-minute drive to the Grand Tetons, which neither had seen, prior to our heading on to the next engagement. I was really excited for them to be blown away.

Everything went according to plan and, after a short drive, we found ourselves standing alone on the edge of a snowbank staring at one of the most beautiful mountain formations in North America. I stood in reverent silence, taking in the sight with a certain amount of awe. For my colleagues, not so much.

This isn’t to suggest that they didn’t appreciate the view—I’m sure they did—but, if there is one thing true about both Andrew and John it is this: They love to talk. More importantly, they love to converse, to engage with thoughtful people in conversation. Whatever deep and stimulating conversation they were having that morning wasn’t going to stop just because I stopped the car, mountains or no mountains. 

I had my moment of solitude, but it wasn’t a moment of silence. I love them both, but for an extreme introverted thinker like me, a week of travel with two extreme extroverts became a test of endurance. I spent many hours of that trip dozing in the back seat as the two of them talked about Strong Towns and a variety of related topics, seemingly without pause. I grew to love it, and it remains a fond memory for me, enough to overcome a moment of disappointment.

When people say that life is about the journey, not the destination, that Idaho road trip is my Exhibit A. Yet, the side trip to the Tetons was also about the destination. It was an amazing destination, but one we weren’t ready to fully appreciate. Subsequently, we didn’t appreciate it, at least not to the extent it deserved.

Chris Arnade, author of Dignity: Seeking respect in Back Row America, recently shared an article on his Substack called Why I Walk (Part 1). As is typical with Chris, the article was full of beautiful photos and subtle, yet profound, insights. If I can oversimplify: Chris Arnade walks in order to learn; to learn about a place, a people, and how they interact with each other. 

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