Just how long is 190 miles?

“So let us be clear: the Coast to Coast is a tough trek, particularly if undertaken in one go […] When walkers begin to appreciate just how tough the walk can be, what they’re really discovering is the reality of covering a daily average of just over 14 miles or 23km, day after day, for two weeks, in fair weather or foul and while nursing a varying array of aches and pains” (Stedman 10). 

This passage is a disclaimer aimed at North Americans (although I believe specifically targeted to US travelers) about the length and difficulty of the walk. It is particularly important to illuminate one glaring differences in British English versus Standard American English. To the British,  walking is the U.S. equivalent of hiking. When the British refer to walking, however, it is important to keep in mind that the highest mountain in Britain has significantly less altitude then one would find in the States. We were in the midst of organizing our trip when I uncovered this minor mistranslation of walking and realized, with great overwhelming nausea, that we were planning a hiking trip. The thought of walking for almost three weeks seemed manageable, but once walk became hike, I became skeptical of my own ability to endure.

I’m not a sporty girl and despite having lived in an active outdoorsy community in the West for nearly five years, I fit no one’s description of a hiker. I can’t complete a full set of push-ups without significant modification. The only time I ever played a team sport, I was a twelve year old Little Leaguer who stood in the extra outfield (pretty much in the parking lot adjacent to the softball field) and hit the ball only once all season. The word “hit” is an understatement, rather my bat made contact with the ball and I ran halfway to first base. Nonetheless my coaches were stunned and so overjoyed that I finally contributed something to the game that they let me take the ball home. Any of my other athletic endeavors have always surrounded milestones of age (for a later post: my masterful completion of PE 101: swimming for the non-swimmer).

In an effort to cross off an item on my thirteen year old “Life’s Wish List” I ran in one high school Cross Country meet and I was so slow that even though the girls’ team had a head start, I still finished so long after the last boy that they had to send a team of coaches into the woods to look for me. After that meet I wrestled with how I would finish the season.  I lay awake each night scheming a way out of the commitment I had made to my peers and then I was blessed with a deus ex machina: Eastern Equine Encephalitis, otherwise known as West Nile Virus.

Due to an outbreak of West Nile, the county initiated an evening curfew and encouraged citizens to stay indoors during their afternoon and evening pesticide sprays. While my teammates sobbed over a robbed season, I, too, folded my head down between my legs. Except I wasn’t crying, I opened a huge smile and thanked the Blessed Mother for answering my prayers.

So, for good reason I became skeptical of my own ambitions when it became clear to me that we were embarking on a three week hiking trip. To better acquaint ourselves with exactly what 15 miles per day looks like we consulted our trusty Google Maps.

Now if we look at the path from start to finish, guidebooks differ in their milage estimate, the most conservative being 190 miles all the way to 193 miles. Many people (us included) are drawn to this particular walk because of the psychological satisfaction of having walked the length of the entire country. From a US perspective; however, size is deceiving.

The width of NY state, for example, is 285 miles, almost double that of the Coast to Coast walk. I have often heard folks compare Britain to Rhode Island, but that size estimate is grievous; Britain is nearly four times the width of Rhode Island. On a day-to-day basis, we have used Manhattan as our framework. To walk 15 miles per day would be the equivalent of walking from South Ferry to Columbia University and back. As an urbanite, this frame of reference was far more comforting. Of course, the flat terrain of city streets and the constant opportunities to stop and unwind at an eatery are omnipresent and not quite the same experience as ascending hilltops in the Lake District. Nonetheless, it is this vision that allowed me to reconcile my anxieties over the ambitious path we have chosen.

Curious about the paths that others have chosen, I stumbled across the walk of two British gentlemen who, over the course of two years, walked the entire length of the US. They are obviosuly way cooler than us and you can read about their journey, here: USA Coast to Coast Walk. If these guys could complete a Coast to Coast US Walk, perhaps, we, too, can be victorious.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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