Some agree you can’t beat feet for commuting

By Katharine Schwab / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Luke Baylor walks more than 50 miles every week.

It’s 3 miles every day to work at Amazon.com in the South Lake Union neighborhood where he works as a technical writer and another 3 miles back home to the Fremont neighborhood, where he lives with his cousin and his cousin’s wife. A visit to his sister’s house on the other side of Lake Union takes him another 5 miles, and a round trip to see friends who live near the city’s Green Lake adds 8 more.

Sometimes, Baylor logs 20 miles a day — but he’s not walking alone. He’s among 10 percent of Seattleites whose feet serve as a primary mode of transportation.

“There are always interesting things going on when you’re walking if you’re willing to slow down a little bit and take everything in,” he said. “At first it was a little unnerving because I was a little anxious about it, like “Oh, God, it’s going to take forever to walk this far.’ But you just accept the fact that all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other for a while and eventually you’ll get there.”

Baylor, 37, estimates that he has been walking long distances for the last five or 10 years. It’s a natural extension of his love for foraging, the practice of finding wild fruits, berries, nuts, mushrooms and other edible plants. “I would be walking and lose track of time and realize that I’d walked 20 miles harvesting fruits,” he said.

For Baylor, foraging takes the shape of walks around Seattle, as well as longer backpacking trips to places like the Hoh Rain Forest, a national park in western Washington State, where Baylor likes to hunt for mushrooms, even in the rain.

Once he realized how much he was walking, Baylor got a pedometer and began to challenge himself to walk more. It’s a real-life version of David Sedaris’ New Yorker article “Stepping out: Living the Fitbit Life.” Like Sedaris, Baylor measures how many steps he takes daily on a Fitbit, a wearable digital device that tracks physical activity.

“I’d say, “Hey, I walked 10 miles that day, why don’t I walk 12 the next day?’” Baylor said. “And then take two days off and walk 15.”

Baylor is so committed to using his feet that he recently donated his car to a cancer charity. Gas money now goes toward buying new shoes, which wear out every few months.

Lately he’s been sporting a pair of strappy Chaco hiking sandals, which have performed better than his previous hiking boots and are ideal for summer.

“I’ve probably walked 500 or more miles on them,” he said.

The grip on the soles has been worn down under the pressure of Baylor’s extreme walking habits. He once walked 40 miles in a day (at his estimated rate of 3 miles an hour in the city, that’s more than 13 hours), but doesn’t remember much about it except that his knees were sore, his feet were wet and his backpack was likely full of mushrooms.

Baylor attributes his health, especially his mental well-being, to walking.

“I think it slows down the pace of my life overall,” he said. “It’s like meditating. I used to walk fast, but these days I like to walk slower and try to clear my mind and be relaxed, think about things I need to think about. I think it’s really good for mental health. That’d be my plug for it. Walk for mental health.”

Apparently others agree. Seattle, along with Boston, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and New York, is one of the top five cities with the most foot commuters. The reasons to walk to work are varied. Some like walking because it’s an inexpensive and reliable way to get to work, and some enjoy the easy exercise. Others just really hate traffic.

“I think it’s really good for everybody,” Baylor said. “I would recommend everyone spend at least a little bit of time every day walking.”