I went for a 5-mile walk early this morning. The sky was blue, almost cloudless; the air was crisp, close to freezing; the local footpaths and canal path beckoned. I dressed appropriately—warm walking jacket, woolly hat, gloves, stout boots, sunglasses, and two trekking poles—and walked down and along a permissive path through a farm and back up the canal path to the village to pick up some groceries before returning home. Along the way, I encountered an egret, passed through some heads-down grazing horses, walked alongside a field containing spring crops just starting to sprout, and heard and observed a flock of Brent geese on a nearby lake in the nature reserve. I heard crows cawing in the tall trees and small birds rustling and chirping in the hedgerows. I talked to people walking dogs, and to volunteer conservationists testing the quality of the water in the canal. It was an enjoyable walk and, along the way, I reflected on various things.
A few years back, I thought nothing of walking 20 to 25 miles a day. Now I can only manage 10 miles, 12 at a pinch. My left-knee total knee replacement two years ago has slowed me down and the right knee is in the advanced stages of needing a similar operation. A couple of pre-walk paracetamol keep the pain at bay until I return home and can relax in a comfortable armchair but, soon, I will have to bite the bullet and decide what to do about my right knee: stop walking and live with it, or have a second total knee replacement.
The problem with my knees sometimes causes me to fall over; hence the two trekking poles. I use them for stability, not propulsion, but a few weeks back I took a serious tumble on an uneven long-grassed track, banging my head hard and damaging my right eye. The accident necessitated laser surgery to prevent water getting behind the retina which, if it happens, can cause blindness. For a week or so, the vision in my right eye was degraded. It’s fine now but I am more careful where I place my boots. Eyesight is a precious thing.
Last week, I walked the same route and was blindsided by a male cyclist. The canal path was muddy, there were tree stumps protruding in the pathway, the recent rain had created puddles, and I was walking carefully, eyes down, mindful of what could happen if I slipped. The cyclist appeared silently from behind without warning at my right shoulder, and rode on by without a word. I could have stepped unknowingly into his path, or reacted badly in some other way to his sudden presence. This has happened to me before and I’ve often thought of making a “Cyclists! Please Ring; I’m Deaf” placard to wear on my back, but the real solution is for cyclists to either ring a warning bell or at least shout before passing from behind. But, such incidents bring home one of the perils of being hard of hearing.
With all this buzzing in my head as I walked this morning, I started to compose a short piece of prose. I can’t really call it a poem, it doesn’t rhyme, but for what it’s worth, here is my composition.
If you can walk, walk.
If you can see, look.
If you can hear, listen.
For if you can walk but don’t, you will regret the untrodden footsteps.
If you can see but don’t look, you will regret the sights you’ve missed.
And if you can hear but don’t listen, you will regret the sounds you’ve missed.
If you can breathe, breathe.
For when you can’t, you’ll regret nothing but know nothing.
Cyclists aren’t allowed on the canal path. Kevin and I were once shouted at by a walker. He told us there was a sign up at both ends of the path saying no cyclists. We were adamant there wasn’t and the exchange got a bit heated. On the way home I checked and the guy was right, there is a sign but it’s very small and located on gate post. Unless you especially look for it, you wouldn’t spot it (at either end). You are right, cyclists should make noise/ring a bell some distance before they reach a walker but often I’ve got grief for doing exactly that as it shocks/annoys people. Basically, if you ride a bike where people walk you are dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. I’ve even got grief as a runner for approaching people and going around them – I tend to cough and make some other noise as I approach these days.
Ben Bennetts said:
I don’t see why cyclists are not allowed on the canal path and, personally, I have no objection to their using the path. Some, however, need to be more aware of what could happen if they don’t give warning when approaching walkers from behind. Maybe I’ll just print the placard and wear it. You said you tend to cough and make other noises. I’m just wondering as to the nature of the “other noises”!