By Sue Wallace
Walking has been my liberator since the Coronavirus invaded our shores.
Back in March, I laced up my runners – two years old and no sign of wear – rummaged through my cupboard for leggings and a tee-shirt, strapped a Fitbit to my wrist and started walking.
I sauntered through the Albury Botanic Gardens, trudged along the meandering Murray River and around Wodonga’s Belvoir Park Lake with its inquisitive ducks and geese.
Some days I lingered to admire the artistic creations of West Albury’s Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk and on others huffed and puffed up the steep Monument and Mercy Hospital Hills that overlook the city.
I haven’t stopped walking since.
Regardless, if it is wet or glorious sunshine, I clock up more than 16,000 steps a day – sometimes double that – and I love it.
If I haven’t reached my goal at night, a quick sashay up and down the hallway is on the cards. When I am on the phone, I stride out around the house – from the kitchen through the study, into the bedroom and back via the dining room, that’s an extra 100 steps.
A journalist for the past 40 years and a travel writer for 25 of those years, I have travelled extensively and always had my passport at the ready, bags zipped up and laptop packed.
Jitters would set in if I didn’t have trips booked and commissions sorted months in advance.
And I loved every minute of it.
From researching a potential story, pitching it to an editor, the flight – yes, I love flying – to arriving at the destination, it was exciting and addictive.
Often asked if I ever tired of it– I would reply “never.” It is something that gets under your skin.
I love telling stories of people and places around the world and seeing it in print or online. Often, I would return home for a few days only to do the washing, catch up on the news, repack and get back on the merry go round again.
My husband would often travel with me on self-organised trips.
Even jetlag was my friend – I don’t need a lot of sleep and I often write in the early hours of the morning.
Then life changed.
I watched as five trips including Ireland, Paris, a European river cruise, Fiji and South Africa collapsed like a house of cards.
It became obvious there were no more journeys for the immediate future and most of the travel outlets and magazines dropped pages and stopped commissioning.
My passport is back in the safe and my suitcase shelved – literally.
Like many who are passionate about what they do, a sense of loss set in, plus the worry of family, friends, the travel community and humanity as the number of COVID cases and deaths hiked across the globe.
But in a strange way I think COVID has prolonged my life – I am a lot fitter now and can resist the power of sweet treats – well almost.
My willpower used to be non-existent. How on earth do you say no to a Singapore Sling and peanuts galore in the Long Bar at Raffles Singapore or a sumptuous afternoon tea in the pretty Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel London?
Refuse a Queen Victoria Fizz at The Goring in Belgravia that’s so close to Buckingham Palace, you may well hear a corgi bark – I don’t think so.
Then there’s that ridiculously rich chocolate torte at Hotel Sacher Vienna and a Campari Aperitivo and tempting canapes at the chic Grand Hotel Tremezzo overlooking Lake Como.
I always avoided the scales, but I knew I carried a little of every trip with me – Italy, France and Austria, literally sat on my hips, as I indulged in kilojoule laden treats all in the name of research.
That type of souvenir isn’t easy to budge as you flip from trip to trip.
So, with travel on the back burner, I started walking.
My diet suddenly changed too – rainbow coloured macarons and chocolate-dipped strawberry surprises didn’t suddenly appear as they did in my hotel rooms.
There was no Michelin star chef at the ready to whip up a signature dish or plates piled high with delicate pastries and rich decadent cheeses.
Instead, it was 1200 kilojoules a day and one gin and tonic a week – albeit a decent one.
Seven months later the kilograms have slipped away, and I have walked more than 1600 kilometres around Albury-Wodonga – social distancing of course.
I like to compare the figures to the length of Spain’s Camino de Santiago which is about an 845-kilometre trek, so I have nearly done it twice. Who would have thought?
And I feel so good.
I know every street in Albury and where dangers lurk – think uneven concrete paths, twisted tree trunks, slippery sidewalks and dogs with barks much bigger than they are.
As I peek over fences, I have discovered lofty trees and manicured garden beds, smelt perfumed flowers and watched cats curl up in flowerpots, looking smug.
I can now name blooms, shrubs and trees and know a pretty peony from a striking Peruvian Lily.
I have become a novice twitcher spotting colourful birds as we wander and am an expert at avoiding menacing magpies that swoop in spring and seem to seek me out.
These days my wardrobe is more about runners and rain jackets, while my fancier clothes and heels are in moth balls – waiting.
Girlfriends are amazed, my husband and I have walked together most days for months, about 150 days straight. They ask what we talk about and I remind them that we don’t talk all the way – sometimes we don’t talk at all.
But we have added a new phrase to our vocabulary – “doing a Dave.”
After I nearly tripped one day on our walk, my husband grabbed my hand and a friend, Dave, happened to be driving by.
He immediately thought we wandered around on our walks, hand in hand, until he was set straight.
So, on the odd occasion we do hold hands, it’s coined “a Dave.”
I continue to write about travel memories and amazing people – telling stories is what I will always do.
My heart goes out to the worldwide travel and hospitality industries and their plight and I wish I could do more to help ease their pain.
I am pleased however many are discovering wonderful places in our own back yard.
“Walking” has become my friend and as we wait out this wretched pandemic, I will continue to stride out.
There’s something therapeutic about the rhythmic beat of putting one foot in front of the other, as I recall so many wonderful travel experiences – what a privilege.
When it is safe to travel overseas again, I will be ready with passport in hand and this time well-worn runners in my luggage.
A cartwheel or two down the aisle won’t be out of the question either.
As for those rainbow coloured macarons and chocolate-dipped strawberries, I intend to stop at just one, with a cocktail on the side, of course.