Walking is not just exercise, it is moving in space and time in a different way. It’s connection to nature and self — two huge, adventurous worlds that you could travel within endlessly, with no boundaries.
If anyone knows this, it is Libby DeLana, master walker. I first found Libby when I came across her #thismorningwalk feed on Instagram. She’s circumnavigated the earth, fly fishes, and is an aspiring pilot. And this is just life after 48. I got to speak with her about the connective power of walks (there is something there for all of us), and the transportive landscapes (inner and outer) that she has travelled.
The winter early morning walk outfit.
Walking the Circumference of the Earth
Libby, how wonderful to meet you. You’ve walked the circumference of the earth, an astonishing 25,000 miles. How many walks does it take to circle the earth?
A lot! I started walking, every morning, eight years ago and haven’t stopped. The stormiest days are some of the best. I get to feel heroic. There’s something about those wild days that feel the most nourishing.
Specifically, here’s the math: 8.5 miles (my morning walk) x 2,941 days (more than 8 years) = 25,000 mile mark (as of 01/01/2020).
Describe your morning routine. Alarm goes off (assuming you use an alarm) … then what happens? Breakfast or no breakfast?
Up at sunlight, no alarm
Shoes, headlamp, and warm cozies on
Set an intention for the walk
Head out the door
Tea when I get home
“I needed to get back to a bigger sense of purpose — beginning with a fundamental intimacy with the earth”
How did you get started?
The outdoors is essential to who I am, but I believe it’s actually essential to who we all are. In my case, life had become getting in cars, sitting in meetings, running errands, producing — and completing — to-do lists. I came to realize that what made me…me, was no longer part of my days. Looking back, the feeling of being overwhelmed by errands, conference calls, shoulds and have-tos, and endless expectations, had overtaken me. I had lost my footing, my grounding. I needed to get back to a bigger sense of purpose — beginning with a fundamental intimacy with the earth.
The most beautiful or surprising thing on your walk today?
I received a huge bouquet of tulips, and with it a note that said “I love waking up and reading your Instagram every day!” Ok, it wasn’t on my walk, but it was because of my walk.
When did you know that it was turning into something bigger than just a walk?
Like any practice, it takes time and the full benefit of commitment. You create the space to do it, you act, and keep doing it until you’ve done it so much that you can’t live without it. That’s when I knew. It became this beautiful discipline.
“This walk is medicine for me. It’s like my best friend, honestly”
What’s going on in your brain while you are walking? Are you solving? Meditating? Tuning in, tuning out?
About half way into this endeavor, I did start stepping outside the door and inviting an intention for the walk. Sometimes I’ve got this darn thing I need to solve at work. Sometimes it’s about creating space in my head, so I’m going to take everything that’s in there and gracefully escort it out of my head as I walk. Or I might be holding someone else’s situation close in my heart. Today, for example, I wasn’t sure what my intention was…I just let it show up. I cried through the whole darn thing. It takes an hour and forty minutes. It actually felt great. Take all that energy that’s right in here, kind of bubbly and uncomfortable, and nurture it, hold it, say hello to it, acknowledge it, and express it. So I’d say this walk is medicine for me. It’s like my best friend, honestly.
Healing and Empowering
Continuing with the metaphor that your walk is your best friend, can you give us an example?
I recently received some news that was personally very difficult. As I was leaving the office, I told myself that I could either go home and curl up in bed and try to feel better, or, actually, I could walk. I came home, put my shoes on, and I don’t mean this to be dramatic, because it was really lovely, I did my walking loop throughout the whole night.
I didn’t know that I was going to do that! After each loop, I’d stop and ask myself if I was ready to go in. Did I want a cup of tea, a warm shower, to stop by a friend’s house? What I came to each time was that I wanted to keep walking. Each lap was a different emotion. There was anger, frustration, a sense of betrayal. Each lap became this beautiful chapter about grieving, and I walked until sunrise, came home, took a shower, and went to work. It was incredibly healing.
It was a beautiful, quiet, warmish night, and there was this one point, around two in the morning when I remember stopping and thinking: **** this! If you can walk all night long in the middle of the night, you can do anything. So, buck up, you’re good. You’re good. You’re going to be good!”
Inspired by an Adventure Book
You’re not kidding! You started taking flying lessons at 57; what inspired you to take this on now? What do you hope to do with it?
The real inspiration was West With the Night, by Beryl Markham. I read it in my teens, and I remember thinking that is what I want to do. I don’t know where that feeling came from or why it resonated for me. I think it had something to do with freedom, bravery, and solitude. Also the descriptions of Africa lit me up. At that time I was also obsessed with Isak Dinesen and the movie Born Free.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my dad was terminally ill, and this was a way to escape. I love adventure. It is built into my DNA, so the retreating into books about adventure felt good. It was a place where I was me.
“Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind — such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger,” Beryl Markham.
Flying Fishing “felt like home on the river”
Fly fishing is another adventure started in your 50s. It may look easy and peaceful, but it actually requires a high amount of skill and practice. What got you started? What’s it been like? What’s your appetite for failure?
I started fly fishing a few years ago thanks to two amazing women, Kourtney Morgan and Kate Crump. Kourtney works for Patagonia and knows that I love adventure, and Kate is a Patagonia fly-fishing ambassador. Kourtney and I were talking one day and she said, “Come join us in Oregon to fish for steelhead.” I said yes! I was/am a total rookie. But I knew I would love it, being outside all day with friends. What could be better? It was absolute heaven. There is something very powerful about being a beginner. The humility. The concentration required. The awe of learning something new. It honestly felt like home on the river. The three of us have fished together in Oregon several times and also in Alaska. My only regret is not starting when I was 13. There is so much to learn. The technical bits and the biology of it: the seasons, the hatch, the fish. All amazing.
“The difference between success and failure is just a decision to keep trying”
Here is the thing about failure. There really is no such thing. All the steps that feel and look like failure are required for learning. Curiosity is fueled/nourished by failure. I think failure needs a rebrand. We somehow think it is “bad” when, in fact, it is essential. The difference between success and failure is just a decision to keep trying. Failure has a function. Failure asks if you want to keep going.
“This moment feels different. I need to be in the light.”
Has this time of isolation, which is also a kind of collective unknowing, had an impact on your walks?
One thing that has changed is that I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning and head out with my reflectors and my headlamp on. Going out in the dark feels empowering. As soon as the pandemic rolled in, though, the dark started to feel overwhelming. So I’ve been going later. I start around 7:30 am. I thought maybe I was being too lackadaisical to start later but, emotionally, I don’t want to go out in the dark right now. This moment feels different. I need to be in the light.
“The mindlessness of the route itself brings mindfulness.”
I feel like we are soul sisters. Walking is sacred space. Even if I know the path well, perhaps especially if I know the path well, it can feel like I’m suspended in time and space, and this is where the magic happens.
I walk roughly the same loop every day. Out the door, 5 am, 5.2 miles, 10,960 steps (I walk 3 miles later in the day. Sometimes a lunch time jaunt or an evening saunter). I walk past the same barn. On the same path. Next to the same river. With the same headwind around that last turn. This conscious repetition is a form of meditation, designed with intentional familiarity. It’s almost as if I could do it blindfolded. Some days, on the backstretch, I close my eyes while walking for 10, 20, 30, 40 steps. Do I really know where I am, I wonder? Am I following my gut, my body, to the wisdom embedded in this moment? The mindlessness of the route itself brings mindfulness, because it is this walk that allows me to acknowledge and move the questions in my mind and heart.
Walking is a kind of internal traveling, too. Would you agree?
Profoundly. You are covering territory. You are literally traveling, but you are also traveling internally. I love traveling, and I do it as much as I can. That said, when I think about the word travel, I think about going to a place, experiencing it, and then coming home. The way I’m thinking about travel here is more intimate and less adventurous. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hold an element of adventuring, but it’s much more internal. Honestly, I’ve traveled to some incredible and unforgettable internal places on the same damn walk. It makes me a better traveler.
So, it’s not necessarily where you go that matters…
It’s how well you travel. A micro-trip doesn’t mean it has less impact on you.
Walking and Jetlag
Speaking of traveling…let’s say you’re on holiday in some far away beautiful part of the world. You have the option to do nothing. Do you still walk?
Absolutely. A friend recently shared a theory with me about jetlag. It goes something like this: your soul can’t travel as fast as an airplane, so it takes some time for your soul to catch up with you. I relate to this! A walk is a way of putting your feet on the ground, literally, and being where you are.
Most Memorable Walk
Describe your most memorable walk in another country.
Kathmandu, Nepal. I went there to visit a dear friend of mine, Maggie Doyne, who has an organization called Blink Now that is changing the world by empowering Nepal’s children. Kathmandu has the special quality of being both very dense and chaotic and very spacious and nourishing at the same time. I’ve not experienced this anywhere else. There is this incredible warmth of the people, the smell of incense, sound of singing bowls, the saffron robes on top of temples, the beautiful, peppery-gingery chai. There is a restaurant, Raithaane, there that I will never forget. It’s beautifully thoughtful, with handmade pottery, and celebrates ancestral local ingredients, and ethnic cuisine of Nepal.
Your hair. I can’t not ask you about your hair. It’s gorgeous.
Thank you. I tiptoed into being gray early around the age of 32. I’m a terrible “girl,” I would never be able to keep up with the maintenance, and the cost!
If you could walk anywhere in the world right now with anyone (living now or in the past) who would it be and where would you go?
Great question. I think it would be with Beryl Markham, and we would walk around her world in Kenya. I would like to hear about her solo flight across the Atlantic.
Purchase a little Airstream Basecamp (dream) and drive to the West Coast stopping along to way to see the national parks. My Instagram handle is ParkHere…my middle name is Park, hence the name. But when I drive west I will Park Here and here and here at all the parks.
Thank you Libby!
Want to Build a Walking Practice of Your Own?
1. Begin with something doable. A walk around the neighborhood.
2. Repeat for 5 days. Repeat again. The next thing, time will have passed and it will have been 8 years.
3. Stay curious about what is possible. Starting a practice and staying with it deepens what you observe about yourself and others.